Arizona’s infamous Tent City outdoor inmate lodging touted by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has finally collapsed under new Sheriff Paul Penzone, reported The New York Times.
“This facility is not a crime deterrent,” Penzone said in a news conference. “It is not cost-efficient. And, it is not tough on criminals. That may have been the intent when it was first opened, and there was a need.
“But this facility has become more of a circus atmosphere for the general public. Starting today, that circus ends, and these tents come down,” Penzone continued.
Penzone announced his plans to shut down the facility after he took office on Jan. 1, ending Arpaio’s six-term reign as county sheriff.
Transfers have been underway since May with the final 370 prisoners transferred to other detention centers and the official shutting down of the 24-year operation in October, according to the article.
Arpaio defended the Tent City. “It’s been a great program, a great deterrent,” he said. “Had over half a million people come through the tents. All convicted, doing their time.
“To this day, people approach me and thank me — parents about their kids having to go to the tents, and they straighten out,” Arpaio said reported the Times.
Arpaio’s “tough on crime” stance focused largely on illegal immigration. The Federal Court convicted him in July of ignoring an order to stop racially profiling Latinos. President Trump pardoned him in August.
“Women of color in Arpaio’s jails were particularly mistreated,” said Brian Tashman, a political researcher and strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Latina detainees were “denied basic sanitary items” and were “forced to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation,” said Tashman, citing a Justice Department report.
They were put into “solitary confinement for extended periods of time because of their inability to understand and thus follow a command given in English,” the report added.
Arpaio had bragged about his implementation of chain gangs for men and women.
“We had so many different programs. Chain gangs. I put the women on chain gangs,” Arpaio said. “First one in the world.”
Tent City opened in 1993 and helped reduce housing costs for a surging inmate population. The seven-acre campus was outfitted with dozens of Korean War tents.
At its peak it held 1,700 inmates. The last several years had only 700 to 800 housed there, according to the article.
The county formed a committee to investigate the jail’s effectiveness. Interestingly, Penzone and Grant Woods, chairman of the committee, found that inmates preferred Tent City to traditional jails. The committee discovered that inmates preferred to stay outdoors instead of being cooped up in a cell most of the day.
“If the inmates voted, I’m telling you, it would be in the high 90 percentile or even 100 percent, they would like it to stay open, which is exactly the opposite of the image that’s been portrayed,” Woods said.
Tent City, with an annual operating cost of $8.5 million, was a tremendous economic burden, according to Penzone. He expects that shutting it down would save Maricopa County $4 to $4.5 million a year.