Arizona sheriff to shut down famed Tent City jails complex

Arizona sheriff to shut down famed Tent City jails complex

A controversial outdoor tent jail in Arizona that became one of the signature tough-on-crime projects of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be shut down, his replacement for the job said on Tuesday (April 4).

Penzone said at a news conference Tuesday that he'd carried out a "methodical review" of the facility and concluded it was unnecessary. A September 2016 report indicated about 400 of Tent City's 2,176 beds were occupied by inmates; another 400 inmates, released into the community during daylight hours on work furloughs, were also incarcerated at Tent City.

In a press conference later in the afternoon, Arpaio said he would not have shut down Tent City, but emphasized that the decision was up to Penzone now that he was sheriff.

In February, Penzone said county jails would no longer honor federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants past their release dates, marking a drastic about-face for an agency that had once eagerly performed high-profile immigration raids.

Hepburn found Arpaio's tactics - the whole tough-on-crime thing - it had no impact.

"Everything I do is geared to send a message to all the people who live in Maricopa County, that if you do something wrong, you're going to end up in the tents", Arpaio once said. "Starting today, that circus ends and the tents come down".

Arpaio, who became known for his anti-illegal immigration stance and jail practices such as making inmates wear pink underwear and eat green bologna, vowed the jail would never close under his watch.

Penzone stressed that the safety of MCSO's employees was a major part of his decision, which came after a review by the SPEAR Board tasked with determining the facility's effectiveness.


"I have five other detention centers with plenty of space", said Penzone.

According to Penzone, the SPEAR Board's recommendation to close Tent City aligned with feedback from his senior staff. "That may have been in the intent when it was first opened and there was a need".

"The bad news is that the rest of the country thinks that we're that sort of person, who would abuse and humiliate our prisoners and put them in such harsh situations", Grant said.

Closing Tent City complex would undo a critical piece of Arpaio's six-term political legacy.

Tent City also was a fixture in Arpaio's stump speeches.

Arpaio dismissed heat concerns, saying: "If our servicemen and women serve in the Middle East in extreme hot weather over there, our inmates can deal with the heat here as well in Tent City".

"I've been accused of keeping the inmates in 124 degrees, which is true".

Russell Pearce, a former Arizona lawmaker who earlier in his career worked as Arpaio's top aide, has said he had proposed erecting tents as a cost-effective way of easing jail overcrowding, though Arpaio would ultimately take credit for the idea.

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