Tent City jail to close

Posted April 07, 2017

Tent City, Arizona's controversial open-air jail, will close after 23 years, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced.

"The decision by Sheriff Paul Penzone to close the almost 24-year-old Tent City complex will undo a critical piece of Arpaio's political legacy".

"Starting today, the circus ends and the tents come down", Penzone said.

Officials said Tent City was created to provide "quick and cheap beds" for inmates.

One tradition started by Arpaio, making inmates wear pink underwear, has already been slowly phased out. Inmates at Tent City can move freely, have to report to their bunks only three times a day and can pass the time in a nearby air-conditioned room, Penzone said.

Penzone plans to close Tent City within six months.

"Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. criticized a proposal by Republican 3rd Congressional District candidate Jason Chaffetz to build tent cities to house undocumented immigrants, saying that "on its face it's an extreme idea".

"This facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost efficient and it is not tough on criminals".

Last November, voters in Maricopa County, Arizona, finally ousted "America's Toughest Sheriff" Joe Arpaio from office.

Grant Woods, a former state attorney general who led a committee that recommended Tent City's closure, said the complex reflected poorly on people living in metro Phoenix.

Billed as a cost-saver, the more than 2,000-bed facility was meant to help relieve an over-crowded jail system and quickly became one of Arpaio's most high-profile acts during his six terms in office.

Arpaio opened the complex in August 1993 as a way of easing jail overcrowding.

"That undermines and goes against all the things that we've been told for far too long", Penzone said.

Penzone says Maricopa County could save $4.5 million per year by moving the inmates to other jails.

"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. We have five hard-walled detention centers waiting for you and your stay will not be a pleasant experience, " Penzone said in a news release.

"Economically, it's a problem now", said Woods.

"The days of Arizona being a place I hope where people are humiliated or embarrassed or abused or ridiculed for the self-aggrandizement of anybody or anything are over".

"You can justify them - if you feel you want to enact an extra pound of retribution".

Arpaio's loss of his representation so shortly before trial is not a good sign for the former Sheriff, and he will have to scramble to find someone else willing to represent him and his bad reputation.