Saturday, 20 January, 2018

Arizona sheriff to shut down famed Tent City jails complex

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone at a press conference Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone at a press conference
Hilda Schwartz | 06 April, 2017, 03:01

The man who defeated Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in an election battle has announced he is closing Arpaio's open-air, Tent City jail.

During the news conference, Penzone said at least half of the people now detained at Tent City will be moved to secure facilities, within the first 45 to 60 days after the announcement Tuesday.

Tent City has the capacity of holding 2,100 inmates and peaked at 1,700 inmates, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods said at a news conference. He estimated that closing Tent City will save the county about $4.5 million annually. Arpaio will pay as much as $72 million in legal fees - all paid for by the taxpayers of the county. We're pleased to have been part of this process to provide our input. Staying at Tent City was a choice the inmates made, not a mandate, and at any time they had the ability to opt into an indoor facility.

The tents were popular among voters who believed jail is supposed to be a hard place to live. Penzone said. "Starting today, that circus ends and these tents come down". He is already phasing out Arpaio's signature practice of making inmates wear pink underwear.

The decision comes after Penzone appointed a committee in January to determine the fate of the outdoor facility, which opened in August 1993 with surplus military tents.

The court also said fights among inmates were common and that inmates regularly got hold of banned items - cigarettes, lighters, fireworks, drugs, knives and food - that were sneaked into the complex by people who tossed them over the fences that surround Tent City.

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During his campaign to oust Arpaio, Penzone criticized his celebrity status: "It shouldn't be that I go to another place in the country or outside the country and they know who our sheriff is".

The Sheriff's Office conducted additional studies on recidivism and deterrence and they showed that if you spent time in Tent City, you were no less likely to commit an offense again and end up back in there, no matter how bad the conditions. That means that although the number of inmates has decreased since 1993, the cost-per-inmate has almost doubled, county officials said. He added that he wasn't upset, saying that he "didn't do it for the legacy".

The former sheriff, who famously launched an investigation into former president Barack Obama's birth certificate that garnered praise from President Trump, first opened Tent City as a cost-effective way to ease overcrowding in the county's jails.

The new sheriff in town is reversing many of Arpaio's controversial policies.

Everything they did at Tent City was outside, because Tent City was outside, too.

"I gave the inmates a free concert-is that a circus?" he continued. Those with work furlough will take up to six months to transfer.

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