New sheriff to shut down signature Tent City jail complex
The man who ousted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio from the law enforcement job he had held in Arizona for more than two decades now is shutting down his predecessor’s signature initiative — Tent City.
Sheriff Paul Penzone said the openair complex of jail tents created a “circus atmosphere.” On Tuesday, he announced his plan to shut down the 24-year-old compound.
“This facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost-efficient, and it is not tough on criminals,” said Sheriff Penzone, who was elected to replace Mr. Arpaio in November.
Mr. Arpaio was critical of the change, telling station KTVK-TV that closing Tent City is “the wrong decision.”
“But if he wants to close it, let the people decide in this county whether he’s making the right decision,” Mr. Arpaio said.
Tent City earned a reputation for being a miserable place to serve time, but Sheriff Penzone said many inmates actually preferred its outdoor environment to serving time in 6-foot-by-8-foot indoor cells.
During his six terms as sheriff, Mr. Arpaio had touted the compound as a cost-saving measure and as proof of his promise to be tough on crime.
But over the years, Tent City also provided Mr. Arpaio national publicity and a regular backdrop for TV interviews.
The complex was expected to cost about $8.6 million in the current fiscal year, but recent inmate counts show the facility is all but vacant, the Arizona Republic reported.
The complex held 1,700 inmates at its peak, but recently the population had dwindled to about 800 inmates.
Sheriff Penzone said that the facility’s closure would save the county $4.5 million and that relocating current inmates will take up to six months.
Groups that have been critical of Mr. Arpaio’s policies, including the Tent City, expressed pleasure over the announcement but indicated there is still much work to do to improve local jail facilities.
“Closing this facility is a good step forward for Maricopa County’s jail system, but there’s still work to do,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. “Maricopa County’s jails are plagued by the mistreatment of pretrial detainees and remain under federal court oversight because of the ongoing abuse of people with mental health problems.”
Carlos Garcia, director of immigrant rights group Puente Arizona, said he hopes Sheriff Penzone would take action next to remove federal immigration agents from the county’s main jail.
Newly elected Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Tuesday that he will be closing the facility in the coming months. Arpaio opened the jail in 1993.