New sher­iff to shut down sig­na­ture Tent City jail com­plex

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

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.


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