Arizona’s Notorious ‘Tent City’ Jail Will Finally Close

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Arizona’s Maricopa County, stirred up more than his share of controversy during his 24-year tenure. The self-styled strong arm of the law drew flack for creating an illegal posse to round up undocumented immigrants, racially profiling citizens and allegedly misappropriating taxpayer dollars.

One of his more contentious actions as sheriff involved the creation of “Tent City,” the informal name given an open-air jail intended to accommodate the overcrowded Maricopa County Jail population in 1993. At the time, the Arizona county’s jail system had the dubious honor of being the fourth largest in the world.

Despite largely housing inmates in Korean War-era military tents, Tent City cost Maricopa County roughly $4.5 million annually. And this number is expected to soar to nearly $8.6 million over the current fiscal year.

Though Tent City contains 2,176 beds, its population has swiftly dropped since its creation, housing about 800 inmates as of last autumn. Most are there on DUI convictions.

Civil rights groups, including Amnesty International, have long condemned Tent City as inhumane and a violation of constitutional rights. Harsh weather conditions are just one among the concerns aired about the makeshift jail.

Located in south Phoenix, Tent City inmates would often experience temperatures exceeding 100 degrees during the summer. In July 2011, Phoenix saw the heat rise to 118 degrees; within Tent City’s tents, temperatures as high as 145 degrees were recorded. Some inmates housed there were reportedly left to occupy tents with broken fans.

And that only scratches the surface of the horrendous conditions endured in Tent City. Watch this inside look at the canvas jail to get a better idea of inmate life — but be warned, you won’t want to eat while you do so:

In 2010, an independent journalist confronted then-Sheriff Arpaio during a public appearance and accused him of running “concentration camps.” Arpaio can be heard on video referring to Tent City, replying that “I already have a concentration camp.”

There’s good news, though. Nearly two and a half decades since Tent City opened, it will finally be shuttered, with its inmates relocated to traditional brick and mortar jails.

Sheriff Paul Penzone, who ran against Arpaio this past fall, announced that the open-air jail’s run will soon come to an end after an advisory committee unanimously agreed on Tent City’s fate.

Penzone’s campaign centered on his intent to run Maricopa County’s sheriff department in a fundamentally different way from Arpaio; instead of politicizing the law enforcement agency as his predecessor had, Penzone would focus more on fiscal responsibility and public safety.

With Tent City’s pending closure, it would seem Penzone is working to keep his promises.

When asked about Penzone’s plans, Arpaio says if he’d remained in office, “those tents would never be gone.” He went on to claim that “George Soros got his wish,” claiming this was part of the billionaire’s intended agenda when he backed Penzone’s campaign.

Despite Arpaio’s sour grapes, it would seem that there is a new sheriff in town. Though Penzone has held the position for only a brief time, the closure of Tent City demonstrates his commitment to rolling back the routine civil rights abuses instituted by his predecessor. And it could be a crucial shift for Maricopa County.

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Otto/YouTube

85 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

SEND
Ryan Madero
Ryan Maderoabout a year ago

Wow!!! This is incredible!! To be honest as many crimes the Joe committed he should be locked up...
But as long as he pays his millions to the Feds they keep him out of prison... absolute corruption....

SEND
RONALD Walker
RONALD Walker1 years ago

All I have to say to Sheriff Joe. “Being stupid with so stupid racist voting you in has stopped. Jail time for you now!!!

SEND
Olivia H
Past Member 1 years ago

Thank you

SEND
Carl R
Carl R1 years ago

Thanks!!!

SEND
Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE1 years ago

Thank you

SEND
Telica R
Telica R1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

SEND
Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

ty C. And his use of tax dollars? Moron.

SEND
Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Donn M the republitard.

SEND
Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Seems like Obama also wiretapped Arpaio accordung to nutjob Alex Jones. Still no evidence of that.

SEND