Tent City, Arizona's open-air jail, will close, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Tuesday. The jail has been in use since 1994. Photo by Darren Hauck/EPA
April 5 (UPI) -- Tent City, Arizona's controversial open-air jail, will close after 23 years, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced.
The detention facility became a prominent symbol of the tough-on-crime administration of Penzone's predecessor, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Penzone defeated Arpaio in the 2016 election.
The facility, which resembles a military base with barbed wire surrounding rows of large tents, was established to provide quick and inexpensive accommodations for inmates. Penzone said Tuesday the inmates would be moved to other Maricopa County Sheriff's Office jails, saving $4.5 million annually. A September 2016 report indicated about 400 of Tent City's 2,176 beds were occupied by inmates; another 400 inmates, released into the community during daylight hours on work furloughs, were also incarcerated at Tent City.
Although the tent jail was derided by civil rights advocates who said conditions were harsh, most of the inmates preferred the open-air space to indoor jails, Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods said. He added that inmates chose to be outside rather than in traditional jails.
"That tells you that the negative image that we've gotten since 1993, that we are so tough on prisoners in Maricopa County, that was false. Having said that, 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."
A committee chaired by Woods unanimously voted to close down the outdoor jail. The decision is a departure from Arpaio-era policing policies; Arpaio became nationally known for hardline strategies against illegal immigration, resulting in repeated lawsuits. An ongoing racial-profiling suit has cost Maricopa county $56 million thus far.