New Phoenix Sheriff Closing ‘Circus’ Tent City Jail

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Tent City, Maricopa County, Arizona’s open-air jail notorious for hosting inmates wearing pink underwear in the blistering summer heat, will shut down, the Arizona Republic reports. Sheriff Paul Penzone made the announcement yesterday based on the recommendation of a committee that he appointed after taking office in January. The tents were a prominent symbol of Penzone’s predecessor, Joe Arpaio, who erected the facility in 1993, his first year in office, and held it up as an inexpensive solution to overcrowded jails. Penzone defeated Arpaio last year, ending his 24-year span as sheriff.

Penzone said Tent City has become the preferred location for inmates and a liability for understaffed detention officers. Shuttering the facility will save the county $4.5 million a year. Anticipating criticism of the move, Penzone said there is plenty of room at the county’s other detention facilities. “This facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost efficient, and it is not tough on criminals,” he said, adding that the facility had become more of a “circus” atmosphere for the general public. “Starting today, that circus ends, and these tents come down.” Half of the Tent City inmates — there are about 800 of them — will be moved to other facilities in the next 45 to 60 days, while those on work furlough may take up to six months.

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