© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Infamous 'Tent City Jail' Closes

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio signs autographs for inmates as he walks through  "Tent City" in Phoenix in 2012.
Matt York

The seven-acre "Tent City Jail" in Phoenix that helped make former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio a household name has been quietly struck once and for all after housing inmates for nearly a quarter century.

The Arizona Republic reports that prisoners from the infamous jail, made of Korean-War-era tents to alleviate overflow from more conventional facilities, were transferred late Saturday to the nearby Durango Jail.

Bunk beds are exposed where tents used to shade them in the Maricopa County's Tent City Jail, in May.
Matt York / AP
Bunk beds are exposed where tents used to shade them in the Maricopa County's Tent City Jail, in May.

Tent City was criticized by many for alleged cruel conditions, especially in the Phoenix summers. Others, including Arpaio, saw it as an expression of uncompromising "get-tough" approach to crime.

The jail, opened in 1993, "was a spectacle that attracted much national attention for Mr. Arpaio's unusual practices: Most inmates were issued pink underwear to wear underneath their jumpsuits, pornographic magazines were banned and the Food Channel was broadcast in the cafeteria while the inmates ate two meatless meals a day. Inmates also endured extremely hot conditions, something human rights groups criticized as cruel," according to The New York Times.

Arpaio, who was convicted earlier this year of criminal contempt for illegal detentions of undocumented immigrants, was subsequently pardoned in August by President Trump.

Arpaio expressed pride in the facility even as his successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone, sought to close it.

The Republic writes:

"Tent City cost taxpayers about $8.6 million last year to remain open. Officials in April said closing the facility would save approximately $4.5 million annually.

Penzone said in April that Tent City would be phased out over the next six months rather than shuttering on a firm date. This, he said, allowed time for the agency to determine where and how to house inmates on work release conditions, who are freed during work or school hours."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.