Sheriff Paul Penzone announces Tent City closure

- Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Tuesday that Tent City, a controversial county detention facility that began operations during the tenure of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, will be closed down.

"After a methodical review, I am shutting down Tent City," said Sheriff Penzone, who made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. He said the facility is not cost effective, and there is no "empirical evidence" that the facility reduces crime.

"Today, the circus ends, and the tents come down," said Sheriff Penzone, during the news conference.

A diverse advisory review committee that was headed by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods was created by Penzone to weigh in on the fate of Tent City, along with other programs created by Arpaio.

A number of members on the review committee, including Woods, were present at the news conference. Woods read the committee's conclusion on Tent City in English, while another member repeated it in Spanish.

Tent City began operations in 1993, when then Sheriff Joe Arpaio managed to obtain military surplus tents. The facility was the scene of two prison riots. The first riot took place in 1996, when inmates protested about conditions inside. That riot lasted five hours, and resulted eight deputies suffering injuries, and $100,000 in damage.

A second, smaller riot took place in 1999, when inmates threw rocks at officers and lit tents on fire.

According to a statement released after the news conference's conclusion, an average of 700 to 800 inmates are detained at the facility in recent years, Meanwhile, Penzone said staffing levels have remained the same, as the number of inmates at Tent City fell.

"Economically, it's a problem now," said Woods.

Penzone did not disclose future plans for the facility, but did say the facility's closure could result in a projected $4.5 million in savings.

"I have five other detention centers with plenty of space," said Penzone. "No inmates are going free."

During the news conference, Penzone said at least half of the people currently detained at Tent City will be moved to secure facilities, within the first 45 to 60 days after the announcement Tuesday.

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio responded to news of Tent City's closure Tuesday afternoon in Fountain hills. Penzone also said he did not give former Sheriff Joe Arpaio advanced notice of his decision.

"I think he's insulting all the circus people," said Arpaio, referencing Sheriff Penzone's quote that the "circus ends". "That's disgusting, calling it a circus."


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Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's response to Penzone's decision

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