With Sheriff Joe Arpaio Out of Office, His Notorious ‘Tent City’ Jail Is Shutting Down

There’s a new sheriff in town. Photo: Jean-Loup Sense/AFP/Getty Images

Last November, voters in Maricopa County, Arizona, finally ousted “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio from office. In his place, they elected former Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone, who announced plans Tuesday to shutter Tent City, the jail that had come to represent everything wrong with Arpaio’s time in office.

The jail, erected under the hot Arizona sun 24 years ago, was a showpiece, meant to convey Arpaio’s commitment to treating prisoners like the scum he thought they were. “Too many jails in this country are just shy of being like hotels,” Arpaio once said. “That isn’t right. I keep saying, ‘People shouldn’t live better in jail than they do on the outside.’ Here in my jails, they don’t.”

In addition to living in old military tents under the hot desert sun, inmates at Tent City wore old-fashioned striped jumpsuits. Underneath, they wore pink briefs and were forced to use pink towels and sleep on pink sheets.

Arpaio was proud of the jail and would often show it off as an example of his Wild West approach to justice. But the facility hemorrhaged cash and was not as tough on inmates as Arpaio made it out to be. That’s why Penzone is tearing it down.

“This facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost efficient, and it is not tough on criminals,” he said Tuesday. “That may have been the intent when it was first opened. But this facility became more of a circus atmosphere for the general public. Starting today, that circus ends and these tents come down.”

The announcement has done little to dampen Arpaio’s enthusiasm about Tent City, which, he told the Times, will “go down in history as one of the greatest incarceration programs in our country.” He also hopes that his buddy President Trump, the only “birther” more famous than he is, can use all those canvas tents once the inmates are moved out. “I hope Trump will put the tents on the border for all the illegals that are caught there,” he told the Times.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Notorious ‘Tent City’ Jail Is a Goner