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Sheriff Penzone Considers Closing Tent City Jail

Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
file | staff
Paul Penzone in 2017.

Sheriff Paul Penzone laid out objectives Thursday for his first 100 days in office. Penzone announced a new advisory committee that will help him take a closer look at the big issues facing the department.

Their first order of business: Tent City.

While playing down other controversial punitive measures installed by his predecessor, like pink underwear and chain gangs, Penzone said it was time to evaluate the merits of keeping Tent City open. "It’s going to be a data-based decision that takes into consideration other aspects, such as recidivism, such as humane treatment, such as the environment and then I’ll own the final decision on it.”

Penzone said he would remain open to options for dealing with the jail depending upon the feedback he gets from the committee, "relative to the benefit it provides. Is it a safe detention center? Is it efficient? Does it provide us with what we need for the best interests to detain individuals and serve this public and the mission of this organization?” he said.

The advisory committee is made up of 13 community members and chaired by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. Woods said he expects the group to advise the Sheriff on half a dozen issues each year.

With regard to Tent City, Woods said "If it needs to be changed, it can be changed. And if it needs to be closed, I personally have no hesitation at recommending that it be closed and closed as quickly as possible.”

Tent City opened in 1993 and has more than 2,000 beds for inmates convicted of lower level crimes like drug possession and DUIs. Commenting on conditions at the outdoor jail, Woods said he thinks people should be punished for their crimes, but not denigrated. The committee should have a recommendation for Penzone on the fate of Tent City within his first 100 days, Woods said.

Penzone also said he will reinstate a Special Response Team, which is trained to handle riot situations at the county jails, in an attempt to provide safer working conditions for detention officers.

Other plans include establishing a use-of-force review process to monitor deputies involved in shootings.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.