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Sheriff Penzone Closing Tent City Jail

(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
Sheriff Penzone announced Tuesday that he is closing the Tent City Jail

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Tuesday that he will be closing the Tent City Jail. The decision comes after months of review by the new administration.

Sheriff Penzone created the SPEAR committee upon taking office to deal with major issues facing his department: Tent City was their first order of business.

After reviewing the cost, rates of deterrence and recidivism, and even polling the opinions of the inmates, Penzone said the commission recommended closing the jail last week.

Acting on that advice, Penzone said he is closing Tent City Jail, a facility that he said had developed a circus-like reputation with the general public. "Starting today — that circus ends and these tents come down,” Penzone said.

Penzone said prisoners currently held in Tent City will be transferred to other jails, as will the detention officers that worked there. The Sheriff’s Office says an initial projection shows the moves could save $4.5 million annually.

The jail was built by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio to address overcrowding in county jails in the early '90s. Jail populations have since gone down, but Penzone says because of the layout of the jail, it still required the same amount of manpower. “By shutting down Tent City, I’ll be able to relocate a considerable number of detention officers into areas of need to enhance safety and security,” Penzone said.

The tents should come down within the next 60 days. It could take longer to relocate work-release inmates. Penzone would not disclose his plans for the space after the tents are gone.

The Sheriff’s Office says Tent City cost more than $8 million a year to operate. They project its closure and moving inmates and staff to the remaining jails will save $4.5 million annually.

In addition to the cost, Penzone cited the lack of deterrence provided by the jail. He said a poll conducted by his review committee showed most inmates actually preferred to be in the tents — unless of course it was the summertime.

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