Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone and Executive Chief of Custody Tracy Haggard talk about the tear-down process of Tent City Jail in Phoenix and what may become of the space and the assets on May 24, 2017. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone discusses some of the challenges of moving Tent City inmates and programs designed to make detention centers safer and productive. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone talks about the expected savings that will come from tearing down Tent City Jail. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
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Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announces the closing of Tent City. Christopher Nicholson/azcentral.com
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If the new sheriff closes Tent City, what should that place become? Republic columnist E.J. Montini explores the possibilities.
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Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone gives his thoughts on pink underwear, Tent City and court monitors. Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane visits Tent City and Sheriff Joe Arpaio ahead of Bernie’s arrival in Phoenix on Tuesday.
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Anderson is a spokesperson for PETA and the two discussed serving healthy, cost-effective, meat-free meals to inmates.
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The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is eliminating pay raises for some of its jail detention staff to help foot the growing bill for a racial-profiling case, but they considered several other options, including closing the famous Tent City jail.
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Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office tears down Tent City Jail
Sheriff Paul Penzone on transferring Tent City inmates and looking ahead
Sheriff Paul Penzone on the projected savings of closing Tent City Jail
Maricopa County’s Tent City closing
Montini: Turn Tent City into Arpaio Park?
5 minutes with Paul Penzone, the new Maricopa County sheriff
Bernie Sanders’ wife visits Tent City
Pamela Anderson and Sheriff Joe Arpaio at Tent City
MCSO considered closing Tent City
The Tent City jail tower, one of the most iconic symbols of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s legacy, will soon belong to the highest bidder.
The 60-foot tower, known for advertising a permanent neon “Vacancy” sign, will go up for auction in the following weeks, along with a few other scraps from the controversial outdoor county jail.
The vacancy sign, however, will remain in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office, for the time being.
Sheriff’s officials are in the process of dismantling the 7-acre facility near 29th Avenue and Durango Street in Phoenix, in what is perhaps the most poignant demonstration of the department’s new leadership to date.
Sheriff Paul Penzone, who defeated Arpaio in November’s election, announced last month that Tent City would close, calling the facility a costly “circus” rather than a crime deterrent.
At an on-site tour Wednesday, Penzone said leveling the facility showed the office was focused on “continued improvement” of its detention facilities.
“When I say improvements, it is about efficiencies, it is about professionalism, it’s about effectiveness, so that we can run a fundamentally sound and safe facility that is not a burden to the taxpayers or our partners,” he said.
Sheriff’s officials have estimated that closing Tent City will save an annual $4.5 million.
Breaking down the tents
Now come the logistics. About 400 full-time inmates have been transferred to brick-and-mortar facilities. About 400 others who are allowed work furlough will be moved in the next few months.
Workers in hard hats peeled the military-surplus tents off their frames Wednesday afternoon, folding them up for storage or disposal, depending on their condition. The bunks will soon be sandblasted and used in other jails.
But many of the facility’s other items will find a new, private home. The lights and fans that once resided inside the tents were already auctioned off on May 18.
People who still want a piece of memorabilia can soon bid on the tower as well as the tents’ steel frames.
The tower was purchased for $13,000 in 1993, the same year Tent City was erected, according to Tracy Haggard, executive chief of custody.
Haggard said the Sheriff’s Office will hold onto the vacancy sign, a marble memorial and the canvas tents for now, but it isn’t opposed to selling or donating them in the future.
She said the office already has had inquiries about the tents. Of note, one Native American community expressed interest in using the canvas as part of its religious ceremonies.
Haggard said placing the remaining equipment isn’t a pressing concern for the office.
“Our main focus is to completely decommission the tents,”she said. “(Penzone’s) goal is that we shut down the tents as quickly as possible, so that he can move onto his next plan of action.”
All of the money made from the auction will go back into the MCSO’s general fund, Haggard said.
There is one Maricopa County citizen who can be ruled off the list of potential buyers: Arpaio said he would not be bidding for a tangible piece of his legacy.
“I have my memories,” he said in an interview Wednesday evening. “I have all my media, I have all the TV; I have plenty of memories of Tent City, which I started almost 24 years ago. My memories will still be with me. You can’t take the memories away from me.”
What’s ahead for the land
Penzone said the office is still evaluating what to do with the space. He’s previously said he could relocate the county’s unit for seized animals to a structure on the site, and said inmates could have a more active role there in caring for them.
The open-air jail was originally created as a low-cost solution to overcrowded lockups. But its value diminished as inmate populations waned in recent years, filling only a fraction of Tent City’s capacity.
The tents largely stood as a political statement for their founder before his ouster last November. Arpaio, who was first elected in 1992, cited the tents as a testament to his “tough on crime” image and last year refused to consider closing them at the expense of detention-officer raises.
Arpaio paused when he was asked whether it made him sad to witness the final days of his brainchild.
“No,” he said finally. “I’m pretty proud of that 24 years with the tents. Let’s just say, life and fate is very interesting. I know that having been in law enforcement for over 55 years, that you never say never. So who knows what the future holds. Not just Tent City, but other things. So we’ll see.”
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