Wall Street Journal
By Zusha Elinson
April 05, 2017
There is a new sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., and that means an end in sight for prisoners sweltering in an outdoor tent jail.
Sheriff Paul Penzone on Tuesday ordered the closure of the jail erected by his predecessor Joe Arpaio, dismantling a central piece of Mr. Arpaio’s legacy that helped rocket him to national fame.
Mr. Arpaio, known simply as “Sheriff Joe,” won nationwide attention for his tough treatment of inmates and aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrants in his 2½ decades in office.
“The image of the tents as a deterrent to recidivism and as a symbol of being tough on crime may have been true in the past. Today it is a myth,” Sheriff Penzone said. “It has been effective only as a distraction. The circus is over; the tents are coming down.”
Sheriff Penzone, a former Phoenix police officer, defeated Mr. Arpaio in fall’s election.
After 24 years in office, Mr. Arpaio faced mounting legal problems, including criminal contempt of court charges, stemming from a case about racial profiling in his department. He is fighting the charges.
‘There is no empirical evidence to indicate that tents inmates are less likely to reoffend.’
—Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone
Mr. Arpaio, who called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” built the 2,176-bed outdoor jail to save on housing for inmates, whom he subjected to Arizona’s scorching heat, and dressed in pink underwear.
In a 2012 interview with the Journal, Mr. Arpaio—who had a reputation as an animal-lover as well as an immigration hard-liner—boasted that he moved more inmates into the tents to make room for abused animals. “I kicked out the inmates to put the dogs and cats in the air conditioning,” he said.
His approach toward immigration and crime was derided by human-rights groups, attracted hundreds of lawsuits and ultimately ran afoul of the Justice Department, which launched an investigation into whether he had targeted Latinos and abused his authority.
After studying the tent jail, Sheriff Penzone said he found it expensive to operate and a drain on staffing. He also questioned its effectiveness.
“There is no empirical evidence to indicate that tents inmates are less likely to reoffend,” he said.
Mr. Arpaio said he disagreed with that assessment.
“The inmates, they all hate the thing,” Mr. Arpaio said in a phone interview Tuesday. “If it’s 140 degrees in the tents during the summer, that should be some sort of deterrent.”
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which frequently fought Mr. Arpaio, said closing the jail was a good step forward, but that there was still work to do in reforming the county’s jails.
Most of the 700 to 800 inmates currently in the tent jail will be moved to other facilities, according to the sheriff’s office. The work to take apart the outdoor jail would begin immediately, Sheriff Penzone said, and should be completed in six months.
Corrections & Amplifications
Maricopa County, Ariz., was incorrectly referred to as Mariposa County in a headline and the attribution of a pullquote in an earlier version of this article. (April 5, 2017)
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