Tent City, an unholy publicity stunt thrust upon humanity by Joe Arpaio, the former Dufus Maximus (Sheriff) of Maricopa County, Arizona, will soon be closed. The reason: there's a new sheriff in town, and this one is focused on law enforcement rather than showmanship.
Paul Penzone, the incoming sheriff of Maricopa County, has announced that the outdoor jail complex, known nationally at "Tent City," will soon drop its flaps and be no more than an ugly footnote in the history of the American southwest.
Joe Arpaio, who was first elected sheriff of Maricopa County in the fall of 1992 and went on to serve six terms before being ousted by Paul Penzone in November of 2016, was a master manipulator of the media. During his first year as sheriff, Arpaio opened the outdoor jail facility as a way of generating publicity and showing his constituents how "tough" he was on criminals.
The seven-acre facility utilized seventy vintage Korean War tents to house as many as 1,700 inmates. But just keeping his jailbirds outside in the blistering Phoenix sun was not enough for Arpaio. As the novelty of that wore off and headlines wained, the attention-seeking lawman stirred more news coverage and controversy with stories about how he was feeding his inmates for just pennies - usually two meatless meals a day which the inmates had to eat while watching the Food Channel on television. At other times the meals consisted of "green" bologna sandwiches. Arpaio also made sure that the press knew he limited convicts' television viewing to educational and church programming, and made the them wear pink underwear. Mistreatment and humiliation were staples in Joe's toolkit of correctional measures.
Arpaio had a neon sign placed his above the facility which flashed a one-word taunt: "Vacancy!"
With Arpaio, it was one outrage after another - and his public ate it up!
Over recent years the number of inmates housed at Tent City dropped to around 800, but operating expenditures were never able to come down. The county tried to close the facility to save money and to help offset the enormous court judgments (several millions of dollars) that were being levied against the county due to Arpaio's mismanagement and corrupt practices, but the old sheriff stubbornly refused. He opted instead to save money by forgoing raises for his deputies and staff.
But now that is all history. Joe Arpaio has ridden his military surplus tank off into the sunset and Paul Penzone has begun cleaning up the mess Arpaio left behind. And closing Tent City will go a long way toward closing the book on Joe Arpaio.
Bring on the bulldozers!