PHOENIX, A.Z. (AP) — At a closed-door hearing early this morning, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors decided that Maricopa County’s infamous Tent City will be shutting down in late December of this year after 23-years in operation. This ruling comes after years of protests, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s current legal battles and pressure from lawmakers to close the facility. Current inmates during the time of the closure will be moved to other jails and housing locations not yet determined.
Paul Horner with the American Civil Liberties Union said he approves of the decision made by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
“This is a move that is long overdue, but I applaud the council for finally making that right move,” Horner told local news station ABC15. “Tent City is the definition of a human rights violation and even though they may be inmates, they deserve to be treated like human beings. Sheriff Joe Arpaio has routinely abused pre-trial detainees by feeding them moldy bread, rotten fruit and other contaminated food. Arpaio chose to house inmates in 20-year old tents, so hot as to endanger their health, denying them care for serious medical and mental health needs and keeping them packed as tightly as sardines for days at a time.” Horner continued, “Inmates are also often denied vital life-saving necessities like water in 110 °F degree heat. And the worst part is, more than 98% of the inmates at Tent City are there for non-violent crimes or probation violation. This is just more Arpaio antics aimed to show-off in front of the media while prisoners suffer, but now that this concentration camp is finally shutting down, none of these atrocities will happen any longer.”
For years, Tent City has been criticized by groups citing violations of human and constitutional rights. The facility is also often protested by its critics. On July 12th, 2014, when the temperature in Phoenix hit 118 °F, Arpaio measured the temperature inside Tent City and bragged to reporters it was 145 °F inside the tents. Some inmates complained that fans near their beds were not working, and that their shoes were melting from the heat.
Arpaio is a national political fixture who built his reputation on jailing inmates in tents during Phoenix’s triple-digit summer heat, dressing inmates in pink underwear, selling himself to voters as unceasingly tough on crime and pushing the bounds of how far local police can go to confront illegal immigration. Arpaio stated that he reserves the punishment of living in tent city “for those who have been convicted”. However, most of the population consists of pre-trial inmates.
An extremely controversial figure, Arpaio has been accused of abuse of power, misuse of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, improper clearance of cases, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws, and election law violations, amongst others. He has been found guilty of racial profiling in federal court, with a monitor appointed to oversee the MCSO‘s operations. His jails have twice been ruled unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, and subsequently filed a lawsuit against Arpaio for unlawful discriminatory police conduct. But the settlement by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors doesn’t cover the largest allegation — that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s agency racially profiled Latinos in its regular traffic and immigration patrols. Supervisor Steve Gallardo said that issue will proceed to a scheduled August 10th trial in U.S. District Court in downtown Phoenix.
The official Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office website features a bio of Arpaio that touts his ‘Tent City Accomplishments’ by providing inmates with “the cheapest meals in the U.S.” by feeding inmates “only twice daily, to cut the labor costs of meal delivery.” As of yet, there is no mention of Tent City and its closing in December.
Horner said this is a great day for all Americans who believe in civil liberties and human rights.
“It makes me sick that Tent City stayed in business for over 20-years, but at least we can finally put an end to this horrible chapter in Arizona history,” Horner said. “Hopefully one day soon we can elect a new sheriff, a good, morally, un-corrupt sheriff, and get finally get Arpaio out of there. But for that to happen, I think the largest majority of voters, which are old people living in Sun City, need to die first.”
If you have any questions or comments about the closing of Tent City, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has setup a 24-hour hotline.