The “tent city” outdoor jail in Maricopa County, Arizona, made infamous by notorious former sheriff Joe Arpaio officially closed over the weekend.
Arpaio, an anti-immigration crusader who called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” opened the 2,000-bed “concentration camp” in 1993 to create inexpensive relief for his overcrowded jail. The tent city became known for its cruel treatment of inmates.
“All inmates are housed in military style tents and are subjected to the elements,” the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said on its website. Inmates were assigned work for the jail and county, including food factory, housecleaning, caring for abused livestock and roadside cleanup.
“Some cities let criminals out because their jails are too crowded,” a 2016 Arpaio campaign ad says. “I would never do that,” he says. “That’s my commitment to you: Keeping our community safe.”
Voters ousted Arpaio in the 2016 election. Only about 400 of the tent city beds were occupied as of September 2016, local media reported, yet the facility was costing millions to operate.
Arpaio’s successor, Sheriff Paul Penzone, promised to make closing the tent city a priority. He said the shutdown would save taxpayers about $4.5 million.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t comment on the jail’s closure but did tell HuffPost that it’s “focused on serving the people of Maricopa County and making sure it’s the safest place in America.”
President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August. The ex-sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt the month before for violating a court order in a racial profiling case. He had been detaining individuals solely based on suspicions about their legal status.
Arpaio’s questionable behavior goes back decades. Almost 160 people died in Arpaio’s jails, the Phoenix New Times found. Many hanged themselves. Once, police made Latino inmates march to a segregated area with electric fencing. Arpaio’s office failed to investigate hundreds of sex abuse cases.
A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division pointed to systematic unlawful policing and racial profiling by Arpaio’s office. His deputies used racial slurs on Latinos that included “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans” and “stupid Mexicans,” the Justice Department found.