No more pink underwear for prisoners

Back in 1993, when former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was first elected, his campaign stressed a “tough on crime” attitude. Somehow, that campaign stance morphed into Maricopa County’s “Tent City.” This is a county jail facility of sorts, where the prisoners work, live and eat outdoors, even in the sweltering 120-degree heat of the desert. They are forced to wear pink underwear, and are fed a no-meat diet.

At the time tent city was started in 1994, much was made of the supposed monetary savings – we were told that the project would avoid the construction of a new jail facility costing tens of millions of dollars. As far as the conditions at the facility, we’re not quite sure how pink underwear, white and black striped jumpsuits, and a subsistence diet is supposed to help anyone or anything. Nevertheless, during Sheriff Joe’s reign, tent city became a symbol of what some called a no-nonsense approach to law enforcement. Others, however, said it was merely showboating, just another example of Joe Arpaio using his office for personal aggrandizement. Throughout its controversial existence, tent city has received poor marks from civil rights groups across the country.

New Sheriff says it was just a political stunt

Well, with Joe ousted by the voters last November, the new sheriff, Paul Penzone, has vowed to close the facility. Interestingly, after studying the issue, Sheriff Penzone says that far from avoiding additional jail costs, the shutdown will actually save the county $4.5 million per year. This certainly supports the position of critics, who have contended all along that the jail was nothing more than a political stunt, intended to benefit Arpaio and not the taxpayers of Maricopa County.

Some people, however, cling to the notion that this type of a facility is necessary to deter crime. But monetary issues aside, we should remember that these are county inmates. They are serving sentences of less than a year, in many cases only a few months. Their crimes are generally low-level misdemeanors, and they are probably the group most likely to benefit from rehabilitation, and not the sort of physically and psychologically abusive conditions at tent city.

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028


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