Tent City inmates to get ice cream, cold towels during heat wave

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- With one of the hottest weekends of the summer bearing down on us, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has ordered a couple of things to help his inmates at Tent City cope with the extreme, potentially record-breaking heat.

Starting at 4 p.m. Friday, ice cream and towels soaked in ice water will be distributed to those staying at Tent City.

"Temperatures have always been on the sizzling side in Tent City during the summer months," Arpaio said in a news release. "But, there has never been an inmate that has suffered a serious health problem related to the heat in the tents. I don't want that perfect record spoiled this year."

3TV meteorologist Kim Quintero is forecasting a high of 118 Friday and Saturday, and 115 Sunday. That's record territory all three days.

According to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, it was 137 degrees inside one of the tents that house Tent City's inmates Thursday. The temperature probably will climb over the next couple of days.

Last August, readings ranged between 155 and 165 degrees inside the tents.

All of the tents are equipped with fans, and inmates are allowed access to air-conditioned buildings.

Over the years, groups have protested conditions at Tent City, especially during the heat of the summer. While protesters call conditions inhumane, Arpaio has always defended the jail.

"I'm very proud of the tents. It's humane. How could it not be after 20 years? Do you think I need these demonstrators this time of year, an election year, to come in front of the tents and say it's awful? Where have they been the past 20 years," Arpaio before a protest last June.

Supporters agree, pointing out that American troops on some deployments, including Afghanistan, are often housed in similar -- or even worse -- conditions.

Tent City uses surplus tents, mostly from the Korean War, to house as many as 2,126 prisoners. The jail, which has garnered international attention, will celebrate its 20th anniversary this August. Some half a million inmates have passed through the facility over the past two decades.