Sheriff gives tour of soon-to-be dismantled Tent City

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Inmates being relocated from Tent City (Source: MCSO) Inmates being relocated from Tent City (Source: MCSO)
Inmates being relocated from Tent City (Source: MCSO) Inmates being relocated from Tent City (Source: MCSO)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

It's the end of an era for Tent City.

On Wednesday afternoon, crews started taking down tarps, dismantling tent frames and taking apart beds. Hundreds of inmates from Tent City have already been relocated.

Last month, newly elected Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced that he had decided to shut down Tent City.

During his campaign, Penzone said he planned to reevaluate the controversial outside jail facility if elected.

"After a methodical review, I am shutting down Tent City. This facility is not a crime deterrent. It is not cost effective and it is not tough on criminals. By shutting down Tent City, we can save approximately $4.5 million in our budget," Penzone said at the time.

[READ MORE: Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone to shut down controversial 'Tent City']

Now, he's making good on his promise to shut down the facility for good. 

After a brief news conference, crews began taking apart Tent City.

“Over 400 inmates have been moved to new cells in other facilities, primarily Estrella and Durango jails,” said Sheriff Penzone. “Tents in parts of the facilities have been completely dismantled and the rest are coming down now.”

MCSO reported no incidents in transporting inmates to walled jails. The bulk of transfers took place in late April.

“The process went very smoothly with no incidents, no injuries and no drama,” said Executive Chief of Detention Tracy Haggard. “The only remaining population is in ConTents, where about 300 individuals who are permitted to continue their employment while serving their sentences, spend the night. We are developing a plan to move them into walled facilities.”

“O” Yard, which contained tents for about 100 female inmates, has been completely dismantled.

[PHOTOS: Tour of soon-to-be-dismantled Tent City]

Tents in “N” Yard, which housed about 300 male inmates, are coming down this week. The tents are in a variety of conditions, depending on their age and use. Some are being disposed of and others are being stored.

The infrastructure that supported the tents, including framework, electrical fixtures, and fans, will be auctioned through standard Maricopa County procedures. The neon electric “Vacancy” sign and the stone marker that had been placed near the opening of the facility are
being stored pending a determination of their historic and financial value. 

Future use of the Tent City site is in the planning stage. Sheriff Penzone is working with a variety of businesses and foundations on creating a new facility that will match inmates with the animals currently housed in the MCSO MASH Unit at the old First Avenue jail.

There is no firm timeline for this plan. “There is ongoing research into the use of animals in sensitizing inmates and preparing them for productive lives after their release,” said Sheriff Penzone. “Using this site to truly cut recidivism and to help deal with the animal cruelty issues in our community would be a real win.”

Tent City was created in 1993 out of old army tents because of a lack of space for inmates at the time. The facility was supposed to be temporary, but the former Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, kept the outside jail running as it became part of his legacy.

Penzone has called Tent City a "circus," and said it is no longer "an effective, efficient facility."

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