PHOENIX - Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced Tuesday that he and his office will close the controversial Tent City detention facility.
The announcement came at a press conference ahead of a planned protest against the facility that was scheduled for Tuesday evening. It's not clear if that protest will continue.
Penzone stressed that the safety of MCSO's employees was a major part of his decision, which came after a review by the SPEAR Board tasked with determining the facility's effectiveness.
Penzone said the challenges of the hot summer months had a greater impact on his detention officers, who wear full gear, than the inmates.
"For those who are concerned, let me be as crystal clear as I can be. I have five other detention centers with plenty of space," he said. "We have the room."
The sheriff said the safety of the community and his officers is his priority.
"This decision was based off of data. This decision was based off of a comprehensive review," he said.
According to Penzone, the SPEAR Board's recommendation to close Tent City aligned with feedback from his senior staff.
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The sheriff said the process of moving inmates to other detention facilities would take at least 45-60 days, with a longer transition expected for work furlough inmates.
He said politics did not play a role in his decision -- instead, he insisted it was a monetary and safety decision. According to Penzone, shutting down the jail will save MCSO about $4.5 million each year.
Penzone said he did not speak to former sheriff Joe Arpaio prior to the announcement. The longtime sheriff was a champion of Tent City, which opened in 1993.
In a press conference later in the afternoon, Arpaio said he would not have shut down Tent City, but emphasized that the decision was up to Penzone now that he was sheriff.
In the past, Arpaio has lauded the jail's unusual punitive measures, including the infamous pink underwear given to inmates. However, according to Penzone, a recent inmate survey showed they actually preferred living there over the confinement of a more traditional facility.
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