Joe Arpaio served as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for 24 years, and during his time in office, he earned the reputation from those concerned about illegal immigration as being “America’s toughest sheriff.” Now, Arpaio’s replacement, Sheriff Paul Penzone, has announced he’s shutting down Arpaio’s long-running “tent city” jail.
Penzone made the announcement on Tuesday at a press conference in which he referred to the facility as “a circus atmosphere for the general public.”
“This facility became more of a circus atmosphere for the general public,” Penzone said. “Starting today, that circus ends and these tents come down.”
Arpaio, now 84 years old, opened the controversial outdoor facility in 1993 due to prison overcrowding, and he touted the facility as one that would be tough on hardened criminals. At its height, the facility housed 1,700 people, according to a report by Fox News.
Penzone defeated Arpaio in the 2016 election. Penzone’s campaign focused on the alleged failures of the outdoor prison, as well as its costs. Penzone says moving the remaining 700 to 800 inmates to other facilities will save the county $4.5 million.
“I have five other detention centers with plenty of space,” said Penzone. “No inmates are going free.”
Arpaio, who has become a highly publicized national political figure, denounced the decision to close the facility.
In reference to Penzone calling the facility a “circus,” Arpaio said, “I think he’s insulting all the circus people. That’s disgusting, calling it a circus.”
Arpaio is currently facing federal charges for continuing immigration patrols 17 months after a judge ordered him to stop. The judge ruled the patrols involved illegal “racial profiling.” Arpaio claims his decision to continue the patrols was deliberate but that his defiance of the court’s order was not. If convicted, he could spend up to six months in prison.