Tent City in Riverside?

2 May

I sat in Riverside Mental Health court today and overheard a District Attorney discussing the idea of why California, in particular Riverside County does not have a jail facility mirroring that of the infamous “Tent City” in Maricopa, Arizona.  Having spent several years in both Flagstaff and the greater phoenix area I instantly knew what this individual was referring to.  However, the person whom he was speaking with did not, so for those individuals here is the background: 

Maricopa County’s Tent City jail is one of the most talked about and nationally recognized jails in the United States.  Why? Because they are literally housing a little over 2,000 inmates in tents in the heat of the desert. The county sheriff’s boast that this program results in costs of under 15 cents per meal per inmate; house women in tents and maintain chain gangs. 

TENT CITY: The Tents Jail was begun in 1993 when Sheriff Joe Arpaio was able to obtain some surplus military tents. These tents were set up in an area adjacent to one of the existing Maricopa County Jails in Phoenix, Arizona. Sheriff Arpaio had previously decided that he would not release any inmates due to jail overcrowding, and housing sentenced inmates in the tents seemed a good solution. Funding for the project was minimal, and included the cost for cement necessary for base pads, secure fencing, and electric costs for heating, cooling and lights.

The Tents Jail can currently hold up to 2,126 inmates.

Sheriff Arpaio has added a few improvements at the Tents Jail, including four Sky Watch Towers for security, stun fences around the perimeter, and facial recognition computer software for inmate identification. K-9 units and patrol deputies have been added for additional security. The Classification Unit conducts background checks on inmates before they are housed in the tents, so that dangerous or predatory individuals are not placed there. (http://www.mcso.org/JailInformation/TentCity.aspx)

The official story of Tent City: Sheriff Joe Arpaio is an interesting Sheriff who has a completely different view on correctional facilities than most others.  In fact, he still runs a chain gang! That’s right.  His motto, being on a chain gang teaches inmates discipline and how to be productive.  Perhaps it is better than being locked up in a cell for twenty-four hours a day, but it definitely illudes to the correctional facilities of the old west days. Chain gangs in Maricopa County are used to for inmates who did “not do well in the jail system.”  According to Sheriff Joe, it is a way for them to work themselves back into the general population of the jail, and is not viewed as a punishment.  Members of the chain gang sport the old black and white striped jail house uniform with matching cap to aid from the sun in the desert heat.  Six days a week for eight hours each day they are chained together and work mostly cutting fire breaks, removing trash and digging graves at the cemetary.  What’s the story with the Pink Underwear at tent city? You read that right. Inmates housed at Tent City are forced to wear PINK boxer shorts.  Sheriff Joe’s official reasoning, because inmates were stealing the white boxers and selling them on the streets for $10.00, so he dyed them all pink as a precaution.  Sure… personally, its more of a humilitation tactic.  Ironically, these boxers sell worldwide for $10.00 now as they are a true Arizona treasure.  

So, the bottom line is.  Should California run a tent city? In the heat of Riverside county? Would it be effective? Should the inmates be forced to wear pink underwear, you know just in case they think to steal them?…. Is this how inmates should be treated? Is this how you would want to be treated as an inmate.  


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