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New Sheriff Wants to Turn Joe Arpaio's 'Tent City' Into Opioid Treatment Center

Paul Penzone, sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. (Associated Press)

Joe Arpaio left a dismal legacy as sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.: He was convicted this year of criminal contempt for violating a court injunction against racial profiling of Latinos. Additionally, he ran a “tent city” where undocumented immigrants and others were abused, underfed and humiliated. And he left hundreds of reported sexual assault cases unresolved.

Arpaio’s successor, Paul Penzone, who was elected in November 2016, seems to have very different views, beginning with his plan to transition the tent city into a rehab center for opioid addicts.

Penzone, a Democrat, served over two decades as an officer in the Phoenix Police Department. He released a statement to ABC15 on his plans for the facility:

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday morning an expansion of inmate opioid treatment programs at the former Tent City facility.

Sheriff Paul Penzone said, “Half of the inmates coming into our jails annually, that’s 50,000 people, are back for a second or third time.”

Officials say the ‘MOSAIC’ program expansion will not increase costs to taxpayers.

“MOSAIC breaks that cycle by dealing with their drug abuse and helping them through the trauma that led to a life of crime. A greatly expanded MOSAIC program will help us lower the crime rate, save money in detention housing, and transform inmates into productive citizens who go on to build stronger communities,” said Penzone.

The announcement comes after the department, without fanfare, revealed the impending closure of the tent city and said the remaining inmates would be transported to the Durango jail. The site of the former tent city will “house classroom space and sleeping areas, allowing an intensive multi-agency substance-abuse program to expand by more than 50 percent in the coming months,” according to Arizona Central.

It will surely be an improvement over what Arpaio himself once called a “concentration camp.” He also said he was flattered to be called racist because it “means we’re doing something.”

Penzone said Friday, “We want to ensure that they [the prisoners] have an opportunity to be productive, to not return here to this jail. I hope that all of those in our community recognize the investment that we are making to become a more holistic sheriff’s office.”

Arizona Central continues:

Penzone said in April that Tent City would be phased out over the next six months rather than shuttering on a firm date. This, he said, allowed time for the agency to determine where and how to house inmates on work release conditions, who are freed during work or school hours.

“This is another step in the stabilization of this office and its operations,” Penzone said Monday. “My focus is to find more effective ways to reduce recidivism while creating a safe environment for our employees.”

On Monday, Arpaio told Arizona Central that Penzone can “do what he wants. It’s been a great program and I stick by it, [but] he’s the sheriff now.”


Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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