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Workers start with the dismantling of the prison tent complex in Phoenix

PHOENIX – Crews have started dismantling some of the tents in a controversial outside the prison complex in Phoenix who have helped to make the former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a national law enforcement figure.

One of the five prison yards in the “Tent City” has been completely dismantled, and the workers on Wednesday were in the process of tearing down a second yard.

Sheriff Paul Penzone, who expelled Arpaio of the past year and announced plans seven weeks ago to break the complex, said the closure of the tents is about the improvement of the county jails.

“It’s about professionalism,” Penzone told reporters. “It is about the effectiveness of it, so that we can carry out a fundamentally sound and safe facility, which is not a burden to taxpayers or our partners, where lawsuits are limited (and) hopefully be avoided.”

Tent City opened in 1993 by Arpaio to relieve prison overcrowding and helped make him a national law enforcement figure. But it was criticized for serving as a media promotion tool for Arpaio and contribute to a culture of violence within the prisons.

A jury awarded a $948,000 rule in favor of an inmate for permanent damage to the brain he suffered in 1996, when a number of hooded prisoners pulled him from his Tent City bunk bed when he was sleeping in, kicking and hitting him.

Employees removed from the olive grey canvas of the tents on Wednesday and used saws to cut the metal frames that supported the cloth. In the garden was dismantled, everything was about a dozen tents were concrete slabs and metal bunk bed.

The sheriff’s office said it began the dismantling of the tents last week. It is unclear when the closure of the complex will be completed.

Half of the 700 to 800 prisoners in the complex have already been moved to other prisons. Officials say that the remaining prisoners will be moved in the coming months.

The new sheriff said the closure will produce $4.5 million savings per year.

Penzone is pursuing the possibility of turning the complex into a detention area where inmates would work with the care of animals in an attempt to teach the inmates compassion and discourage them from committing future crimes.

The sheriff’s office has operated a unit since 2000 that serves as a no-kill shelter to animals victim of abuse cases and let some of the prisoners care for the animals in an effort to encourage personal responsibility.

Penzone said he is exploring other ideas for the space, but declined to specify those options.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud on twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud.

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