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Penzone wants to use Tent City as space for animal program

(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)

PHOENIX — Sheriff Paul Penzone is pursuing the option of turning Tent City, erected by his predecessor, into a detention space where inmates would work with shelter animals in a bid to teach the prisoners compassion and discourage them from committing future crimes.

The new top law enforcer for metro Phoenix provided an update Wednesday on his planned closure of Tent City during a speech highlighting his actions during his first 100 days in office.

Six weeks ago, Penzone announced he would close the jail tents that helped make his predecessor, Joe Arpaio, a national law enforcement figure.

Tent City was opened in 1993 as a way of easing jail overcrowding, but was criticized for serving as a media promotion tool for Arpaio and contributing to a culture of cruelty within the jails.

The sheriff’s office has operated a unit since 2000 that serves as a no-kill shelter for animals victimized in abuse cases and lets some inmates care for the animals in a bid to encourage personal responsibility. The option being pursued by Penzone would be part of that program.

The agency said it’s seeking private dollars to help fund the project and keep taxpayer costs down.

Half of the 700 to 800 inmates housed at Tent City were moved to other jails in recent weeks. The remainder will be relocated in the coming months.