My Report on the Maricopa County Tent Jail
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
October 13, 2006

For at least the eight years I have been on Commissioner's Court, I have known about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's famous tent jail, in operation since 1993. I never really questioned why we don't have one here until I worked to meet significant space shortages in our jail as the Chairman of the Commissioner's Court Jail Population Committee. Though not a total solution to jail crowding, this could be a part solution if we all work together to make it a success.

The information from people closely associated with our criminal justice system about inmates trying to use our jail as a hotel caused me to believe that it is just too nice for the good of the County. There appears to be about 6 to 10% of our 4,250 jail population looking for a hotel-like setting because of :

  1. Air conditioning
  2. Color, cable TV
  3. Three square meals
  4. Medical attention

The first two must go!

An additional reason to consider tent jails is that an approximate 81% of our jail population has already been in our jail before! Perhaps we make it too easy for certain offenders to recycle through our expensive jail.

Also, the tent jail with 1,800 inmates cost Maricopa County $188,000.00 according to Sheriff Joe Arpaio in contrast with an estimated $57,000,000.00 plus, for a conventional facility for that same number of inmates.

The estimates of jail population according to David Smith, Director of Planning and Resource Management were that Bexar County was to have 4,700 inmates in our county jail by this year. Today we have 4,250! In round figures, that's $5 million saved just this year!

In an effort to right-size the Bexar County Jail, we have worked with the Sheriff and other officials of the County to improve existing tools and implement new alternatives where appropriate, to incarceration in our maximum security jail. Traditional approaches are bonds, both commercial and public recognizance (PR), work release, and electronic monitoring (ELM). Newer approaches are Deputy Mobile Outreach Teams (DMOT) for mental health cases, Secured Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) for those struggling with alcohol and Immigration, Custom and Enforcement (ICE) transferred from our jail to central magistration.

The type of inmate that qualifies for the tent jail is a predominately low-risk inmate. And this is not just a time to "cool one's heels". Sheriff Arpaio aggressively pursues programs for these inmates such as GED's, anger management and other life skills-based courses. Sheriff Arpaio's toughness yet dedication to his inmates' advancement are obvious!

To have tent jails in Bexar County, we need legislative approval, a location and a supportive community. Much of this remains in the hands of you. I look forward to keeping you informed.

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