Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Day at Sheriff Joe's Tent City Jail

Casa Grande, Arizona

Our day started early as we were going to pick up Bud and Susie Walsh at 8:15 am.  We had a 10 am tour for the Estrella Jail and had to drive to the west side of Phoenix. Thank you again, Sandie Dixon, for letting us know about the tours.  

Of course the drive was non stop talking between everyone catching up since we saw them a month ago.   The traffic wasn't bad and we arrived a little early.  

One thing kind of cute was that Susie got a call from her granddaughter who is a criminal justice student in Maine while we were enroute.  Susie told her where we were going and she'd never heard of Sheriff Joe.  Susie told her to ask her professor.  Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall at that school in the liberal state of Maine and hear the comments?
 All of us were glad to be early since people watching at the jail was very entertaining.  You could pick out the lawyers, and law enforcement and definitely could pick out any family of the inmates.  Some people walked in and went directly to the pay machine in the corner like they've done it a time or two...  
 The lieutenant that was our guide was very informative.  
He explained that due to the overcrowding at the jails they needed to expand.  Sheriff Joe came up with the idea of the tents.  The department of defense gave them the tents and all they had to pay was the shipping charges.  It was established on August 3, 1993 by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

Security didn't seem to be like what I've seen on TV. 

The visitation area on the right is what they used to  use and on the left is computer monitors where inmates can be seen on the monitors and talk through a phone handset.  Our guide explained all the contraband that came into the jail and how this cut down drastically on it.  They can turn off the monitor when their time is up and therefore free employees from having to go back and forth to every monitor.  

I was very impressed how clean and well kept everything was.

This was an interesting display that showed items and or weapons that were made out of things found in tent city.  Our guide explained why they did away with or made changes to prevent the weapons.  I had no idea you could make a weapon out of a sock and a magazine.  

This is the day room where they can eat or come to 24/7.  It is air conditioned and they can use it anytime they wish. Does that sound like harsh treatment? 
There are lockers along the wall for every bed for inmate possessions.  There is a TV on the wall that has 3 channels.  C-Span, the Weather Channel and the Food Channel.  I had heard stories about this but just thought this was "the toughest sheriff" stories.  Our guide explained why there are only 3 channels.  He said if you have a sports channel the whites want golf for example, the blacks want to watch basketball, Hispanics might want to watch another sport etc which can create havoc.  There were fights over what groups wanted to watch.  Our guide said he saw one person die over a fight about which channel to watch.  Sheriff Joe picked the three channels.  One, they'd see the weather channel and know how hot it was going to be in the tents.  Two, they'd keep up on current events and three, the food channel so they could see good food and know they couldn't have it until their time was up. 

We were lead out to the tent area next.  Normally, we'd be allowed into the inside gate but there were some problems recently so we just had to look through the fence.  I was amazed to see as many as there were.  Since they, and they alone, have the option of working, I thought they'd all be at work.  Most inmates have the 2 for 1 option.  It gives them 2 days reduction in their time for every day they work.  Why wouldn't they take it?  
This is where they check back in after working.  Can you believe they save the taxpayers 16 million dollars by the work they do?  They work at the food bank, work with neglected horses, dogs and pets just to name a few.  Sorry I was on overload with all the information that was pouring out of our guide at this point.
The clothing is stacked in the tent behind the plastic laundry bins.  

There were men doing push-ups and then some just laying in bed.  Some were socializing and there were some loners.  
They no longer use the tower, but had to spend money to bring it up to OSHA standards.  Bud and Susie really enjoyed the tour as much as Bill and I did.  We all felt that everyone should go and see for themselves what the jail actually is.  There's so much biased media against Sheriff Joe and I'll bet that those who complain have never taken the tour.  I'm sorry I didn't get the amount of money saved by their unique housing, but the 16 million dollars a year of labor the inmates saved should make every Maricopa County taxpayer happy.  
One other thing I didn't mention is the classes available and church services that are offered.  Jail should be someplace that if you go once, you never, ever want to go back.

We drove a short ways to the gift shop.  It wasn't much but you could order anything on line.

Bud and Susie posing by Sheriff Joe's tank which is a symbol of the war on drugs and is not paid for with tax funds.  
Bill and I couldn't resist this photo opportunity.

It was lunch time and  Rudy's barbecue is on the drive home, so off we went.  Everyone was ready for an icy beer and barbecue after that tour.  For those that love Rudy's there was a sign that another one is opening in May in Goodyear.  Keep 'em coming, maybe Casa Grande will get one.  

Do you think they liked the place?

It was a fun and educational day.  One last stop at Costco and we headed home.  

Turtle Safely........


  1. So interesting. I would love to do that tour. For some reason, that he can't explain, Doug would not.

    1. Maybe you'll just have to leave him home for a few hours. How are you feeling?

  2. Wasn't that a great tour. I'm sure glad we went and I learned so much. Definitely overload of information.

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