Arpaio Joked His Tent City Was ‘A Concentration Camp’. He Was Right.

Screengrab/Joe Simpson/YouTube

No one knows how exactly many people died in Arpaio’s jails. One report puts the number at nearly 160.

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had little trouble winning reelections for the 24 years he held the office, even though he quickly became known as one who held extreme views when it came to the treatment of prisoners.

At the beginning of his tenure, on August 3, 1993, Arpaio erected 'Tent City', an outdoor site populated with canvas tents, portable toilets and little else to stand between inmates and the elements.

If that sounds harsh, Arpaio's comments about it will not change your mind: He once joked that 'Tent City' was like a concentration camp (though he would later deny making those remarks).

When Arpaio lost his bid for reelection in 2016, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office announced a six-month plan to shut down 'Tent City', and the outdoor tents originally intended for handling overflow prisoners finally came down, just ten months shy of its 25th anniversary.

But life inside Arpaio's jails was often no better than life in the tents. Though walls and air conditioning offered reprieve from the elements, there was no safe haven from potential abuse and neglect by law enforcement officials.

According to the Phoenix New Times, determining just how many inmates died as a result of the inhumane treatment in Arpaio's jails is no easy task.

Searching other databases (the Office of the County Medical Examiner's and the Office of Risk Management's, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice's) revealed that close to 160 people have died in Arpaio's jails.

But that is an estimate, because the truth is that no outside authority keeps track of how many people die from brutality, neglect, disease, bad health, or old age in Arpaio's jails.

On two occasions, a federal judge ruled that medical care in Apraio's jails was so atrocious that it was deemed "unconstitutional". But no one truly intervened, and Arpaio kept winning elections.

Records from the M.E.'s office indicated 157 people died while in Arpaio's care or subsequently at the hospital:

[O]f the 157 deaths listed on the sheriff's watch on the M.E.'s chart, 34 simply are tagged as having been found dead with no explanation as to cause of death.

More mysteriously, another 39 died in the county hospital without explanation.

That's 73 deaths — nearly half of all deaths — that county authorities list as "who knows?"

In spite of all this, Arpaio has moved on to bigger and better things -- he is presently in the running for Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake's seat.

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