Why Two Decades of Tent City Is Enough

A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found "a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos" in Maricopa jails, citing guards who used racial slurs and punishments against inmates who didn't speak English.

Claims of racial profiling and discrimination go beyond Arpaio's jails, too. In May, a federal judge ruled that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office systematically used racial profiling against Latinos, and the sheriff was ordered to stop using Hispanic ancestry in law enforcement decisions.

On its face, Arpaio's defense of the tents makes sense -- the men and women serving in the military need to survive in similar conditions, and criminals don't deserve anything better.

But when you look more closely, the problem becomes clearer. All people, even prisoners, deserve basic respect and human dignity. But Tent City in particular is a jail -- you might be there because you were charged with a crime you didn't commit. Or you might be there for a low-level crime, like driving under the influence.

To make a place like that into your own personal "concentration camp," as Arpaio has done (his words), is more for self-promotion than for anything related to criminal justice.

As Arpaio said in October 2012, just before his sixth straight electoral victory, the tents, pink underwear and cheap food all make for a good sales pitch to the public.

"I can get elected on pink underwear," the sheriff said. "I've done it five times."

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