It’s so hot in Arizona that dozens of flights have been diverted, meteorologists cooked bacon and eggs on the sidewalk, and tap water is running warm. Some parts of the state have seen record-breaking temperatures this week, as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
But while the city of Phoenix warns residents to stay indoors where possible, 350 inmates at Maricopa County Jail’s notorious “Tent City” — a makeshift, outdoor jail — don’t have the same luxury. The outdoor complex was built in 1993 to ease crowding in the city’s jail, and it’s been used ever since, housing sentenced and convicted nonviolent offenders.
“We deal with high temperatures frequently in Arizona,” Executive Chief of Detention Tracy Haggard told VICE News in a statement. “We offer inmates and detention officers unlimited access to ice water and iced towels. Every hour, 24/7, we monitor the physical condition hourly of everyone in the facility.”
Jail officials also said that inmates could purchase sunblock from the facility’s vending machine.
“Tent City” is a vestige of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s 23-year rule over Maricopa County, which ended in 2016 after he lost an election to Paul Penzone, a Democrat and former Phoenix police sergeant. Arpaio, who touted himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” was known for his inventive and often controversial approaches to law enforcement and punishment, including mandating inmates to wear pink. He also likened the tent city to a concentration camp.
When Penzone took office in January, he said one of his primary goals was to dismantle Tent City once and for all. According to a press release from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, deconstruction of tents in the N and O yards began in May and was completed in early June, about 400 inmates were transferred to regular jail facilities.
The inmates who remain are serving work furlough sentences. They’re generally separate from the wider jail population; they wear civilian clothes rather than striped jumpsuits, tend to work in jobs or programs outside the jail, and sleep in what the jail calls the “Con Tents.” On the weekends, they are required to be in their tents.
But during this heatwave, temperatures remain high at night. Maricopa County on Wednesday was expected to see highs of 117 degrees Fahrenheit around midday, and drop to 101 degrees by 10 p.m.