Tent Cities: Not Just for Homeless Anymore!

Looks like the threat of budget crunches is producing some novel ideas for combating jail overcrowding in Florida, including re-institution of chain gangs and placement of low-risk inmates in “tent cities.” (St. Petersburg homeless, take note.)

But those ideas aren’t that novel.

Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which handles criminals arrested in hot spots like Phoenix (one of my old stomping grounds), has had both programs in place ever since the unorthodox Sheriff Joe Arpaio was elected in 1992. The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” made headlines when he set up a tent city in Phoenix and reinstituted chain gangs, including the first all-female chain gang in recent history.

The effect?

The tent city purportedly saved money by staving off the construction of a $70 million bricks-and-mortar jail. But the less tangible costs started to pour through like the holes in said tents: lawsuits, two riots, federal probes and condemnations from such organizations as Amnesty International. That’s not even counting the bad publicity that didn’t seem to scare Phoenix criminals (violent crime has risen steadily with the growth of the city).

“Chain Gang” Charlie Crist and state lawmakers might want to think long and hard before they decide to set up tent cities in Florida’s sweltering heat or shackle up inmates to work our roads.

It could end up costing a lot more than they think.

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