Tent City, which was outfitted with dozens of Korean War tents, was a spectacle that attracted much national attention for Mr. Arpaio’s unusual practices: Most inmates were issued pink underwear to wear underneath their jumpsuits, pornographic magazines were banned and the Food Channel was broadcast in the cafeteria while the inmates ate two meatless meals a day. Inmates also endured extremely hot conditions, something human rights groups criticized as cruel.
“One of the big issues was it was 120, 130 degrees, and I shut everybody’s mouth up when I told them our soldiers are fighting for our country living in tents,” Mr. Arpaio said.
Mr. Arpaio, 85, also touted his implementation of chain gangs, another extreme measure that riled rights groups.
“We had so many different programs. Chain gangs. I put the women on chain gangs,” he said on Wednesday. “First one in the world.”
In April, Sheriff Paul Penzone — who assumed office on Jan. 1, ending Mr. Arpaio’s six-term reign as Maricopa County sheriff in the November elections — announced his plans to shut down the facility.
“This facility is not a crime deterrent,” Sheriff Penzone said in a news conference at the time. “It is not cost efficient. And it is not tough on criminals. That may have been the intent when it was first opened and there was a need. But this facility has became more of a circus atmosphere for the general public. Starting today, that circus ends and these tents come down.”
Sheriff Penzone also said that the facility — which had yearly operating costs of $8.5 million — was a tremendous economic burden. He said that shutting it down is expected to save the county, which includes Phoenix, $4 million to $4.5 million a year.
The seven-acre campus still required the same number of officers patrolling despite a dwindling population, causing significant and unnecessary costs, he said in April.
But Mr. Arpaio is not convinced that costs savings was a good enough reason to eliminate the program. “Even if it costs money, so what?” he said on Wednesday. “It’s been a big deterrent. You go around the country and you talk to people, and they’ll say, ‘We don’t want to go there; we don’t want to go in those tents.’”
Tent City — which was opened in 1993 to help save money and house a surging inmate population — had the capacity to house 2,100 inmates. It peaked at 1,700 inmates, and for the last several years had only 700 to 800.
“Based on the current number of available beds and the relatively static nature of inmate populations over the last 10 years, we do not anticipate needing the kind of short term solution that Tent City was originally meant to provide,” Sheriff Penzone’s office said in a statement.
But Mr. Arpaio said: “We’ll see what happens in the near future. You never know. Those tents could come back.”
The tents that made up Tent City will be stored away, the sheriff’s office said, and the steel frames will be auctioned off. On Friday, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office plans to announce the next steps for the site.
Mr. Penzone and Grant Woods, chairman of a committee assembled to investigate the jail’s effectiveness, both said that inmates preferred Tent City to traditional jails. Mr. Woods said that the group discovered that inmates wanted to keep the jail open because they preferred to stay outdoors than to be cooped up in a cell most of the day.
“If the inmates voted, I’m telling you, it would be in the high 90 percentile or even 100 percent, they would like it to stay open, which is exactly the opposite of the image that’s been portrayed,” Mr. Woods said in April.
For all the unorthodox and potentially distressing practices at Tent City, Mr. Arpaio agreed that it was not as inhumane as it was depicted. He noted that four presidential candidates visited him at the facility, including Bob Dole and John McCain.
“If it’s so bad, why would everybody running for president want to come to the tents and visit me?” he said.