Tent City Jail was started by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 1993. Sheriff Arpaio obtained a surplus of military tents and the tents were set up near one of the existing Maricopa County Jails in Phoenix, Arizona. Sheriff Arpaio decided that he would not release any inmates early due to jail overcrowding, and the tents seemed an economical solution to house the overflow of inmates.
Funding for the project was minimal and included the cost for cement needed for base pads, secure fencing, and electric costs for heating, cooling and lighting. Sheriff Arpaio has added a few improvements over the years including four watch towers for security, stun fences around the perimeter, and facial recognition computer software for inmate identification. K-9 units and patrol deputies have also been added for additional security.
The basic set-up of cots in old military surplus tents, semi-exposed to the elements, remains the same. Tent City Jail can currently hold up to 2,126 inmates, most commonly serving time for AZ DUI offenses.