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After 24 years, Tent City is Officially Closing

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Maricopa County’s newly elected sheriff, Paul Penzone, is making major moves in Arizona. After opening in 1993 by then-sheriff Joe Arpaio, Penzone has decided to officially close the doors on Tent City.

The open-air enclosure was originally used to house overflow from local jails. However, it quickly became a sideshow, with different antics popping up each year. Housing as many as 1,700 inmates at a time on this seven-acre plot of tents, inmates were required to wear stereotypical black-and-white striped prison uniforms and pink underwear, and were served two meatless meals daily.

Beyond the circus antics, those who opposed Tent City believed the prison had inhumane conditions. Located in the Arizona desert, temperatures could reach 110 degrees daily, with temperatures inside of the tent reaching close to 125 degrees. Additionally, many prisoners complained of expired food and water too unclean to drink.

“The image of the tents as a deterrent to recidivism, and as a symbol of being tough on crime may have been true in the past, “ Penzone stated. “Today it is only a myth. Tent City is no longer an effective, efficient facility. It has been effective only as a distraction. The circus is over; the tents are coming down.”

Supporters of Tent City, however, see it a different way. Penzone himself even stated that many prisoners chose to go to Tent City voluntarily because they preferred the outdoors. They also state that very few complained of inhumane conditions listed above.

Regardless of differing opinions, it became clear to the new sheriff that the outdoor prison must close when he realized closing it would save the county about $4.5 million per year. It currently costs the county $8.7 million annually to run the facility regardless of the number of occupants.

According to Penzone’s plan, half of Tent City’s current inmates will be moved elsewhere in the next 45 to 60 days, and he expects to shut down the facility completely in the next six months.

The facility only houses sentenced inmates rather than those who are awaiting trial. An overwhelming majority of those inmates, as well, are DUI offenders.

With Arizona having some of the harshest DUI laws in the nation, many wonder if Tent City was a helpful deterrent for those thinking of drinking and driving, and if there will be any increase in those instances now that the jail will be closed.

Penzone, however, doesn’t think so. He explained, “We’re going to give the criminals what they don’t want, which is detention inside jails in isolated areas, that are more safe for our detention officers. And we’re going to give our taxpayers what they do want, which is an organization that runs efficiently.”

As shifts in power continue on the local and national level, only time will tell as to how these major changes will impact Arizona and its residents.

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Trending Automotive News

Uber’s Brief Suspension Ends After Tempe Crash

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Back in December 2016, Governor Doug Ducey announced that Uber would move its self-driving vehicle program to Arizona. Fast-forward four months, and the program has already been briefly suspended.

Take a look at the major milestones during Uber’s time in Arizona to better understand the progress Uber has made, and what their unknown future may hold.

December 2016

After operating briefly in San Francisco, Uber’s self-driving vehicles were told to leave California due to safety concerns. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, state legislators believed Uber needed specific permits to operate self-driving cars. Uber, however, disagreed, stating that the permit should not apply to their vehicles since they have someone behind the wheel of the car at all times.

After much back and forth, Uber decided to pull out of California, and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey welcomed Uber’s program with open arms, looking to name Arizona as an innovative state for technological advances.

“We think it’s going to provide jobs for Arizonans, and ultimately we think our streets are going to be much safer for our citizens and for our teenagers who are driving,” Ducey said at the time.

February 2017

While the announcement of Uber’s move to Arizona took place in December, the program wasn’t up and running until late February. Branded vehicles began making their way into the state earlier in the year, but were not accepting passengers.

On February 21, 2017, Uber officially began operating its self-driving pilot program in Tempe, with Ducey taking the first passenger ride. From that point on, any rider requesting an UberX could be paired with a self-driving Uber if one was available in the area. Passengers were permitted to decline to ride in one and request a different car, though.

According to Ducey, his initial ride was both smooth and safe, despite encountering many motorcyclists, bike riders, and pedestrians around Arizona State University.

March 2017

While the program appeared to be running more smoothly in its second month of operation in the Valley, a report released by Recode revealed that while the number of autonomous miles driven by the Uber vehicles had increased, the overall technology was showing little progress.

In fact, in one week alone, the driverless vehicles drove 20,354 miles, and human intervention was required for every single one of those miles. This means that the human sitting behind the wheel of the car had to take over each mile the car was in operation. Even more concerning, this number increased from the number of times human intervention was required in previous months.

Uber has yet to comment publicly on the report, or release its self-driving miles and disengagements.

This same month, Uber also launched another program in Phoenix. This pilot program would allow drivers to pick up teens between the ages of 13 and 17 as long as they are linked to their parents’ account.

Once picked up, parents are able to follow the ride on a live map, get updates during the trip, have access to the driver’s name, photo and vehicle details, and contact the driver if need be.

Brief Suspension

On Friday, March 24, a self-driving Uber vehicle was involved in their first accident in Tempe. A car failed to yield to the autonomous vehicle and hit it, causing the self-driving SUV to roll onto its side.

While no one was injured in the accident, there was a passenger in the vehicle. It is also not known at this time if the person behind the wheel of the car was controlling the SUV or if it was in the autonomous mode.

This accident caused Uber to suspend its driving program on Saturday, March 25, giving the company time to look into the incident further. However, by Monday, March 27, Uber had completed their investigation, and their entire vehicle fleet was back up and running on the road.

What’s Next?

Despite the setbacks, it appears that Uber will continue testing their vehicles in Arizona and Pittsburgh, where the program is also being tested. Additionally, after securing the proper permits, Uber can now legally operate their self-driving vehicles in California. However, passengers will not be allowed in the backseat immediately.

Unlike in Arizona, Uber will be one of 26 companies currently testing autonomous vehicles in California.

While the future of autonomous vehicles in general is unknown, it’s clear that Uber is remaining committed to their program, and looking to expand other pilot programs in the Valley.

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