AUSTIN – More county inmates in Texas could be housed in tent cities if one state lawmaker gets his way.
“You can set up the facilities, but after three years you’ve got to break them down,” said State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “This bill will allow you to set up a tent facility to house inmates in any county in Texas, indefinitely.”
Under current state law, counties can only operate a tent jail facility for three years. Since the early 1990's, Maricopa County, Ariz., has housed convicted inmates in a tent city next to its jail in Phoenix. It was the idea of Sheriff Joe Arpaio who has become a familiar face because of his hard line stand on law enforcement, and his support of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
Arpaio’s second in command, Dep. Chief Jack MacIntyre, was at the Texas State Capitol Thursday, asking a committee of lawmakers to vote in favor of plan which could make it easier for tent cities to pop up at county jails in Texas.
“If you have an immediate problem, you have to deal with it today,” MacIntyre said. “You cannot say ‘Wait outside the confines of our jail and we’ll try to get to you.'”
Tent-city jails can go up quickly to accommodate spikes in prison populations. Under Texas law, tent-city jails must be temporary.
Larson said he has heard from sheriffs across the state supporting his plan.
“It’s not like it's cruel and unusual punishment. People in Afghanistan and Iraq are being subjected to the same conditions throughout the world in our military branches,” he said.
While many sheriffs around the state are on-board with the proposal, they are not all. In fact, do not expect to see those tents in Travis County anytime soon.
During a space shortage in 1993, then-Travis County Sheriff Terry Keel erected a tent city at the county jail facility in Southeast Travis County. A spokesman for Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton told KVUE News the sheriff's office has no interest in using tents again.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have fought the tent-city jail in Arizona. They plan to fight any such jails in Texas.