Armed guards lined the streets as nearly 700 maximum-security inmates marched the four blocks from Towers Jail to Lower Buckeye Jail. They wore only pink underwear and pink flip-flops.
Slowly and meticulously, the inmates, linked together with handcuffs, were corralled into a caged portion of the west Phoenix jail.
In what Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio called one of the largest jail expansions in U.S. history, 2,630 inmates began moving from Madison Street Jail and Towers Jail into two new facilities — Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix and Lower Buckeye Jail in west Phoenix.
The move started Thursday night when juveniles and mentally ill inmates were relocated to Lower Buckeye Jail. On Friday, maximumsecurity inmates from Towers Jail also were moved to Lower Buckeye Jail and vehicles began transporting the rest of the inmates to the new downtown facility. The most dangerous inmates walked 570 feet through an underground tunnel connecting Madison Street Jail with the new Fourth Avenue Jail. Moves are expected to be finished by the weekend, Arpaio said.
"The Madison Jail was overcrowded and the infrastructure was a problem, so it’s being closed down," said sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Paul Chagolla.
Activists questioned the way the inmates were moved.
"I’m outraged about what he’s doing," said Michael Coyle, justice studies instructor on prison reform at Arizona State University, "and this is just another example of the typical show element of Sheriff Joe that we’ve gotten used to over the years."
The new facilities will hold a combined 4,470 inmates and bring in technological advances such as irisscanning door releases and a surveillance system. They are especially designed to prevent communication among gang members.
"If they could ever escape from here, they’d have to be really good," Arpaio said, "and we took every precaution to make sure nobody tried to cut loose today."
The move was carried out with the help of about 300 deputies, guards and volunteers. The inmates, who weren’t informed of their move, wore only underwear to prevent the concealment of weapons. Police dogs, mounted units, SWAT team deputies and vehicles surrounded the jail to maintain control and prevent an escape attempt.
Inmates were strip-searched as they left and again when they arrived at the new location. A specially designed chair scanned each inmate’s body for concealed metal objects.
To fill Lower Buckeye and Fourth Avenue, which cost $160 million and $168 million, respectively, 1,000 staff members were hired and more are needed.
The half-cent sales tax hike passed by voters in 1998 covered the construction costs of the 600,000-squarefoot and 450,000-square-foot jails. Cost-cutting measures included a new infirmary, a psychiatric center, laundry service and automated kitchens.
"We can now bring the services to the inmates," said Jerry Sheridan, chief of custody for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, "because it was very dangerous and expensive having to transport the inmates to the services every time."
Although the new jails will help accommodate the growing number of inmates, they will still fill up, Arpaio said.
"Tent City is not going anywhere," Arpaio said, "because even after we fill up these jails, we’ll still be overcrowded."
Towers Jail and Durango Jail will stay open, while Madison Street Jail will be closed for refurbishing for the next two to three years. In the future, Durango jail will be torn down and rebuilt, Chagolla said.
"Every facility is affected by all of the movement," Chagolla said.
Most of the inmates were quiet and a few hid their faces as they walked.
"They should be moving us in our stripes," one inmate shouted, "and they are treating us like animals making us walk without clothes."
Others expressed excitement over moving into a new facility.
"This is going to be better than the Towers," one man said.
Arpaio said moving the men in underwear was a security precaution and that the new jails will be much safer for everyone.
"(Arpaio) unfortunately makes a connection between inmates and crime with entertainment and it’s horrific," Coyle said.