(by Richanna James, AZCentral.com) – [Arizona’s] Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced a new program where inmates have to pedal on exercise bicycles to watch television.

Inmates will pedal on a bike that generates 12 volts, enough electrical current to power a 19-inch tube television at the Tent City television viewing area. One hour of pedaling equals one hour of television watching.

Typically, inmates are only allowed to watch the Weather Channel, Food Network, and C-SPAN, but with the new program they will be allowed to watch any local channel.

Arpaio said he hopes the new idea encourages inmates to exercise.

For now the program is only available to female inmates because they seemed more receptive to the idea than the male inmates, Arpaio said in a statement.

Arpaio said only those who have agreed to pedal will have access to the inmate-powered television. Inmates won’t be charged a monthly gym fee but will have to sign a contract, Arpaio said.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Arizona Republic. Visit the website at AZCentral.com.


1. Who is Joe Arpaio?

2. Describe the new TV program Sheriff Arpaio is implementing at the Tent City jail.

3. How will the new program add to the TV channels inmates are permitted to watch?

4. What is Sheriff Arpaio’s motive for implementing this new plan?

5. Why is the program only available to female inmates?

6. Sheriff Arpaio has said: “Inmates should never live better inside our jails than they do on the outside because, simply put, jails are not hotels.”
a) Do you agree with his assertion? Explain your answer.
b) What do you think of the new “pedal for TV” program? Explain your answer.


Tent City at Maricopa County Jail, Arizona: (from mcso.org/include/modules/Faq/pdf/In_Tents.pdf)
  • Eight months after assuming office in January 1993, Sheriff Joe Arpaio opened a tent jail with a 1,000 bed capacity. Since then on two occasions, Arpaio himself spent the night with 1000 inmates in the tents to see what it’s really like in Tent City.
  • The motivating factors behind this innovative program were jail over crowding, violations of a consent decree, lack of funds for new traditional structures and a rock solid conviction that courts, not head counts, should determine when an inmate is released from jail.
  • Sheriff Arpaio never wants an officer to hesitate arresting someone based on the idea that there’s no room in jail. In fact, he put up a huge pink neon vacancy sign above Tent City to prove he’s serious.
  • Convinced that people in jail should never live better than the public, Arpaio asks his critics, “If our troops in Desert Storm could live in tents, then aren’t they good enough for sentenced inmates?”
  • The program relies heavily on surplus military property for which the Office obtained a Pentagon rule change that allows local government entities to obtain it for little or no costs.
    The major construction expenses were thereby reduced to electrical, plumbing and foundation installations. Each tent has evaporative coolers. They were replaced with fans when inmates began short circuiting them.
  • Staffing on this site is approximately 250 inmates to each officer, a much higher ration than in “hard” facilities. Because of budget restraints, the tents have only four detention officers guarding 1,000 inmates each shift. Only the most experienced officers are recruited for these positions.
  • In-Tents has been such a success in terms of housing and saving money that Sheriff Arpaio opened Con-Tents, the second canvas incarceration compound adjacent to a different “hard” facility. And, being an equal opportunity incarcerator, Arpaio had women begin living in Tent City in 1996.
  • A total of nearly 1600 convicted inmates are now being housed in Arpaio’s Tent Cities and all at a mere fraction of the cost of building a new jail.
  • While Tent City has its critics, no day goes by without Sheriff Arpaio’s receiving many expressions of support from around the world for moving the get-tough-on-crime rhetoric into reality.
    There is an expression that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If that is true, then we are indeed flattered, for other sunshine states like Florida and Nevada and Louisiana are now working to begin building their own Tent Cities.


Read about other programs instituted by Sheriff Arpaio by visiting the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office website at mcso.org/index.php?a=GetModule&mn=Faq.

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