Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Arpaio Runs for Reelection on Backs of Prisoners, For the Third Time

By Paul Wright

With the American electoral process consisting largely of saccharine spectacle, and with no substantive issues to get in the way of corporate rule, prisoner bashing has become an accepted political path to elected office. Politicians vie with each other to show who is most insensitive to human rights issues.

Mark Twain once commented that no man's life, limb, liberty or property was safe when the legislature was in session. For prisoners the same can be said whenever politicians run for office.

Joe Arpaio is the Phoenix, Arizona sheriff dubbed "America's Toughest Sheriff" by tabloids. Arpaio is a publicity hound who has garnered media attention by banning coffee and sexually explicit magazines at the jail, feeding prisoners rotten food, housing them in tents, dressing them in pink underwear and striped uniforms, instituting chain gangs, etc.

Little reported by the corporate media are Arpaio's more brutal practices which include the regular beatings and assaults of prisoners and medical neglect. PLN is the only publication that regularly reports the settlements and jury verdicts rendered against Arpaio for the unconstitutional conditions that run rampant in his jail. This includes the $8.5 million settlement paid to the family of Scott Norberg, a prisoner who was beaten to death by jail guards at the Phoenix jail.

As he runs for reelection for his third term as Maricopa county sheriff, Arpaio has announced new publicity stunts to propel his candidacy

In mid July 2000, Arpaio announced he would install internet web cameras to film and broadcast on the internet everyone booked into the Madison Street jail in Phoenix. Presumably the beatings and murders by jail guards won't be broadcast.

In early June 2000, Arpaio announced that prisoners in segregation who assault jail guards will be fed only bread twice a day and be forced to drink water from cell spigots. The "bread" in question is a five ounce loaf baked with potatoes, raisins, carrots, tomato juice, beans and chill powder. Prisoner rights advocate James Hamm commented, "This guy is the world's classic schoolyard bully. He's playing games by using the bread and water diet. Because that's his whole thing."

The Maricopa county sheriff's department is also responsible for housing abused animals. In June Arpaio announced that abused dogs will be housed in air conditioned cells in the First Street jail. No prisoners are housed in air conditioned facilities. Prior to this, the dogs were housed in tents with prisoners. Arpaio said, "It's too hot for the dogs over in the tents with the inmates, so I'm putting them in here." Prisoners will continue to languish without air conditioning in the Arizona heat.

Arpaio said he spends 66¢ a day to feed human prisoners at the jail but he will spend $1.15 per day to feed the dogs. The expense difference is not because dog food is more expensive than human food. As Arpaio said, "I just want to feed them better."

Arpaio seems to be a shoo in for reelection. So far it doesn't appear that American politicians can go wrong by bashing prisoners. Whether running for county sheriff or president, prisoner bashing paves the way to elected office.

Sources: Arizona Republic, Dallas Morning News

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login