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Arizona Sheriff Accused of Misusing Detainee Funds to Buy Guns, Ammo

Since Mark Lamb became Sheriff of Arizona’s Pinal County in 2017, at least $217,000 from a jail commissary fund intended for the benefit of detainees has been diverted to buy weaponry and ammunition, in apparent violation of state law. But at a public hearing on October 18, 2023, Lamb insisted he did nothing wrong, telling county commissioners that the weaponry was intended to protect detainees, so it really was an expense for their benefit.

Such clumsy gas-lighting may partly explain why Lamb trails former TV News reader Kari Lake for the GOP nomination for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. An investigation published by Arizona Luminaria on September 29, 2023, found that 5.5% of some $4 million spent for “inmate services” at the county lockup from July 2018 to July 2023 was instead used to buy guns, bullets and anti-ballistic vests. Meanwhile, during the same period, the Sheriff’s department spent a paltry $900 on books for jail detainees. With no apparent sense of irony, his Senate campaign literature features a promise to “cut wasteful spending,” along with a photo of the candidate in tactical gear and armed with a rifle—just like the gear bought with money pilfered from detainees.

“It’s pretty clear he’s using these funds in a way that runs afoul of the statute,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona Legal Director Jared Keenan. “The fund is for the benefit of inmates.” State law requires that any money coming from detainee phone calls or purchases at a jail canteen must be used “for the education and welfare of inmates.” See: Ariz. Title 31 § 121.

Lamb was elected to replace another Sheriff who failed to walk his talk; as PLN reported, Paul Babeu was the county’s first closeted gay sheriff outed by a former lover, an undocumented non-resident who claimed Babeu threatened him with deportation to buy silence about his affair with the staunchly anti-immigrant Sheriff. [See: PLN, Apr. 2013, p.11.]

“Obviously it’s wrong to be spending incarcerated people’s money this way,” agreed Prison Policy Initiative spokesperson Wanda Bertram. She called excessive markups on both phone calls and commissary goods in jail a “regressive tax,” one that “force[s] incarcerated people and their families to shoulder almost the entire burden” of their own incarceration—even though most jail detainees are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime.

What’s worse, she added, is the large number of detainees with addiction or mental health problems who don’t need incarceration but “medical care, counselors, someone who can point them in the direction of services they can access once they’re out of jail.”

Diverting funds intended for detainees’ benefit to other law enforcement uses is not limited to Arizona. As PLN reported, similar funds misuse at Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County Prison now has state lawmakers considering legislation to prevent a recurrence there. [See: PLN, Mar. 2024, p.9.]  


Sources: Arizona Luminaria, Case Grande Dispatch

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