The next time you get picked up in Phoenix on a Friday afternoon your weekend in jail should be slightly better.
Last week, US District Judge Neil Wake ruled that the Maricopa County Jail violates the constitutional rights of its prisoners. Judge Wake ruled inmates incarcerated for more than 24 hours must have a bed or a mattress. The judge also ordered that, contrary to the argument of jail authorities, moldy bread and rotten fruit “does not” adequately meet nutritional guidelines for prisoners.
Judge Wake also ruled that filthy cells overflowing with sewage actually do pose an “unconstitutional health risk.”
And, the judge further ruled that mentally ill inmates must be allowed prescription medication to treat their mental illnesses. The current way mentally incompetent inmates are disciplined, the judge wrote, causes “needless suffering and deterioration.”
Maricopa County Jail
The Maricopa County Jail is one of the largest county jails in the United States. It routinely houses about 10,000 inmates. Short term inmates, such as those awaiting a bail hearing on a minor charge, comprise two-thirds of those incarcerated in the jail at any time.
The Jail is run by the 3000-officer Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. That Department is led by the internationally famous bully Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio has proclaimed himself to be “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
America’s Loudest Sheriff
Arpaio has become famous by housing his prisoners in tents; making them wear black and pink striped convict suits; making the men wear pink underwear; and making all his prisoners, including female and juvenile prisoners, work on chain gangs. On his web site, Arpaio brags, “He has the cheapest meals in the U.S. too. The average meal costs about 15 cents, and inmates are fed only twice daily, to cut the labor costs of meal delivery. He even stopped serving them salt and pepper to save tax payers $20,000 a year.”
While Arpaio has been saving the taxpayers money on prisoner meals, Maricopa County has had to pay around $43 million to settle lawsuits alleging death, injury and other harm resulting from prisoner abuse.
Arpaio is a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) middle manager who was first elected to office in 1993. He has been reelected four times and is standing for reelection to a fifth term as Sheriff again this fall.
Debbie Hill, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Phoenix, called Judge Wake’s decision “a total victory for the hundreds of thousands of inmates who are going to be coming to Sheriff Joe’s jails in the next couple years.”
Arpaio released an announcement in which he stated that he will comply with the “minor modifications” Judge Wake’s decision orders. Arpaio added that he has always operated a “safe and constitutionally adequate jail system.”