Appeals Court Orders Sheriff Arpaio to Be Humane

No sheriff, you can't go back to feeding prisoners rotten food.

By Julianne Hing Oct 14, 2010

On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court that charged Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with mistreatment of detainees in his jails for serving them spoiled food and neglecting their health.

Arpaio’s cruelty toward his inmates is legendary. Tent cities, physical abuse and hard labor, pink underwear, chain gangs–he’s imposed all of these sadistic measures on his prisoners. In 2008, the ACLU took Arpaio to court, arguing that because of his well-documented abuses, his jails necessitated federal oversight.

U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake ruled in October 2008 that Arpaio broke the law by failing to meet basic requirements in food quality and housing conditions for inmates. Arpaio appealed the ruling.

While awaiting the appeal, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has attempted to comply with Judge Wake’s ruling. Arpaio had been charged with serving detainees rotten food and Wake found that the menus Arpaio submitted to the court were "exceedingly vague," and did not meet basic caloric requirements. Arpaio has since hired a dietitian to oversee these things.

District Court Judge Wake also found that Arpaio was ignoring inmates’ health by allowing people who were on psychotropic drugs to sit in cells where temperatures reached above 85 degrees; people on those drugs are unable to regulate their own internal temperatures.

"What happens is they were dying,” Larry Hammond, an attorney representing the inmates, told the East Valley Tribune. Arpaio has since moved those inmates to cooler cells.

"Today’s ruling is further confirmation that even a man who likes to brag about being the toughest sheriff in the nation has to follow the U.S. Constitution," Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project and lead counsel for the detainees, said yesterday. "Sheriff Arpaio’s unconscionable treatment of the thousands of pre-trial detainees in his custody has gone on far too long."

Yesterday’s ruling will set legal precedent, and help protect prisoners’ rights who are in Arpaio’s jails today. The order only applies to pre-trial detainees–those who cannot afford bail or are being held without bond, but have not been convicted of anything. According to the East Valley Tribune, that population is about 75 percent of the 8,000 people being held in Maricopa County jails.

The appellate court’s ruling was the latest move in a legal battle with the Maricopa County Sheriff and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors that dates back to 1977. Back then, before Arpaio assumed his current role, three prisoners charged "prison overcrowding, inadequate recreational time, dangerously high temperatures, limited access to reading material, and inadequate food." Seems little has changed in 30-plus years.