Friday, October 24, 2008

LOCAL HERO: FEDERAL JUDGE RAPS SHERIFF ARPAIO

NY Times - Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., who has built a national reputation with his get-tough tactics, and county health officials have violated the Constitution by depriving jail inmates of adequate medical screening and care, feeding them unhealthy food and housing them in unsanitary conditions, a federal judge has ruled.

Sheriff Arpaio, whose jurisdiction over the Phoenix metropolitan area includes one of the country's largest jail systems, must make a number of changes under an order issued by Judge Neil V. Wake of Federal District Court in Phoenix.

Judge Wake said that disciplinary practices against mentally ill inmates had caused “needless suffering and deterioration” and that the jails must ensure they receive prescription medication.

Inmates who spend more than 24 hours in initial processing, Judge Wake said, must have a bed or mattress and receive food that meets nutritional guidelines. Many inmates, he added, consume moldy bread and rotten fruit, and the “court does not believe” a jail dietitian’s claim that it was adequate.

Unclean cells, Judge Wake said, pose “an unconstitutional health risk.”

Sheriff Arpaio, a Republican who is seeking a fifth term in November, has drawn a great deal of attention in recent years for a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

But Judge Wake's ruling throws light on Sheriff Arpaio’s handling of the county jails, which brought him notoriety for tactics like building a sweltering "tent city" for convicts and cladding them in black-and-white striped uniforms and pink underwear. . .

"This is 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," said Debbie Hill, a lawyer who worked on the case with the American Civil Liberties Union. "We will ensure they will have adequate supervision, mental health care and food."

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