Eye Witness Reports of
At Arpaio's Concentration Camps For Addicts
In Maricopa County Arizona
By Michael C. Smith
July 15, 2001
Grandiose and narcissistic people can be annoying. But when
they have access to mass media and virtually unlimited power within within
a county, they can be outright dangerous.
So is the case of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona. This county contains the capital city, Phoenix, and accounts for the vast majority of residents in the state. It also encompasses Sun City,
the bastion of ultra-conservatism that routinely votes people such as Arpaio into office.
Joe Arpaio has garnered national publicity, most of it self-generated, as "The Toughest Sheriff in
America", a title he bestowed upon himself. But what does that
title really mean?
Is it that he's out there on the front lines combating the crime that run rampant through
his county? This doesn't seem to be the case. He gave himself this
name because he makes his inmates wear pink underwear and live in tents where the daily temperature reaches 140 degrees or more during the summer months.
Sheriff Arpaio calls himself "tough" because he humiliates
the people who find themselves at his mercy in "his" jail system. He feeds these human beings twice a day with food donated from various sources because it is either out of date, or just plain gone bad. He feels he is justified in this because he is consistently re-elected by the heavily conservative population of
Maricopa county. With this mandate he believes he can do no wrong.
Most people in Maricopa County aren't concerned about what's happening
in their county jails. When I talk about the inhumane conditions in
the county jails I get a series of rhetorical questions flung back at
me: "Haven't these people broken the law? Aren't they the dregs of society? Don't they deserve
what they get?" Others simply nod their heads and dismiss
everything I have to say.
Most of the supporters of Sheriff Arpaio have never experienced the horrors of the Maricopa County
Jails, which can appropriately be called concentration camps.
Even if you visit for the official tour, you are put in charge of a
correctional officer selected for charm and the ability to redirect
questions away from the truth of what is happening. The official
tour is nothing but a slick front end public relations scam to keep people
from seeing what really goes on in the jail.
Most citizens don't realize that It doesn't take much to end up in the
county jail. Forget to pay a traffic ticket, talk back to an over-bearing police officer, or even
jaywalk - and you too could become a guest of Sheriff Joe's hotel.
What kind of amenities can one expect to find there? Fine dining is a must, of course and you have your choice of whatever you can afford to pay for. What's that you say? You can't afford to buy you meals. Not to worry, the jail will provide you two sumptuous meals a day. The first one is served at eight in the morning. It is sarcastically referred to as a Ladmo bag after a local children's performer who used to give away bags of toys and treats on his television show.
The treats contained therein include stale bread, green bologna (that's right, green bologna, and not because it's dyed that way either), moldy fruit, and warm, often times putrid low-fat milk. But what if one desires something a little more palatable?
Arpaio's idea of free enterprise means selling a captive, hungry audience exorbitantly priced 'real' food from a cart that makes it's way around the jails. From this cart sodas, cup'o soups, coffee (he took that away a long time ago, saying it wasn't cost effective to provide coffee to mere inmates), candy and various other edibles are purchased through deductions from an inmates account, called his book.
Who runs this incredibly lucrative business? Why Mr. Arpaio's relatives of course. Hey, what good is it being an all seeing, all knowing, all powerful demi-god if you can't spread the wealth around to family?
Arpaio went on television to proudly proclaim he paid more money to feed his drug dogs than the inmates entrusted to his care. He seemed quite pleased with himself, and was quite put out when critics lambasted this declaration. This then is the mind set of the man running the jail system.
Joe Arpaio is a very good boss to work for, as long as you know which side of the bread your butter is on. He caused a scandal last year when he allowed his second in command and close personal friend William Henderschott to retire with an 80% pension. This came up to around ninety four thousand dollars a year. He then turned around and hired him in to do the exact same job for the same salary. This was cleverly disguised by calling him a "consultant".
When this became public through the inevitable leak. Sheriff Arpaio acted offended and self-righteously proclaimed it his right to hire whomever he
sees fit. The County board of supervisors disagreed however and forced him to reconsider the whole thing. Arpaio milked that one for all it was worth, calling the supervisors bureaucrats and
complaining about how he was done wrong.
Sheriff Arpaio's petulance and need for approval are legendary here in Phoenix.
He is a regularly item on the news shows. He usually complains about how nobody respects him and that the media unfairly portrays him as a petty, self-serving, narcissistic tyrant.
The problem is that this description fits him very well.
One of the most damaging practices within the Maricopa jail system is to deny medical attention to inmates, especially if they have been outspoken or insistent. In fact, any attention drawn to oneself results in verbal abuse, or, often as not, physical slaps, punches, or shoves. But woe be to the inmate who requires medications on a timed basis.
In several interviews I conducted with past inmates, one of the most consistent complaints was that they were prescribed medications to control medical problems ranging from thyroid conditions to diabetes to bi-polar disorder, yet were repeatedly denied these medications on the whim of the detention officers.
Psychotropic meds, including Paxil, Zoloft, Klonopin, et al., are routinely dispensed according to the perceived agreeability between inmate and the detention officer on duty.
Medications are only distributed at specific medication times. If
you don't show up on time, you don't get the medication. The problem
is that the medication times will change, sometimes on a daily basis
without notice being given to the inmates.
Sometimes medications are dispense too frequently because medication
times are scheduled as little as four hours apart. At other times,
medications are not distributed for periods of ten or twelve hours.
The end result of this chaotic medication routine is to reduce the effectiveness of time release medications, sometimes drastically. Many
psychotropic medications are not even available inside the jail and little, if any, concern is paid to inmates undergoing withdrawal from them.
Certain anti-depressants such as Paxil have severe withdrawal effects when intake is suddenly
stopped without a period of gradual reduction.
There are no provisions for addicts withdrawing from substances to receive medical care. Without exception, every individual interviewed for this article stated they witnessed newly incarcerated substance addicted inmates thrown into holding cells where they were left to urinate, vomit, and defecate on themselves while going through withdrawal with no medical attention.
One former inmate, a woman, told of an incident in 1997 when she had been in "B Tower" awaiting trial on a DUI. She claimed another female inmate complained of feeling very ill, and could not get out of bed. The detention officer on duty was unimpressed by this plea for help and insisted she file a written request for medical attention, called a 'tank order', like everyone else.
When this was done the detention officer reported that medical was now closed for the night. The next morning the woman was discovered to have died and the tank order was never seen again.
This incident was not made public. One can only speculate at this time the actual number of deaths that have occurred in Arpaio's concentration camps over the years as a result of the callous indifference or outright brutality of his employees.
Discipline in the Maricopa jail system is rigorously maintained through verbal and physical intimidation and abuse. One of the more common forms of punishment is use of the restraint chair. This is a metal chair with numerous tie down straps and a set of wheels on the back legs to transport prisoners around. One
prisoner related his own experiences with the chair. I'll call him John, not his real name of course.
John had been arrested for disorderly conduct and had proven to be a handful to the Glendale police officers who took him into custody. In fact, John was down right unpleasant and ended up kicking out a police car window.
The officers restrained him with extreme measures until he arrived at the "horseshoe", the common name for the intake center at the main jail.
Along the way the police officers taunted him and gleefully promised he would be very sorry he acted the way he did. This was to be proven correct once they got to the jail intake center. John was placed into a restraint chair and cinched very tightly in, actually cutting off the blood supply to his feet and hands. A black nylon hood was placed over his head and he was left in this position for the next ten hours. Passing detention officers taunted and jeered him, some 'accidentally' bumped into him.
The brutality of this behavior is indescribable, yet it occurs every
day and is tacitly condoned by the higher management of the jail, including
Sheriff Arpaio. There is a saying that 'a fish stinks from the head down', and this is a most apropos metaphor for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. For how could such blatant actions be undertaken on such a wide scale without it having been brought to the attention of those charged with maintaining the safety of those inmates entrusted to their care?
Proponents of the Arpaio regime counter that if this system is so bad, why are there not more law suits and out cry from abused inmates. The answer is two fold. First of all, there are numerous lawsuits pending alleging mistreatment and brutality. The majority of these are settled out of court and made to go away. Others are tied up through legal maneuvering for years at a time. None are made public because the settlement inevitably has a non-disclosure clause in it. Sheriff Joe is very concerned with his public image, and he can't have it known that he is, in fact, running a barely legal (and oftentimes illegal) concentration camp, replete with atrocities and hushed up deaths.
The second explanation is that inmates leaving the system are so
demoralized and beaten down that they often wish only to put the experience behind them and forget it as quickly as possible. They realize instigating legal action would be a long and costly process and most simply do not have the resources to even begin such a battle, nor the desire to continue with any sort of contact with the 'system'. I have been told threats are made, both overt and subtle, that talking openly about the conditions in the jail could be "dangerous to your health".
The damage that Sheriff Arpaio's policies and indifference causes human beings in incalculable in terms of shattered relationships, crushed spirits, and the
creation of angry people who are then released upon the community. Joe Arpaio's policy of making 'his' jails undesirable completely ignores the fact that if you treat human beings like animals, they will inevitably act like animals. But, then again,
when inmates react in a reasonable way to the brutality of the jails, the
correctional officers view this as justification for continuing the barbarity.