Most of the chain e-mails I receive, I delete. Occasionally I read one that appears to be humorous or interesting. My mother sent me one titled SHERIFF JOE IS AT IT AGAIN. This e-mail, while not humorous, is definitely interesting.
The chain e-mail is about Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the operation he runs in Maricopa County, Ariz. The e-mail says the inmates live in tent cities, there are female chain gangs and inmates eat brown-bag lunches. I had received Sheriff Joe e-mails before, as had my husband, and we always dismissed them as urban legend, amazing, entertaining, but certainly not true.
Intrigued by the latest e-mail, I thought a bit of investigation was in order.
The Web site for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office includes information about many of its programs. The inmates do in fact live in tent cities. They wear pink underwear, which has eliminated the problem of underwear being stolen. The POSSE program assists in collecting child support from deadbeat dads. In addition, the Web site posts pictures of area residents recently charged with crimes.
Based on my initial Internet research, I concluded that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a real person and runs a real operation. My next step was to talk to a person in the department. I reached a public affairs officer on the phone. He was very professional, nice, providing me with an e-mail address and stating, “We all have Blackberries, so just e-mail your questions.” I typed up a list of questions, e-mailed them out and a few hours later received a call from Sheriff Joe Arpaio himself. Now I was really intrigued. The voice matched the persona and reminded me a bit of John Wayne, deep and husky with the underlying feeling that he was shooting straight when he talked.
I asked Arpaio if all the information in the e-mail was true. No, he said, “we didn’t take over the county animal shelter, we started our own.” The jail, which once housed inmates, became empty after the tent cities were built. Now the facility has become an animal shelter, housing 200 dogs and cats. The horses, which “do not fit in the cells,” are kept in the tents with the inmates. Sheriff Joe noted, “The women prisoners take care of the cats and dogs and the men take care of the horses.”
As for the brown-bag lunch, that information was not correct either. Instead of feeding inmates three meals a day, Maricopa County feeds its inmates just two meals a day. The first meal is “brunch” consisting of a bologna sandwich. The day’s lone hot meal is served at night. This plan results in a total cost per inmate per day of $0.30 for meals.
Inmates either work or they are put in lockdown; TV is restricted to authorized programming, which often includes the 10-part series on government by my dad, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. When I inquired if the inmates liked the tapes the answer was no, “Not my problem, not why I show them.”
In addition, Arpaio stated he “took away their (the inmates’) Kool-Aid, so they are drinking a lot more water now.” Water for showers is also limited, the inmates shower only twice a week.
While this might sound harsh to some, Arpaio’s philosophy is, “Inmates should never live better inside our jails than they do on the outside because, simply put, jails are not hotels.” Clearly he does not view making the inmates happy and comfortable as part of his job.
In addition to managing inmates and animals, Arpaio is enforcing immigration laws, something that few other sheriffs have taken on. His staff includes 160 deputies who are 287 G certified by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His view is that he was elected to enforce the law and that is what he is going to do.
There are three groups that work on immigration enforcement: human smuggling, jail operations and community actions. Combined, they process around 1,000 suspected illegal aliens per month. Jail operation includes determining the immigration status of inmates. If they are illegal, they are identified and turned over to ICE. If they are convicted and sentenced under state law, they serve their state time first and are then released to ICE. There are currently 2,100 illegal aliens being held.
When asked why few other law enforcement leaders are following his lead, Arpaio surmised, “They can’t take the heat.” When asked if he received any pushback, his response was clear. “I’m taking heat now, locking up illegals.” However, he made it apparent that a little heat was not going to make him change his ways.
As to laws not being enforced by other law enforcement agencies, he noted; “They think they can enforce the laws they want.” noting that pressure from groups might sway some. When I asked why he enforced the laws his response was simple “That’s my job.”
So the e-mail I got was mostly true, the core is there. Sheriff Arpaio’s job is enforcing the law, and he is doing his job. What’s he not worried about, what others may think. He’s doing his job, are we doing ours?
What is our job as citizens? To be active and involved, to pay attention to what is happening in our communities, to demand that those we vote into office do their jobs, or to replace them. After all, they do work for us.