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Improvements to Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County Jail Long Overdue

Will Matthews,
ACLU of Northern California
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April 21, 2010

Sheriff Joe is still on the clock

In October 2008, a federal judge in Arizona ordered Maricopa County’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio to make dramatic improvements to the conditions inside the Maricopa County Jail — one of the country’s largest jail systems — after ruling in an ACLU lawsuit that jail officials were violating the Constitution by failing to provide detainees adequate medical and mental health care, healthy food and sanitary housing.

A year and a half later, Arpaio and his county colleagues have seemingly done little but flout U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake’s order. And Wake, it seems, is none too thrilled about it.

Apparently prompted by a pair of damning reports by court-appointed medical and mental health experts who toured the jail in January, Wake issued a somewhat unusual order this month, criticizing Arpaio and other county officials for largely failing to make substantive improvements to the jail that would align it with constitutional standards. Wake wrote: “Improvements appearing to be most critically needed…appear to have been disregarded or postponed to avoid expense.” He also issued a reminder that the cost of needless, protracted litigation ultimately falls on Maricopa County taxpayers and that, as a result, it would behoove everyone for the jail to get fixed up — pronto.

Wake, surely aware of Arpaio’s general recalcitrance at being held accountable to any authority — be it the federal judiciary or the constituents who elected him — isn’t holding his breath. He’s ordered the county to come up with an acceptable plan and timeline for making improvements to the jail and to present it during a court hearing in July.

Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick.