Back to News & Commentary

Victory Against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Jails, Where Too Many Have Suffered and Died From Neglect

Sheriff Joe Arpaio
For the people of Maricopa County, simply being arrested and put in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jails means risking lasting injury or even death.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Eric Balaban,
Former Senior Staff Counsel,
National Prison Project, ACLU
Share This Page
October 3, 2014

It took a nurse observing a man “eating chunks [taken out of his cell wall]” before he was moved out of solitary confinement.

This happened in Maricopa County Jail, run by the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Such incidents are not rare.

The man was schizophrenic, and in the time leading up to this incident, the jail threw him in solitary and denied him the treatment he had been given by the county’s own community mental health system.

Corrections officers opted to deal with another woman, who was pregnant and suffering from a psychotic episode, by shooting her with a Taser. The voltage endangered her life and her pregnancy.

For the people of Maricopa County, simply being arrested and put in one of the county’s jails means risking lasting injury or even death. Close to 5,000 people trapped in the jails are all being held pre-trial, meaning none of them have even been found guilty of a crime. And yet they are all at grave risk because of the culture of cruelty and life-threatening lapses in medical care that have characterized the jail for at least the last 20 years.

Watch the trailer at

A Culture of Cruelty Trailer


This isn’t constitutional. And over five years ago, federal judge Neil Wake placed the jail under federal oversight and ordered the county and Sheriff Joe to fix their dangerously substandard system. But that order fell on deaf ears, as men, women, and children at Sheriff Joe’s jail have continued to suffer and die. A female detainee who reported a history of cardiac problems and who said she was suffering chest pain was not examined by a physician despite her complaints. Instead of receiving legally mandated care, she died hours later. Two other prisoners died of complications from inadequate treatment for alcohol withdrawal.

This continuous neglect is unacceptable. And it’s time for those in charge of the Maricopa County jails to stop skirting their constitutional responsibilities.

Last year, the county tried to get out from under the federal oversight Judge Wake ordered in 2008, claiming that it had done what is necessary to care for detainees’ mental and physical health. Not so fast. We opposed this move, and this week Judge Wake issued a scathing 66-page decision finding that the jails continue to provide detainees with inadequate medical and mental health care. He ordered the jail to remain under federal oversight until it can meet constitutional standards.

Sheriff Joe and Maricopa County shouldn’t be able to get away with this abuse and neglect any longer. Our legal victory moves us toward that goal. You can help keep the pressure on by watching The Joe Show, which opens today. It’s a documentary eight years in the making and exposes the sheriff and his reign of cruelty.

Enough preventable suffering. Enough unnecessary death.

Learn more about prison abuse and other civil liberties issues: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page