Sheriff Joe Arpaio Seeks To Evade Federal Oversight Despite Inhumane Living Conditions And Lack Of Medical And Mental Health Care
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PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union is in a federal district court beginning today seeking to rebuff an attempt by Maricopa County and its sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to terminate a federal consent decree mandating that he maintain conditions at the Maricopa County Jail that meet constitutional minimums.
The ACLU will argue in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona that deteriorating conditions within each of the jail's five facilities that house pre-trial detainees – people who have been arrested but not yet tried or convicted – necessitate federal court oversight to ensure that Arpaio and other county officials maintain safe and humane conditions and provide the thousands of pre-trial detainees held there basic levels of medical and mental health care.
"The failure of Sheriff Arpaio and other Maricopa County officials to provide adequate basic medical and mental health care exposes the men and women in their custody to needless and terrible pain, deterioration of their medical and mental health and risk of permanent injury or even death," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "There can be little debate that detainees are being systematically denied access to the level of care mandated by the Constitution."
Pre-trial detainees at Maricopa County Jail are regularly given moldy bread, rotten fruit and other contaminated food. Detainees with serious medical, mental health and dental needs receive inadequate care, and they are routinely denied beds or bunks at intake, forcing them to sleep on the floor. Additionally, severe overcrowding in three of the jail's facilities has created extremely dangerous environments by significantly increasing the potential for violence among inmates.
In one recent and particularly galling example, jail officials chose to punish rather than treat the bizarre behavior of a young and severely psychotic African immigrant. Jail officials put him in disciplinary segregation and chose to house him with other inmates, resulting in his being so severely beaten by his cell mates that he had to be taken to the emergency room.
In another case, a young man with cystic fibrosis was routinely denied breathing treatments and other medical treatment despite his repeated requests, resulting in his breathing capacity eroding by nearly 30 percent during the time of his detention.
Arpaio has been attempting for nearly seven years to get out from under the consent decree that governs conditions under which pre-trial detainees are housed and which resulted from nearly two decades of litigation that centered on the jail's horrific conditions. Under a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the consent decree has been unenforceable since Arpaio filed a motion to have it terminated in September 2001.
Among those testifying on behalf of the ACLU is Todd R. Wilcox, who resigned last February from his job as director of Maricopa County's Correctional Health Services (CHS) for, among other reasons, what he called "the significant degradation of systems and processes within CHS" and his unwillingness to continue "to defend CHS' healthcare delivery system in its current state of disarray and with its current deficiencies in resources."
"Providing dangerous jail conditions for people who have not been convicted of any crime is unacceptable by anyone's standards," said Debra Hill, an attorney with the Phoenix law firm Osborn Maledon who is serving as co-counsel in the case. "There is no justification for being fed rotten food or being denied basic medical or mental health care."
Attorneys in the case include Winter of the ACLU, Hill of the Phoenix law firm Osborn and Maledon and Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona.
A copy of the ACLU's pre-trial brief can be found online at: www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/36384lgl20080730.html
Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project can be found online at: www.aclu.org/prison/index.html