JAILHOUSE BLUES

PACK 'EM IN AND TAKE AWAY THEIR RIGHTS. THAT'S SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO'S PHILOSOPHY

Reed's battle for paper and proper legal assistance has now reached the Arizona Supreme Court. Ironically, when Reed filed his case, the Sheriff's Office was required to make nine copies--which used 5,000 sheets of paper.

"The jail was willing to spend ten reams of paper in support of my petition before the Supreme Court, but it wasn't willing to cough up $15 worth of office supplies, which is why we are in court to begin with," Reed says.

Getting pens and paper is only half of Reed's battle. His more daunting task has been trying to get access to law books, journals and indexes.

Pima County allows direct access to the jail's law library, but Reed and other pretrial prisoners in Maricopa County jails have to make specific requests--including the legal citation--for any document they wish to review. They are forced to do this without any reference materials. The request is given to an inmate, who then gets copies made in the law library.

"I call it the 'poke and hope' method of law. You try it and see if it works, and hope you learn something," says Reed.

@rule:
@body:But prisoners such as Reed have problems other than office supplies. After the consent decree was signed in 1981, the jail population exploded. With the declaration of war on drugs, the number of prisoners nearly doubled in 1986.

Little legal pressure was placed on the county to reduce overcrowding. The jail population continued to rise at a pace greater than construction of new jails. Finally, in June 1992, Tempe attorney Ted Jarvi asked U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll to hold the county in contempt for failing to abide by the consent agreement. Carroll instead ordered Maricopa County supervisors to tour the jail, and directed the county to develop a plan to reduce overcrowding.

The county is slowly developing, and, in some cases, has instituted, reforms aimed at easing overcrowding in the jails. But Maricopa County continues to drag its feet in funding basic programs, such as expanded pretrial services, that have proven to be very effective in reducing jail overcrowding elsewhere, notably in Pima County.

Unlike former sheriff Tom Agnos, who at least acknowledged the jails were in violation of the federal court order, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is making the situation worse. Arpaio's jail-packing proposals will be costly and, critics say, ineffective. Jarvi and others say thousands of nonviolent pretrial detainees could be released and placed in lower-cost programs without endangering the public.

Approximately 300 of the 2,500 pretrial prisoners are considered mentally ill, and should be in other facilities. Hundreds more, in on minor offenses, are simply too poor to pay the bond. Another 10 percent is in on nonviolent offenses and could be released without jeopardizing the safety of the community, prison-reform advocates say.

Removing just 1,000 people from jail until their court dates could slice $10 million annually from the system's $50 million operating budget. It also could make more room for violent offenders.

"The county jail is full of people who are clearly not dangerous, and people who are not threats to society," says Donna Hamm of the prisoner advocacy group Middle Ground.

@rule:
@body:Sheriff Joe Arpaio gazes wistfully toward the undeveloped desert extending beyond the barbed-wire fence encircling the Estrella Jail complex in west Phoenix, and shares his law enforcement vision for Maricopa County.

"If we had more people in jail," he says, "we would not have the violence, the gangs, the drugs, the auto thefts and the burglaries. I want more people in jail. But I have to make room to put those people in jail."
Arpaio, who likes to revel in his Drug Enforcement Agency exploits, which included putting traffickers in filthy Turkish prisons, is not worried about the lack of jail space. Arpaio believes there is a cheap way to hold the tens of thousands of criminals still walking the streets and dusty back roads of Maricopa County.

Arpaio's solution is to put inmates--20 to 40 at a time--in surplus Army tents. He says he can put 1,000 inmates in his tent jails for only $100,000.

Arpaio's law enforcement utopia is not only inexpensive, it's already here, at least on a small scale.

There are already 800 minimum-security inmates living in tents at the county's Estrella Jail facility, which Arpaio calls the largest tent jail in the history of the country. And it is just the beginning of Arpaio's plan.

Arpaio wants to extend the tent program to include medium-security inmates and a shock-incarceration boot camp. Soon, there could be thousands of county inmates in tents stretching across the desert.

Although Arpaio sold the tent program as a temporary measure to the state fire marshal and county health officials, he now envisions the tents staying forever.

"These tents are going to stay, and it's going to get bigger," he says. How much bigger? "It's up to the police to lock people up, and the judge to put people in jail. I can't control that," he says.

But Arpaio does oversee 492 deputies who have 40,000 unserved criminal warrants sitting in file cabinets, just waiting to be pulled. Given enough tent cities, Arpaio's deputies and his steadily expanding posse (soon to number 2,600) could round up thousands of residents who have outstanding warrants ranging from failure to pay a traffic fine to murder.

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