By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Arpaio is clearly excited about the possibility of a grand police sweep. But even he sees there are limits.
"We have good deputies, but they can't lock up everybody," he says.
Whether Arpaio's tent jails pass constitutional muster for prison housing remains to be seen. No case has been filed challenging the system and, so far, the only people placed in the tents are prisoners who have been convicted and sentenced.
@body:Most of the inmates living in the tents are allowed to work jobs during the day, but return to jail at night. Inmates say conditions in the tents can be poor, although some add that living in them beats the heck out of living in one room with 100 other men.
The military tents arrived at the Estrella Jail riddled with holes. But several weeks of patching plugged up the biggest, inmates say.
The 35 tents are erected over six-inch concrete slabs. Two rows of double bunk beds line the walls. Fluorescent lights hang overhead. An evaporative cooler is mounted at one end. Heat is provided by a small electric heater inmates say is worthless.
Outside, eight portable toilets stand ready for use. Inmates have access to a dorm across the rock-lined courtyard, where eight more toilets and showers are available. The dorm also has a television set, tables and chairs.
"This isn't so bad," Arpaio says during a recent tour. "I've even thought about staying here."
He probably wouldn't have enjoyed the recent heavy rains. Inmates say many of the tents leaked, and that water drained down the sides onto the concrete floors.
Inmates also complain of respiratory illness, blaming the cold at night, the lack of heavy blankets and inadequate heating.
Tent inmates are also caught in a Catch-22 when it comes to medical care. The rules and regulations all inmates must sign before entering the tent jail state no health care will be provided. Rich Marshall, the director of Correction Health Services, says inmates are not entitled to health care at the jail's clinic unless they suffer a serious injury at the jail. Marshall says inmates are expected to receive routine medical treatment from their private physicians.
But inmates say detention officers sometimes refuse to allow them to see outside doctors.
Take the case of Frank, an inmate who sought permission to obtain health care from AHCCCS, the state's health plan for the poor. Jailers rejected his request, saying the jail already provides his health care.
"Frank is an inmate of a correctional facility on work release or work furlough whose health care is to be provided by the correctional facility," detention officer R. Duncan wrote on a form denying Frank's access to outside health care.
@body:While Arpaio plans to expand his "In-Tents Jail" program, a mounting body of evidence shows that the massive increase in the nation's prison and jail population has had little impact on crime.
Arizona State University criminal justice professor Dennis Palumbo says Arpaio's call for more jail cells is a political ploy to increase jail funding, which already costs county taxpayers $50 million per year. Palumbo says more jails will have no impact on reducing violent crime.
"The incarceration rate in Arizona has gone up almost 260 percent over the past 12 years, while the crime rate has remained about stable," he says. "Putting all of those people in prison doesn't seem to have done a damn thing."
Maricopa County incarcerates one in 400 persons, while only one in 800 Pima County residents is in the county jail on any given night. Yet Phoenix ranked 39th and Tucson 43rd in the nation in rankings of violent crime, according to an ASU report presented earlier this month at the Arizona Town Hall.
Arpaio's response to Palumbo's criticism is to deflect the question.
"Ask the victims of violent crime if there is enough jail space," Arpaio says.
Arpaio is also quick to dismiss Judge Carroll's concerns about jail population. During a recent tour of the tent jail, Arpaio said the county is in compliance with the consent decree.
"We don't have jail overcrowding now," Arpaio insisted. "We relieved 800 to 1,000 people in jail that were double-bunking by putting them here."
But the sheriff's own numbers show the county remains out of compliance with the federal court order. As of November 5, the county was in violation of the court order by 592 persons at the Madison Street Jail, by 21 at the Towers facility and by 83 at the First Avenue facility.
The county's failure to comply with the consent decree is likely to lead to another showdown. Attorney Ted Jarvi says the lack of progress in reducing overcrowding is forcing the issue back to court.
But Arpaio doesn't appear concerned about constitutional questions that arise from his jail-packing proposals and his flagrant disregard for the rights of pretrial prisoners. In fact, he flaunts his disdain for court orders.
Last spring, after five sentenced prisoners escaped from the recreation yard of the First Avenue Jail, Arpaio closed the recreation area in spite of a court order saying such facilities are required.
"I closed that recreation center right off the bat," he says. "Even though the judge says you have to have it, it's gone."
While Arpaio is moving toward military-style incarceration facilities unseen since World War II Japanese internment camps, the rest of Maricopa County's law enforcement agencies are trying to reduce jail populations by creating a number of programs designed to keep nonviolent arrestees out of jail.