Human Plights

International group urges immediate stop to Arpaio jail practices

For more than 20 years, people around the world have participated in Amnesty International's letter-writing campaigns to protest mistreatment of prisoners by repressive foreign governments.

Following investigations into allegations of prisoner abuse, the organization calls upon its volunteers to send mountains of mail to petty dictators and sadistic jailers.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for example.
Since late July, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has had in its possession a report from Amnesty International which harshly condemns many of Sheriff Arpaio's most well-known practices, New Times has learned.

The highly respected organization found that Maricopa County's methods of incarceration violate basic worldwide standards of human rights.

Amnesty International spokesman Roger Rathman says that Arpaio and the county jails will soon become a target of the organization's vast number of letter writers. But, according to the group's custom, those letters will come from outside the target country. Rathman guesses that volunteers in Western Europe will be assigned the task of protesting to Arpaio.

Previously, Rathman says, Amnesty had investigated other American penal institutions, but all were the harshest of state and federal prisons. Maricopa County's jails appear to be the first county jail the organization has heard enough complaints about to investigate.

The group mailed the findings of that investigation July 27 to Don Stapley, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. When Stapley was asked to comment about the report, his spokesman Marcus Dell'Artino replied: "Our attorneys have advised us not to go on the record about it."

Not true, according to the County Attorney's Office, which represents Stapley. A spokesman for the office says supervisors make up their own minds about whether to comment on such matters.

In the nine-page report, Amnesty's Javier Zuniga, program director of the Americas Regional Program, details several jail atrocities familiar to New Times readers, including the death of Scott Norberg, the maiming of paraplegic Richard Post and the near-fatal beating of Jeremy Flanders, all in 1996.

Amnesty's report calls for an immediate stop to several of Arpaio's practices, including some of his most publicized:

* Calling Tent City "chronically understaffed," Amnesty found that the facility was not an "adequate or humane alternative to housing inmates in suitable . . . jail facilities," and recommended that the county cease its operation.

* Labeling chain gangs "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the report said that they "serve no legitimate penological purpose," and recommended that the county stop using them.

* Citing the examples of countries and states that have banned the use of stun guns in jails, the report "urges . . . Maricopa County authorities . . . [to] cease issuing them to all detention officers."

* Reviewing Richard Post's case as an example, Amnesty "urges the Maricopa County authorities to conduct an urgent review of the use of restraint chairs in the county jails with a view to restricting their use."

* Disturbed by conditions in First Avenue Jail, where some juveniles are held in "lockdown" and kept in their cells for all but an hour per day, the report says that according to international standards, "it is not appropriate or humane to house children in solitary confinement."

* The report specifically censures the treatment of female juveniles awaiting trial, who are being held under "deprived conditions" at First Avenue Jail, including no privacy from male guards.

* Amnesty also recommends that because of serious concerns about the use of excessive force in the county's jails, the Sheriff's Office should review its policies about the use of force "to ensure that they conform to international standards."

Early in June, Amnesty's Angela Wright and David Marshall arrived in Phoenix to research conditions in the jails. They met with Arpaio and some of his staff, toured the jails and reviewed county records. They also met with a New Times writer to discuss Arpaio's long-standing unwillingness to turn over records or grant New Times an interview.

Arpaio turned down an interview request for this story as well.
Sheriff's Office intergovernmental liaison John J. MacIntyre dismissed the report, saying that "there are quite a few errors and inaccuracies in it." He says he will be writing a response to Amnesty International which he will send soon. He also pointed out that the Department of Justice declined action after investigating the Richard Post matter, and claimed that in none of the practices condemned by Amnesty International were state or constitutional laws violated.

According to Amnesty's report, Sheriff's Office staffers told the investigators that excessive force had never been "prevalent" at the jail and "stated that there were adequate measures to identify and sanction any officers found responsible for misconduct.

"However, during its visit Amnesty International received information on more than a dozen cases of alleged ill-treatment or use of excessive force, covering an 18 month period up to the time of Scott Norberg's death, which raise serious concerns about practices in the jail system," the report says.

The report goes on to describe the case of Richard Post, a paraplegic who spent a single night in jail for arguing with a bar owner and for possessing a gram of marijuana; his story was told in New Times in January ("Jailers Show a Paraplegic Who's Boss," January 23).

Denied a catheter so he could urinate, Post banged on his cell door and caused his commode to overflow to get the attention of jail guards. They responded by taking Post out of his wheelchair and strapping him down in a restraint chair. After an hour, guards acceded to his pleas to put a gel cushion under him. Because he was on the hard surface so long, he would be bedridden for several months with an ulcerated anus.

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These reports I am amazed, still continue. Why hasn't anyone who is an administrator over Sheriff Arpaio not doing anything about the shameful and disgraceful way he istreating the inmates in his jail system? I have known aboutthese practices since a relative was incarcerated and hadn't been charged. He was merely in a holding pattern un-til he had his day in court. And there are so many holdeeswho have to put up with rotted food, being sick continuallyand now no medical staff to help right the wrongs made byan unsafe diet. The man is sadistic and insane. Let the manbe investigated. Especially about what happened to the drugbust evidence found missing under his watch, back in the late 90's. And what about his children that were arrestedfor dealing? They never turned up in jail. This news wasthrougout the jail, but never leaked to the press. McCain has a deaf ear and blind eye to what happens underhis trickle down government offices including the countyjail and Sheriff. He supports Sheriff Arpaio, so that sayswhat McCain is all about. Corruption runs rampant in thePhoenix jail system. And it's time the truths were exposed.

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