Joe Arpaio's Balloon Payments

It hasn't been cheap keeping the Joe Show aloft. Now, his employees, his inmates and the citizens of Maricopa County are paying the price.

"You've never heard so many people say the word 'bullshit' at once," says one sheriff's supervisor.

Then Hendershott announced the cuts:

Seventy-seven leased vehicles would be returned. Employees would turn in pagers and cell phones. Overtime would be slashed by 90 percent. Hours worked at outlying jails would be severely restricted. Capital equipment purchases would stop for the rest of the year. Travel and education for employees would cease. Office credit cards could no longer be used to buy food, and no new purchase orders would be issued.

Joe Arpaio, America's Toughest Sheriff.
Doug Hoeschler
Joe Arpaio, America's Toughest Sheriff.

All orders for office supplies, computers, special uniforms, guns, ammunition, furniture, chairs, calculators and many other items would be stopped until further notice.

In addition, Arpaio would sell his most expensive helicopter -- a $1.9 million Bell 407 that Arpaio said he needed but clearly didn't. (His best offer is about $900,000 for the two-year-old custom-built machine, a loss of $1 million for taxpayers.)

Attorneys would be charged for calls made by their clients. (That budget-cutting effort is another example of simply shifting the taxpayers' burden; since most inmates are calling public defenders, Arpaio is costing another county entity an estimated $500,000.)

The warrants division would be drastically cut.

Satellite jails in Mesa and Avondale would be closed, meaning outlying city police would have to transport prisoners all the way to downtown Phoenix for booking.

In the jails, prisoners would be sold decaffeinated coffee for $1 to raise money.

And meals would be cut from three a day to two a day.

"Further cost-saving steps are under review," Hendershott wrote in his memo.

"It was like doomsday," a Madison jail detention officer says. "We thought things couldn't get any worse. Then we realized they were going to get a whole, whole lot worse."

The cuts had an immediate impact on numerous Valley police agencies. In Buckeye, for example, the loss of the Avondale jail means officers are having to take as much as four hours longer to transport and book a prisoner. As Buckeye officers drive to Madison jail and wait in line for hours, the citizens of Buckeye are left with only two officers on duty.

"I don't know what we're going to do," says Mike Carey, Buckeye's chief of police. "It is Arpaio's job to transport and house inmates, and now my people are doing it. It's putting my officers and the people of Buckeye in jeopardy to make up for mistakes made in the Sheriff's Office."

In the jails, anger and gallows humor have replaced the last bits of hope and human dignity.

Nowhere is the human toll of Arpaio's financial mismanagement more apparent than in the sheriff's work furlough program, which involves about 700 male and 80 female inmates.

The work furlough inmates are serving time for relatively minor crimes. Volunteers take them to work in the morning and return them to jail in the evening.

It's an effective program. Inmates can keep the jobs they had before sentencing, which keeps stability and responsibility in their lives and allows them to continue to provide financial support for their families. The average work furlough participant contributes about $15 of his or her salary to pay for each day's room and board.

It is a particularly important program for single mothers.

Up until February, the female inmates in the program had their own area in Tent City. They had access to eight bathrooms, showers and sinks, as well as coin-operated laundry facilities and, of course, breakfast before they left and dinner when they returned.

Most women get up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., shower, dress, eat breakfast and head off to work between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Then, in February, cuts were made and new programs were put in place at the jails. Those included Arpaio's two-meals-a-day plan to save money.

Fearing a riot by angry inmates, jail staff moved some male inmates out of the overcrowded, understaffed jails into the work furlough women's facilities in Tent City. The women were moved into unused juvenile space.

There, the 80 women had access to two toilets, two sinks and three showers, of which only two worked. They had no washers or dryers and were told to wash their clothes in one of the two sinks.

Now, many of the women never get access to a toilet or shower before heading off to work. Their clothes and uniforms are filthy or badly wrinkled.

Since meals now come later, the women don't get breakfast. When they return from work, some women don't eat until as late as 9:30 p.m.

Several of the work furlough participants are diabetic.

"Some of these women can't get clothes washed, can't get themselves washed, can't get fed," says one of the inmates, who is continuing her job as she serves four months for her second drunken-driving offense. "It may be funny to some people to make their life hell. But now they can't even function properly at work. It is an impossible situation."

Some of the women say they are being offered extra ice cream in an attempt by the sheriff to get them to court-ordered daily calorie levels.

Because of the late meals and logistical problems of Arpaio's new food program, the work furlough women, like inmates throughout the sheriff's jails, are also increasingly unable to attend evening classes provided by inmate services staff and volunteers.

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