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.

Without students, classes are languishing. So some volunteers say they will soon be leaving.

As will detention officers. With the recent cutbacks, tensions between inmates and the jails' short staffs are at all-time highs, according to officers.

At Madison, officers say they are expecting -- but wholly unprepared for -- a major riot.

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

Inmates, particularly those associated with the New Mexican Mafia, routinely tell detention officers how many guards are on duty during shifts.

"Guys love to tell me: 'Hey, we figured you've got 41 guys tonight,'" says one Madison detention officer. "And they're usually right."

Guards have been unable to determine how several inmates have been increasingly able to slip out of their cells. Apparently, inmates have found a new way to partially jam cell doors so they appear locked but, with some jiggering, will open.

Detention officers feel isolated, outgunned and betrayed by Arpaio and Hendershott. Promised raises didn't materialize. Minimum staffing levels have quietly been dropped to save money. (A full staff for Madison was more than 300 people a decade ago. Now it is closer to 200.) They blame Arpaio's oddball spending habits and his gleeful disregard for human rights for the tense conditions in the jails.

"He's diverted money away from detention officers to pay for ridiculous programs and new chiefs, he's let the jails go to hell, he fires anybody who questions him or speaks to the press and he goes about building an inmate population that's so pissed off that they can't wait to take off somebody's head," says the Deputies Association's Gerberry. "Is it any wonder that morale doesn't exist and everybody who can quit does?"

Several officers say they have given family members explicit instructions to sue Joe Arpaio if they're killed.

"We might just as well have something to show for it," a Madison officer says during a recent New Times meeting with several officers.

Several detention officers say a siege mentality is beginning to grip the jail staff. Some make foreboding assessments of their state of mind.

"At some point, when you're so far out on a limb, you say, 'Screw protocol and reasonable force,'" says one detention officer. "If I feel like I'm fighting for my life, it means his life or mine."

"It's a powder keg," Gerberry says. "And it's going to blow up."

Loretta Barkell, the sheriff's new financial officer, has been working openly with county financial officers and the Board of Supervisors. She has found a financial disaster, but financial officers say they are confident the Sheriff's Office can be brought into compliance with the county's own budget initiative.

Under the new budget program, Managing for Results, the Sheriff's Office would have to better justify expenses and more thoroughly prove those expenses are having the desired outcome.

If followed to the letter, though, the criteria would appear to demand a systemic gutting of numerous bloated, ineffective and duplicative programs. (Even traditional Sheriff's Office administrative units, such as human resources, duplicate some county functions and would appear doomed under the Managing for Results ax.)

In reality, though, in the sheriff's case, Managing for Results will mostly govern only new expenses.

"We will still be saddled with most of the old problems," says a Sheriff's Office employee. "We just won't make as many new ones."

Clouding the future, too, are the ramifications from the myriad past and present mistakes. Staff morale is in free fall. Arpaio's command staff is fractionalized between supporters of Hendershott and supporters of other up-and-coming deputy chiefs.

With the recent cuts in food and services, as well as the staffing shortfalls, the Sheriff's Office is clearly in violation of minimum jail standards ordered by a 1984 court decision, which could lead to more lawsuits that will likely cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Some $16 million has already been paid to successful plaintiffs. More than $25 million in lawsuits has yet to be resolved.

Millions more are spent defending the Sheriff's Office. To be fair, though, some lawsuits would appear to be frivolous.

"We've got to defend ourselves," Allen says.

The county's insurance premium will increase because of Arpaio's jailhouse bravado. Financial officers still aren't sure how much.

In fact, much of the fallout from Arpaio's administration has yet to be clearly understood.

One of the county's accountants with knowledge of the sheriff's budget did, however, give some indication of what's to come:

"I think when it's all said and done, Arpaio won't be remembered as America's Toughest Sheriff.

"He'll be remembered as the World's Most Expensive Sheriff."

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