Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Jails Lose National Accreditation

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail accreditation was terminated last month — even as he awaited a federal court ruling that could take his jails out of his control.

Now, an examination of public records reveals that Arpaio failed for years to demonstrate that he had the proper credentials to operate the county jails. This violates a state law that went into effect in 2003 and requires sheriffs to annually provide the Arizona Department of Health Services with proof that their jails meet national standards. From 2003 to 2007, Arpaio failed to provide such proof to the department.

In 2008, Arpaio finally provided a certificate of national accreditation. But that same accreditation was revoked last month when the National Commission on Correctional Health Care decided that the jails do not meet U.S. standards.

This applies to all Maricopa County jail facilities.

The commission, which has accredited Arpaio's jails since 2003, wrote that jail personnel provided "false information" about the true conditions in the jails. The allegation aligns with New Times reports last year ("Inhumanity Has a Price," December 20, 2007) and last month ("Was Juan Mendoza Farias Beaten to Death by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Guards?" September 11).

It's unclear what the loss of the accreditation will mean in a practical sense. Arizona Department of Health Services spokeswoman Laura Oxley confirms that state law requires Arpaio to prove accreditation, but she says the statute is unclear about how the ADHS should reprimand a sheriff who violates that law — or what her department should do when a sheriff loses accreditation.

And it's true. The statute does not offer any remedy if the law is broken, even though an almost identical law requires the ADHS to go in and inspect if state prisons lose their accreditation.

"[The statute] imposes duties and responsibilities on the sheriff," says Phoenix attorney David Farren. But Farren agrees that the statute fails to name any repercussion for a sheriff who violates it.

"If the sheriff doesn't do that, what's the remedy? I can't answer that," he says. "Regardless of the remedy, though, someone should enforce it."


Arpaio's loss of accreditation comes as he faces re-election and awaits a ruling in a class-action lawsuit that could put his jails under federal control. That lawsuit, Hart v. Arpaio, is one of more than 2,200 jail-condition suits filed against Arpaio in federal court.

Hart v. Arpaio is brought on behalf of all detainees who have awaited trail in Arpaio's jails. The detainees allege that the jails are operated unconstitutionally because of substandard healthcare and other civil rights violations. Margaret Winter, associate director of the National Prison Project with the American Civil Liberties Union and Phoenix attorney Debra Hill represent the plaintiffs.

The trial concluded in early September, and U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake had not issued a ruling by press time.

During court proceedings, attorneys hired to represent Arpaio and the county touted the National Commission on Correctional Health Care accreditation as outside proof that Maricopa's jail standards are humane and constitutional.

Repeatedly, plaintiff's attorneys Winter and Hill answered that accreditation alone does not guarantee that jail conditions are constitutional ("Hart v. Arpaio Civil Rights Class-Action Suit Awaits Verdict," September 11).

By the county's own arguments during Hart v. Arpaio, the withdrawal of NCCHC accreditation means that Arpaio's jails are not meeting constitutional minimums, nor are they complying with past court orders.

Testimony in the lawsuit actually led to the termination of Arpaio's accreditation, according to a letter to the sheriff from Edward Harrison, president of the NCCHC. He wrote that jail officials provided "false information" about the treatment of chronically ill patients.

Harrison added that court testimony during Hart v. Arpaio proved that the jail was not living up to what it had told accreditors. (A copy of Harrison's letter is posted on New Times' Valley Fever blog.)

"It's a pretty big event," attorney Debra Hill says of the accreditation loss.


The NCCHC accredits about 450 jails and prisons and is the largest accreditor of correctional healthcare in the United States.

Elizabeth Piatek, assistant director of accreditation at the NCCHC, says she cannot comment on the specific violations that led to Arpaio's termination but says that such a drastic move by the commission is rare.

In 2003, the jails were inspected by both the Arizona Department of Health Services and the NCCHC. (New Times has an outstanding request for the state inspections from 2003 and previous years.)

In 2003, Maricopa and other counties successfully lobbied to change Arizona law so that state officials could not inspect county jails. Since then, sheriffs have been required only to submit proof of national accreditation.

In December 2007, New Times reported that the sheriff would not produce certificates of national inspection for the newspaper. One month later, ADHS program manager Kathryn McCanna wrote a letter to Arpaio, requesting the certificates and citing the state law.

In 2008, Arpaio's staff delivered to the ADHS a certificate of accreditation from the NCCHC.

In 2006, Arpaio's accreditation was put on "probation," the letter from the NCCHC shows. It was then fully reinstated — based on statements that jail personnel made to the NCCHC — before being terminated on September 25, 2008.

Even with Arpaio's accreditation terminated, Oxley says, the ADHS will not be inspecting Arpaio's facilities anytime soon because the law does not prescribe any punishment if a jail loses its accreditation.

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8 comments
NABH
NABH

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.Regards:NABH

NABH
NABH

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.Regards:NABH

NABH
NABH

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.Regards:NABH

Shawn
Shawn

I have been on both sides in the Joe debate. I worked as a fill in RN dozens of times over the years. 3 years ago I got a DUI. I had to spend a week in the 4th Ave jail, because my family was out of town and I had no one to bail me out. Of course jail sucks(as it should)Most of people's main concern was they could not smoke. All the repeat offenders could not wait to go to prison, so they could smoke. The other big issue is the food. It is better than what i got in the Army. Just remember these birds did something to get there

Jane Ramseier
Jane Ramseier

I can telll you that the Maricopa/Estrella Jail is a hell hole. My daughter was tried ans sentenced to FCI Phoenix Satellite Camp, and was tried and sentenced again, not by a judge, but by her case manager at the Camp. She gets a meal twice a day, a sack lunch for breakfast, and again something that resembles slop at 6:30. She is a non-violent inmate that has been placed with murderers, mentally ill, prostitutes, etc. and has been there for 30 days on the say so of this so called case manager. There has been no investigation involving a SRO and no one seems to be able to help. I have written to the Warden with no response. I have filed a civil rights petition with the justice department with no response. We do not know where else to turn. An investigation, by someone, is in order. Please someone contact me.

fearful
fearful

why has there been no action on the federal goverments partto remove the sheriff from office for continuing to violatepeople's civil rights. this man must be stopped!!! he and his goone squad violated my wife's and kids rights by video taping them while showering , dressing etc. we left the valley because of it. god help you all. this sort of stuff does not happen in the midwest. it is against the law, against the constitution of this great country called the USA

PhxCitizen
PhxCitizen

When are the taxpayers going to kick this clown out on his A**. How many more inmate deaths need to be committed before firing this bozo the clown. Dan Saban is the right man for the job, and he won't need to sheriff deputy force to protect him either. Sheriff Joke Apile is history, do your civic duty and vote this clown out, before he costs us millions more, and remember, what kind of Sheriff can afford to live in Fountain Hills!!

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Yea, but according to Bozo Joe's latest campaign ad, he lied, I mean got an "A" on how the jails are run....

 
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