Feathered Bastard

ACLU Slams Joe Arpaio Over Jail Lockdown, and Channel 3's Marissa Wingate Digs Joe's Slop

Today the Arizona ACLU blasted Sheriff Joe Arpaio for locking down his jail facilities in response to a massive hunger strike inspired by the liquefied slop the MCSO feeds inmates on a daily basis. The civil rights organization denounced Arpaio's confining inmates to their cells, denying them Television, telephone usage and visitations, all because they refuse to eat the nasty brown goo poured over mashed potatoes, which, as Arpaio likes to crow, costs 17 cents per tray.

"A hunger strike can be considered protected speech under the First Amendment if it was intended to convey a particularized message," notes the ACLU AZ's press release. "Since that is clearly the case in this instance, inmates cannot be subjected to adverse action by jail officials simply for exercising that right."

I suppose in an ideal world that'd be the case, but we're in Maricopa County, not the United States of America. The latter is a political entity with a constitution, where everyone has certain civil rights, even those in county duds. 

A point that's often lost in all this: Seventy percent of all of the prisoners in Joe's gulags are pre-trial detainees. That means they haven't been convicted of anything yet. Some of you may be familiar with the maxim "innocent until proven guilty" from watching old Law & Order reruns. Just because someone can't raise bail doesn't mean they deserve to get treated worse than the canines in Arpaio's custody.

Hey, no one's saying these non-cons (get it?) should be served surf n' turf, or anything near it. Perhaps the MCSO could start with feeding the inmates something that doesn't make 'em gag.

Ironically, the food and conditions are generally better in Arizona state prisons than in Joe's jails. (Granted, that modifier "generally" overlooks a multitude of sins.) But that aside, the ACLU's ticked because a hunger strike is protected speech. The AZ ACLU's statement quotes the org's executive director Alessandra Soler Meetze, as saying,

"It is unconscionable that these inmates - many of whom have not been convicted of a crime - are being punished simply for protesting the inhumane conditions in Maricopa County jails. This has turned into a real crisis. Rather than addressing it, Arpaio is retaliating against the inmates for attempting to send a message to the outside world."

Problem is, Meetz is dealing with some rather high-falutin' concepts that may be over the heads of the many cave dwellers in our benighted county. "You mean prisoners have rights?" I can almost hear them saying. "I just figured they were guilty as sin as soon as Joe puts 'em in them there stripes."

And some wonder how Arpaio gets reelected every four years.

Let's say you have a family member who is innocent and is stuck in jail awaiting trial. Do you want them treated humanely? Or do you want them to suffer?

Wouldn't you want them to have the right to peacefully refuse to eat the hoosegow's garbage du jour without being punished?

Someone sent me the following link to a piece by Channel 3's Marissa Wingate, who was allowed access to the Fourth Avenue Jail and got to sample some of the slop, which looks as vile as disgusting as you'd imagine. Wingate eats a tiny portion and declares, "It's not that bad." Of course, Wingate didn't look like she was digging in with a hearty spoonful either. Maybe something killed off her appetite. Can't imagine what.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons