Joe Arpaio's Jails Not Audited, Despite What Arizona Republic Claims

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If you read today's Arizona Republic or watched Fox News last night, you might be under the mistaken impression that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's vast incarceration complex has undergone an audit from the U.S. Marshals Service and earned gold stars and smiley faces all around.

Um, not exactly. Despite the hoo-ha Arpaio's made over it, and despite the Republic's spurious headline, "Maricopa County jails audit receives high marks, but race questions linger," U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales tells me there was no "audit" done.

"This is not an audit," Gonzales explained to me today. "It's a basic review for short term visits by federal prisoners. And it's just to ensure that basic requirements are met."

Gonzales said that on any given day, out of the 6,000 prisoners in federal custody spread across the state in various facilities, there are less than 10 being held by the MCSO.

The only reason the U.S. Marshals park some folks at MCSO jails -- usually overnight -- is because of the proximity of those facilities to the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix, which is about five minutes away from the Fourth Avenue Jail.

Otherwise, the marshals would have to keep their prisoners at a facility in Pinal or Pima Counties.

Gonzales said the Marshals Service eyeballs the facilities it uses on a yearly basis. Every county sheriff gets one, according to Gonzales.

"In the nine years that I've been the Marshal, no one has ever not passed this simple inspection," stated Gonzales.

The review takes about an hour or two, he said. Some of the information on the checklist, which you can take a look at, here, is taken on faith from the MCSO.

This is evident from the document itself. For instance, concerning "Use of Force," it reads, "The Facility Director ensures that force is used only when necessary and only as long as necessary."

Basically, the Marshals office takes the Facility Director's word for it.

Regarding each visit to a facility, the MCSO knows in advance that the marshals are coming, so there's plenty of time to spruce up.

When pro-immigrant activists were jailed in July after engaging in acts of civil disobedience, they afterward described filthy, crowded conditions at Fourth Avenue. One activist, Sarahi Uribe, told me there were human feces on the floor of her holding cell.

I'm guessing the MCSO scraped those up before the marshals stopped by for a cursory check.

Former drug dealer Shaun Attwood described horrific conditions at MCSO facilities in his book Hard Time. As I wrote in a recent Bird column, Attwood recounted seeing rats in the food, hordes of cockroaches, and rampant drug use by the inmates, among other outrages.

Arpaio's jails lack national accreditation, having lost it in 2008. Moreover, they've been the sites of numerous deaths resulting from detention officer brutality, violence among inmates, lack of proper medical care, etc. These wrongful deaths have resulted in lawsuits costing the county more than $43 million in payouts and settlements.

So Arpaio's -- and by proxy, the Republic's -- suggestion that everything is hunky-dory in Joe's gulags because the marshals say they're okay to hold a few inmates for a day or so, is bunk.

As for the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit over access to Joe's jails, his files, and his staff, that suit concerns an ongoing civil rights investigation. The marshals were not doing an investigation. Basically, they were just making sure the showers work and the inmates get fed, along with other basics.

Joe's bloviating is one thing. That's to be expected. But the Republic knows better. Or it should.

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