Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Prisoners Spend "Millions" on Canteen Purchases: So, Um, Where's the Dough, Joe?

The kids ain't the only ones who need to lay off the Snickers, Joe.

While Democrat and sheriff's office candidate Dan Saban was laying out a plan today to put more deputies on patrol and reduce response times from the 16 minutes it sometimes takes for the MCSO to get to certain parts of Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was engaging in another of his PR-department-hyped news events, this one having to do with taking candy away juveniles in his custody.

In a cheap gimmick timed to distract the media from Saban's more serious fare, Arpaio banned kids from buying candy and cookies from the commissary in his jails, a commissary inmates are forced to use because the green bologna and other food Joe feeds them is so rank, they have no choice but to pony up dough for potato chips, Baby Ruths, Chips Ahoy, and what have you. Arpaio's press release tries to play this as a move to improve the health of the 200 or so juveniles under his watch. But this is totally bogus. After all, if the MCSO cared for the health of these juveniles, then why did sheriff's office honchos wait over 15 years into his administration to implement this change?

"With the recent news of the growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes," reads the release, "especially among Hispanic and African-American youth, sugary products which the juvenile inmates spend an average of $1000 [per] week to buy from the Sheriff’s canteen operation will be replaced with healthy snacks like raisins, sugar free vanilla wafers, yogurt pretzels and beef jerky."

Sounds like a real crock, eh? After all, if they fed the kids decent, they wouldn't have to change what's in the commissary for them. But did you catch that dollar amount? Juvenile prisoners "spend an average of $1000 [per] week" at the sheriff's canteen. $1000 a week. And that's just the juveniles. The adults spend a whole lot more. How do I reckon that? Because the MCSO's press release tells me so, stupid.

"Juveniles and adult inmates alike purchases [sic] millions of dollars of canteen items each year," states the press release, "many of them food products as a way to augment the 17 cent meals inmates are served twice daily."

Let me repeat that: "millions of dollars of canteen items" are purchased. So, Joe, just where does all that money go? It's a question New Times has asked before in the form of public records requests to the MCSO, but to date we have never received a full and fair accounting of the workings of Joe's jail canteen, much less an indication of where all of those "millions" are directed.

The MCSO statement tells us that, "An austere jail system has been the hallmark of Sheriff Arpaio’s administration," but what it doesn't tell you is that same "austere jail system" forces prisoners to make purchases from the canteen at inflated prices. Keep in mind, there's no cash allowed in the jails. But family members and friends are allowed to put money on a prisoner's account, and with that account a prisoner can purchase food fit for human consumption.

Junk food then becomes a unit of trade with which inmates can buy contraband that's been "keistered" into the jail, everything from cigarettes and coffee to marijuana and heroin. That trade is controlled by a handful of race-based gangs, such as the Woods (whites, aka, the Aryan Brotherhood), the Kinfolk (blacks), the Pisces (Mexicans from Mexico), and the Cholos, (Mexican-Americans). Should you ever find yourself in Tent City for any length of time, you will be forced to join one of these gangs. I detailed this reality last year in a column item titled, "Sheriff Gangbanger."

The high price paid for edible food helps fuel this gang activity. When the mystery stew on your tray tastes like dog doo, Cup of Noodle suddenly has an unforeseen value to it.

All the same, these "millions" being raked in by the MCSO belong to you and me, the taxpayers. Or at least the profit from the sales do. And you know there is a profit. It is likely substantial. And as of this time, it remains unaccounted for.

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