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PLN quoted re restrictive mail policy imposed by Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Phoenix New Times, Jan. 1, 2007.
PLN quoted re restrictive mail policy imposed by Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio - Phoenix New Times 2007

Mail Order Joe

The cranky cockatoo criticizes Sheriff Joe's new jail mail policy, and agitates the agitators at last week's kooky counter-protest

From the beak of The Bird to the ear of Stephen Lemons

Published: May 10, 2007


As if this outraged owl needed more proof that Maricopa County's gone mad, Sheriff "Nickel Bag" Joe Arpaio announced two months ago that he would implement a new policy on jail mail on May 1. That is, inmates ain't allowed none. Or nearly none. Already, prisoners of Arpaio's gulags can communicate out only via prison postcards featuring Joe's wrinkled mug or pics of stripe-wearin' denizens of Tent City with the greeting, "Hello from Sunny Arizona!" Now, most all incoming mail will be restricted to postcards as well.

Remember, about 75 percent of those in Joe's jails at any given time are awaiting trial, and presumed innocent. So, if you've been pinched for a minor crime and can't afford bail, not only do you languish in Arpaio's slammer, eat his grody grub, and risk getting beaten to death by guards or fellow inmates, your loved ones can't even write you a friggin' letter.

Legal mail is exempted, as are periodical subscriptions and money orders to a prisoner's account. But personal correspondence must come in the form of metered postcards, meaning you can't use a stamp, but must have the card run through a postal machine. Also, blue or black ink only, folks, though Joe and his supporters are usually more comfy using crayons.

According to Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, Joe's new policy is the most restrictive one of its kind in the country.

"Beyond the legality of it, it seems to be just another mean thing that Arpaio's come out with to further alienate and isolate the prisoners in his captivity," said Wright. "For many people in jail, the mail is an essential means of communicating with their families, and everyone else. I don't think this policy will pass constitutional muster."

That depends on whom you're askin'. AZ ACLU legal director Dan Pochoda insisted the ACLU's looking at the new policy but is not sure it can challenge it yet.

"Unfortunately, shitty acts and bad policies don't translate into constitutional wrongs," explained Pochoda. "They can open all letters now, other than legal mail. So, it's a relative standard. The law is so crummy in terms of any rights of people in jails or prisons, and certainly any privacy rights, that it's hard to [challenge], as bad as this is on its face."

The justification for this pinheaded postal ban? "To ensure the safety of jail facilities, inmates, and staff," according to the MCSO. Interesting, considering the fact that Arpaio's facilities are often deadly for those inhabiting them, spawning lawsuit upon lawsuit, with multimillion-dollar cash awards going to plaintiffs.

Currently, crackerjack counselor Mike Manning is in court, suing Arpaio and Maricopa County for $12 million in the wrongful death of Phillip Wilson, an MCSO informant who was discovered and beaten by the Aryan Brotherhood into a coma from which he never awoke. This razorbilled chirper got hold of some of last week's trial transcripts, and alighted on the fact that Peter Crowley, head of the county's risk-management department, admitted in his testimony that he hand-delivered a letter to the sheriff's offices in 2003, months before Wilson was murdered, warning Arpaio that if certain changes weren't made in the way Tent City's run, both the county and Arpaio could be held liable for deaths occurring on their watch.

If the county's own risk-management guys think Tent City's unsafe and liable to result in successful lawsuits that taxpayers of this county have to pay, then Joe should be doing something to make those facilities safer and more humane rather than clamping down on a basic human right like receiving mail, one that even most POWs are afforded.

But it's Arpaio's policy to keep Tent City and his incarceration chambers understaffed, unsafe and generally negligent. In Arpaio's 1996 book, America's Toughest Sheriff: How We Can Win the War Against Crime, he writes, "The tents weren't only for drunk drivers and purse snatchers, we were entertaining drug dealers, and sex offenders, and murderers too, with no more than two or three detention officers guarding them at any time."

As this spoonbill's spat before, Arpaio routinely flouts the rights of Maricopa County's citizenry, as well as of this paper, by refusing our public records requests, and urging Pinal County to prosecute us for revealing Joe's address online, even though anyone with an Internet connection can discover same. Joe remains accountable to no one, no matter how obvious his misdeeds are, or how many times the county takes a hit on his behalf in civil court. How much longer must we endure this reign of error?