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Sheriff Joe Is An Asshole, But…

August 1, 2010

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona is one tough mutha. I don’t like him because he is a typical republican – mean, cruel and evil at the core. In my opinion, anyone who would force prisoners to watch videos of Newt Gingrich’s 10-part lecture series is guilty of cruel and unusual punishment. That said, I do think that law enforcement and animal control officials throughout the country could do well by adopting, but perhaps mellowing, some of his initiatives.

He has banned smoking, coffee, pornographic magazines, movies, and unrestricted television in all his jails. When inmates complained, he told them, “This isn’t the Ritz/Carlton. If you don’t like it, don’t come back.” He brags about lowering the cost of feeding inmates to 40-cents per serving, saying: “It costs more to feed our police dogs than our inmates. The dogs never committed a crime, and they’re working for a living.”

Those incarcerated in his tent-city jail work on chain gangs pulling weeds for the city and county, clearing brush, and the like. They live in outdoor tents in sweltering conditions, sleeping on cots with no pillows, and they’re forced to wear pink socks and underwear. When they complained about the heat, Sheriff Joe said, “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents too, and they have to wear full battle gear. But they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths!”

I have no argument with any of that. Prisoners are serving sentences because they committed crimes against the citizenry, so why shouldn’t they work for the citizens while they are there? And with all the budget cutting going on, why shouldn’t prisoners earn their keep? It’s not like we’re getting slave labor since it costs over $30,000 a year to house each prisoner.

Being an animal lover, the following account is my favorite of all the Sheriff’s accomplishments:

Sheriff Joe was instumental in the opening of the Maricopa Animal Safe Hospice (MASH) in what was formerly Phoenix’s First Avenue Jail. The MASH is a facility dedicated to caring for animals that have been abused or neglected by their caretakers, and those rescued by the Animal Cruelty Investigative Unit (as well as temporarily caring for the pets of owners who have checked into domestic violence shelters). The purpose of the shelter is to provide a safe, healthy and healing shelter for these tragic animals, who must necessarily await the outcome of their owners’ cruelty cases in court. Hopefully, their ultimate outcome will be adoption into loving, permanent homes.

The shelter is a 30-year-old jail that previously held inmates, but was closed for repairs to plumbing. Though no longer suitable for housing inmates, the jail looks like a paradise to the four-legged victims now housed and recovering there. It is air-conditioned and the cells have been reconditioned to comfortably house animals.

The county was spending approximately $18 million dollars a year on stray animals, like cats and dogs. The animal shelters are now all staffed and operated by prisoners. They feed and care for the strays. Every animal is taken out and walked twice daily. He now has prisoners who are experts in animal nutrition and behavior. They give great classes for anyone who’d like to adopt an animal. Joe has literally taken stray dogs off the street, given them to the care of prisoners, and even had them place in dog shows. His budget for the entire department is now under $3 million. Teresa, who adopted a Weimaraner from a shelter two years ago said, “He was neutered and current on all shots, in great health, and even had a microchip inserted the day we got him. It cost us $78.”

The prisoners get the benefit of about 28-cents an hour for working, but most would work for free, just to be out of their cells for the day. Most of his budget is for utilities, building maintenance, etc. He pays the prisoners out of the fees collected for adopted animals.

So, no matter what you may think of Sheriff Joe, this is a brilliant idea that is a win-win for the prisoners and the animals. There are so many animals in need of help, so few people willing to help, and so few dollars to go around. It wouldn’t hurt to propose this idea to your local authorities.

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