Sheriff Joe Arpaio is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, amid claims that 47 mentally ill inmates were mistreated at Arizona’s Maricopa County Jail. According to the lawsuit, the inmates were denied access to medical care and were not transferred to mental health facilities in a timely fashion. The lawsuit also claims Maricopa County Jail officials “skewed their own data” to conceal the fact that they were violating a federal court order.
In 2008, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was ordered by a federal judge to provide adequate medical care to all Maricopa County Jail inmates. According to the order, inmates who “display active symptoms of mental illness” are to be evaluated by a doctor within 24 hours. The jail is required to either provide appropriate care or transfer those deemed mentally ill to a mental health facility.
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Business Insider reports the ACLU hired Dr. Pablo Stewart, a psychiatrist, to evaluate the records of inmates who displayed symptoms of mental illness while housed at Maricopa County Jail.
Stewart concluded a startling number of inmates, who were clearly suffering from symptoms of mental illness, were denied access to a mental health evaluation. He also noted many inmates, who were diagnosed with mental illness, were not transferred to mental health facilities in a timely fashion.
ACLU National Prison Project senior staff counsel Eric Balaban said an estimated 20 percent of the inmates at Maricopa County Jail “have a mental illness that requires treatment.”
The lawsuit names 47 inmates who were denied care despite being in obvious distress. Although the inmates were not identified by name, they include a man identified as “JP,” who experienced auditory and visual hallucinations for four months before he was transferred to a mental health facility and a female inmate who was placed in solitary confinement, numerous times, despite the fact that she was displaying “increasingly psychotic” behavior.
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Dr. Pablo Stewart’s report, which was included as evidence in the lawsuit, concluded Maricopa County Jail simply does not have “a reliable system [to] ensure… timely transfer of seriously ill prisoners to an inpatient psychiatric facility.” The report also classifies the jail’s own mental health facility as “dangerously inadequate.”
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no stranger to controversy. The self-appointed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” makes no apologies for his no-nonsense approach to law enforcement.
On his Maricopa County Jail profile page, the sheriff outlines numerous changes he implemented over the last 24 years. Although he believes the policies helped him achieve his goals, they remain highly controversial.
In 1993, Sheriff Joe Arpaio established “a canvas incarceration compound,” which is commonly referred to as “tent city.” Although the sheriff calls the compound “a remarkable success story,” opponents argue the inmates are being exposed to “the blistering Arizona heat” with little shelter.
Arpaio is also criticized for reinstating chain gangs, forcing male inmates to wear pink underpants, and for only providing inmates with two meals each day. However, in his opinion, the changes have been largely successful and have saved taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
“Too many jails in this country are just shy of being like hotels… That isn’t right. I keep saying, ‘People shouldn’t live better in jail than they do on the outside.’ Here in my jails, they don’t.”
The ACLU, however, believes Sheriff Joe Arpaio is violating the inmates’ constitutional rights.
The lawsuit filed on Friday is only the latest in a long line of lawsuits filed against the controversial sheriff. In the past, he has been accused of mishandling sex crimes, “misus[ing] the power of his office,” and failing to provide inmates with adequate medical care.
In 2014, AZ Central reported Sheriff Joe Arpaio cost taxpayers more than $140 million in the last 24 years for “legal expenses, settlements, and court awards” related to lawsuits filed against him and the county.
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