Sheriff Joe Arpaio is known for, among other things, the way he runs the jail in Maricopa County, Arizona. His “Tent City” houses thousands of prisoners in the desert heat, and it has been argued that uniform items — such as pink underwear for male inmates — are intended to humiliate and punish inmates further.
Now, Sheriff Joe has announced the newest addition to the uniforms, and intends to debut it on the Fourth of July, and Arpaio says it will show respect for the nation and lead inmates to have greater respect for themselves: he’s adding a U.S. flag to the black-and-white striped uniforms.
Sheriff Joe’s uniforms for prisoners have previously been an issue. According to AZ Central, he asked the Supreme Court to rule in 2013 on the pink underwear he requires inmates to wear after a prisoner’s death sparked a lawsuit and the 9th Circuit Court called the practice “punishment without legal justification.” SCOTUS declined to hear the case.
With the new uniforms may come a new question, since not all of Arpaio’s prisoners are American. In an announcement (PDF), the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office described the new uniforms and affirmed multiple times that they would be worn not only by inmates with American citizenship and backgrounds, but “to include prisoners with national origins other than the United States…”
It’s no more illegal for a noncitizen to sport a U.S. flag than it is for a man to wear pink underwear, but Arpaio’s history may cause questions.
The sheriff has been criticized for, among other things, his policy proposals that include racial profiling. Specifically, NPR reports that an Arizona judge ruled three years ago that Sheriff Joe’s tactics of traffic stops aimed at Hispanic drivers constituted profiling, and that Arpaio was declared in contempt of court this year for failing to put an end to the practice.
Arpaio’s office says that each jail cell is also decorated with an American flag, and that inmates listen to “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” daily over a public address system.
However, the newest proposal didn’t please all of Sheriff Arpaio’s fans. When he announced the plan on his Facebook page, some of his followers expressed concerns.
“I’m not one to doubt Joe Arpaio most of the time but I think the flag could be put to better use than on criminal uniforms. Sorry.
“Will there be a penalty if an inmate defaces the flag?
The U.S. Flag Code forbids using the flag as a costume or athletic uniform, and specifically allows affixing patches bearing the flag for “members of patriotic organizations.” Arpaio’s proposal likely falls into this permissible category.
The controversial sheriff’s Tent City can house 2,000 inmates, according to ABC, though in June Arpaio said there were only about 800 currently in the Tent City. Most inmates housed here are still awaiting trial. Meals are reported to be valued at between 15 and 40 cents, and prisoners are not served meat. It is normal for temperatures to reach 125 degrees inside the facility.
In June, Arpaio released a video of himself delivering cold, wet pink towels and bottles of Gatorade to inmates on a hot day, and inviting donations for “… this drink, or anything to help.”
On Independence Day, Arpaio’s office says, incarcerated veterans (who are housed separately in order to provide for PTSD and other needs) will hand out the new uniforms. He further promises that another new uniform change is coming soon, this one to the clothing worn by chain gangs. USA Today reports that Arpaio has utilized chain gangs since 1995, and that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department is only one of several across the U.S. to do so.
At some unspecified point in the near future, Sheriff Joe Arpaio will also add an American flag to the uniforms worn by these inmates during work duty.
[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]