Do you think making men wear pink boxer shorts while in prison can help keep them from coming back? Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems to. This no-nonsense man is Sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. I've been sort of a fan of his since I first heard of his prison reform ideas some years back, but now that I've started doing some deeper research on him and his ways, I'm not so sure I'm still on the side-lines cheering him on.
Arpaio has cut prison costs dramatically by taking men and women out of structures that cost tons of money to keep up to code and heated and cooled and simply setting up what's known as "tent city prison" in the desert to house the inmates. With scorching summers and freezing desert winters, Ol' Joe's response to people's criticism of his inhumane housing of inmates is basically - if it's good enough for our troops; it's good enough for our criminals.
We have countless men and women overseas fighting and dying in war that only have canvas tents over their heads as a means to escape the elements. Not only do they lack air-conditioning themselves, but they are made to wear heavy and full body coverage military gear. Helmets and all. (All of this while dodging bullets and explosions.) When thinking of this, it doesn't make many worry that those labeled unworthy of being in the general public are being housed in the same way.
Sheriff Joe has taken away the privilege of weight lifting for inmates' physical activity and replaced it with chain-gangs that actually do valuable work and contribute to society. When he was accused of being unfair to men because women weren't made to do the same, he set up a female chain-gang. (And the female inmates have forever since been so grateful to the original whiners...)
Hot conditions and hard physical labor aren't all he's done to cheapen and reform prison sentences. He makes men wear pink boxer shorts and the meals there are nothing short of... well.. cheap. Bologna sandwich anyone?
His goal, says Joe, is to make prison completely unappealing for anyone that ever steps foot into one of his camps. He argues that prison can be better for some people than life on the streets where they came from. They don't have to work, they have cable TV, porn, weights, and three squares a day. What's to keep them from returning?
I agreed with his ideas. Why should prison be so easy? If inmates were made to work and go without common luxuries such as Internet and television, perhaps crime wouldn't be on the tops of their lists of things to do once they get out.
Then, my research began.
While Sheriff Arapaio is cutting prison costs dramatically, Maricopa County is more than making up for that in paying lawsuits and court fees due to the constant claims brought against them thanks to this prison system.
Top complaints of the serious nature from people held there would be lack of medical attention. Not just "I scraped my knee and he wouldn't give me a band aid," but serious concerns such as people not receiving necessary medications and being made to go without proper doctor's care for real diseases and conditions that resulted in serious injury.
If the people held in this Tent Prison were all child rapists and murders, I still could be supportive and think in my cold heart, "Good, they're getting what they deserve." However, I discovered that many people here are nonviolent offenders. Some are not even convicted of ANY crime at all and are simply there awaiting court dates. Though we as Americans are guaranteed "due process," this can take days or weeks depending upon what court system you are thrown into. Can you imagine being charged with a crime you didn't commit and being locked in a jail cell until you could be put on trial? Now, can you imagine being put through what inmates endure at Tent Prison while awaiting your trial fate?
The biggest problem I have with this now, is the fact that it doesn't seem to be working. For over 10 years this system has been in place, and Maricopa County's crime rate is actually going up! One could argue that it's because people there are more likely to report crime because they feel justice will be served. This argument becomes nil when you take into account things like murder where there is no need to have people report the crime.
I think Joe's ideas are good and I think Americans support this basic idea. We want criminals that have hurt people to serve a sentence and receive punishment. We want them to work their behinds off and sweat and be miserable. But, do we want inhumane treatment for them? Do we want them to go without medical attention? (possibly for some... but for all?) I'm still in the process of digging up information on this. It has me totally intrigued. I can't understand why the crime rate there is rising when criminals know this fate could await them. If this doesn't detour crime, what does? Could this mean what many people already believe: punishment doesn't solve problems. Rehabilitation and education does.
Just a glimpse into what's inside my head at the moment. (I am so random...) If anyone else is interested in my further findings, I'd be happy to report them in the future. I can see an article being written over this topic and the entire justice system in general. I have a great person to interview first person!