You’re in jail; you’re not in a hotel

I thought I remembered seeing a 60 Minutes about Arpaio long ago. Sure enough – in 2001.

While Arpaio has received nationwide attention in the last few years for his hard-line stance against illegal immigration — and for promoting the lie that President Obama was born outside the U.S. — he made a name for himself in Arizona years ago.

60 Minutes profiled Arpaio in 2001, when he was eight years into his tenure as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. At the time, correspondent Morley Safer called him a “big-time publicity hound” who had “become famous ’round the world as just about the meanest man in the West.”

His reputation in 2001 was that of a tough-as-nails jailer who believed in punishment more than rehabilitation — and above all, in the humiliation of prisoners, reported Safer.

The Phoenix jail 60 Minutes visited with Arpaio was something of tent city, comprised of old Korean War tents with nothing to assuage the Arizona heat beyond holes in the canvas. Arpaio bragged to Safer that he spent more money on food for the jailhouse dogs than for inmates.

“They have to lose weight, too,” he said of the inmates. “They’re kind of heavy in there. I don’t see anybody dying around here.”

Arpaio got rid of the standard jailhouse uniform, dressing inmates in old-fashioned striped uniforms instead, and he used chain gangs for both male and female inmates.

Arpaio’s unorthodox approach turned more than a few heads; by 2001, Amnesty International, the ACLU and the Justice Department all condemned his methods. Donna Hamm, a former judge and then-prison reform advocate, told 60 Minutes the atmosphere of humiliation in Arpaio’s jails would only breed a meaner criminal.

Plus it’s wrong in itself.

SAFER: (Voiceover) It’s life under the big top in Phoenix’s tent city, one circus that never leaves town. Joe Arpaio, the P.T. Barnum of sheriffs, is an equal-opportunity jailer. Men and women are treated to the same miserable conditions.

ARPAIO: You’re in jail; you’re not in a hotel. You’ve got to pay your debt and that’s it. That’s what you’re here for. I’m tired of hearing about your complaints.

Unidentified Woman #1: We are human beings.

SAFER: (Voiceover) The place festers away between a dog pound and a local garbage dump. Since he was elected sheriff eight years ago, Arpaio has made tent city into one of the strictest jails in the country…

ARPAIO: All right, gentlemen. I need to see your IDs.

SAFER: (Voiceover) …which means no cigarettes, no coffee, no girlie magazines. Even National Geographic is doubtful. And then, of course, there’s the food.

Unidentified Man #2: For two days, we’ve been having cheese sandwiches.

ARPAIO: Grilled cheese?

Unidentified Man #2: No, it’s fake cheese.

Unidentified Man #3: No, it’s vegetable oil. It doesn’t even melt.

Unidentified Man #4: It turns to oil when it melts.

ARPAIO: I’m not a cook.

SAFER: You’ve boasted that you spend more on food for your jailhouse dogs than you do on your prisoners.

ARPAIO: I’m not going to lie about that. It’s $1.15 a day for the dogs. It’s only 90 to 95 cents a day for the inmates. But they get 3,000 calories. I’m on a 1,400-calorie diet. I think they can get by with 3,000.

SAFER: Yeah, because you wanted to lose a lot of weight.

ARPAIO: Well, they have to lose weight, too. They’re kind of heavy in there.

I don’t see anybody dying around here.

SAFER: (Voiceover) The food may not be so hot. How about the weather? As high as 120 degrees in the shade. Inmates live in old Korean War tents. The only air conditioning are the holes in the canvas.

ARPAIO: Uh-oh. Is that one there?

SAFER: That’s a big hole in that one.

ARPAIO: I don’t see any rain.

SAFER: (Voiceover) For prisoners who want to get away from this sweaty tedium, he offers outside work on the chain gang.

ARPAIO: (Voiceover) It’s the only time they ever work together. Of course, they have to. They’re hooked together. They learn discipline. They get up at 5. They have to clean their shoes. They have to have haircuts. They march, and they get on a chain gang. A great program.

SAFER: (Voiceover) And, of course, there’s the flashing neon vacancy sign, a constant reminder to inmates and visitors that there’s always room for one more.

ARPAIO: I will never change it to No Vacancy. Any cop or deputy sheriff wants to lock someone up, I will find room for them. There’s a lot of desert from here to Mexico.

SAFER: (Voiceover) An attitude that has proved irresistible to a string of get-tough Republicans: Bob Dole, Pete Wilson and George W., all perhaps suffering from poll envy. Joe’s approvalĀ rating hovers at 85 percent. And a delegation that doesn’t give a damn about polls: Chinese law enforcement officials drop in for some tips from Joe, who just brushed up on his Mandarin.

That’s former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the guy lionized by the current US president.

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