No. 640



We have a sheriff in America serving in what used to be called “The Wild West” who has a unique approach to reducing crime in his county.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. He has been reelected every two years since 1993, now serving well past his 75th birthday. Maricopa County is where the city of Phoenix is located and this county has more than 3.3 million people, more in population than all the other 14 counties combined.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Sheriff Arpaio on the telephone several years ago and wanted to give you an update on his crime prevention methods, in light of what it is costing to house jail and prison inmates in our nation. The cost is now more than $60 billion per year or $30,000 to $35,000 per inmate. This means that it costs every person in America more than $100 per year, and when you consider that millions of Americans don’t pay any taxes, you might want to check your wallet.
Prison inmates write to me all the time and they know, as another human being, that I care about them. However, prison life should be so hard that inmates who are released do not want to go back, but are given more support after they are released. This is where we have dropped the ball in our country. When an inmate has it harder on the outside than they do on the inside, who could blame them for wanting to go back?
But back to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff who created the now famous “Tent City Jail.” He has meals down to 40 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them. He stopped smoking and porno magazines in the jails, took away their weights and cut off all “G” movies. He started chain gangs so the inmates could do free work on county and city projects. Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn’t get sued for discrimination. He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked it up again, with only The Disney Channel and the Weather Channel.
When asked why the Weather Channel he replied, “So they will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.” He also cut out coffee, since it has zero nutritional value. When the inmates complained he told them, “This isn’t the Ritz/Carlton, if you don’t like it, don’t come back.” When the temperature got to 116 degrees and set a new record, about 2,000 inmates living in “Tent City” were given permission to strip down to their government-issued pink boxer shorts. Again when the inmates complained, 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 and these men and women did not commit any crimes so shut your _____ mouths.”
Here is the bottom line. Maybe if there were more law enforcement officials like Sheriff Arpaio and more jails and prisons like his “Tent City,” there would be a lot less crime and fewer repeat offenders.
If you read my column on a regular basis, you know that I would never want or suggest that any person or animal ever be treated inhumanely, but criminals, especially repeat offenders, should be punished for their crimes.
They should not live in luxury until it’s time for their parole, only to go out and commit another crime so they can get back in to live on taxpayers’ money and enjoy things that taxpayers can’t afford to have for themselves.
While it must be on a case-by-case basis, there may be a silver lining here as well. I have never been to Joe’s “Tent City Jail,” but I have seen a number of feature stories and reports of his program on television. If you took note of the terminology, you understand this is a “jail” and not a “prison.” The most important thing to be considered is that, for the most part, these are not hardened criminals but men and women who are there because of less serious crimes; I suspect many for the possession and sale of illegal drugs. In other words, this is a minimum security facility and most of the inmates are waiting to go to trial or enter a plea agreement, and will be released in due time.
There is hope for a high percentage of these individuals that they can be rehabilitated. What I would recommend is to put each inmate through a battery of tests to determine literacy levels and personal interests. Once this is done, start each one on a track to learn a trade or get a college degree. Some are already hardened criminals and will return, but many others need and deserve a second chance. For what we are spending to incarcerate these individuals, we could well afford to help them financially for a period of time after they leave jail or prison. This could be a win-win.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)