Controversial Maricopa County (Az.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio has put 38 residents of the county clink on what he calls a “bread and water” diet. Their offense? Flag desecration. How did 38 inmates have access to flags to desecrate? Because Arpaio put flags in all the cells. So, yes, Arpaio’s grand social experiment has yielded proof that petty criminals will become less, rather than more, patriotic if forced to sit in a cell and stare at an American flag.
Arpaio has been a willing focus of media attention throughout his career, personally claiming that he appears in 200 media outlets every month. He’s even gone so far as to star in the short-lived Fox reality series Smile . . . You’re Under Arrest in which individuals with outstanding warrants were tricked into turning themselves in. So the “bread and water” diet could be interpreted as attention seeking behavior rather than a good faith attempt at jail administration.
In fairness to Sheriff Joe, it’s not strictly bread and water he’s put on the menu. Rather, it’s a “nutra-loaf” consisting of ground-up fruits, vegetables, milk powder, dough, and other ingredients. It satisfies regulations for nutritional requirements, but that’s about it.
“I run a patriotic jail system," said Arpaio. "I am somewhat disappointed that 38 inmates recently desecrated the flags, tearing them up and writing on them and throwing them in the toilet."
It’s not the first time he’s invited controversy. Arpaio has forced inmates to live in a “tent city” annex to the jail, which he himself described as a “concentration camp.” He has reinstituted chain gangs (though these are voluntary). He has required inmates over 18 years of age to register for selective service. And, perhaps most famously, he has forced inmates to wear pink underwear, a policy that became so popular with his voting bloc that he expanded it to include pink handcuffs. "I can get elected on pink underwear,” said Arpaio, “I've done it five times." He has also been active in politics outside his office, speaking at Tea Party events and being an aggressive advocate for the “birther” movement.
Arpaio has been accused of various infractions, from failure to investigate sex crimes to misuse of funds to racial profiling. His policies have attracted the criticism of several advocacy groups, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League. In 2008, the New York Times named him “America’s Worst Sheriff.” As yet, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union hasn’t made comment on either the flags in the cells or the diet.
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