A couple of weeks ago, I reported in this blog that Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, Daniel Hannan’s favorite lawman, was facing a lawsuit from the US Department of Justice for civil rights abuses. Today’s Independent says that Arpaio has now been served with a writ.
Arpaio had been given until 17 August to hand over files relating to the case to the Justice Department. The department had requested these files over 15 months ago. Arpaio has consistently dragged his heels.
The lawsuit called the defiance of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office “unprecedented”. It said the federal government had been trying since March 2009 to get officials to comply with its inquiry into alleged discrimination, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and jail policies that discriminate against people with limited English skills.
But this discrimination is only the tip of the iceberg; the state legislature of Arizona has passed an anti-immigration law (SB1070) that grants the police powers to stop anyone that they suspect of being ‘foreign‘.
Arpaio is infamous for his no nonsense approach to prison governance. He has featured on America’s Toughest Prison and remains a darling with the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade. Brit, Shaun Attwood from Cheshire fell foul of the law and ended up in Arpaio’s clutches.
There is a relatively new gang culture emerging in UK prisons. In the US prison system, gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood have been operating for decades. How did he cope with that? “One of the gang members told me I had to go with the white boys’ gang. I said, ‘Hang about, I’m the head of my own gang, I’m the head of the English.'” He says he managed to make the right connections with some of the more powerful prisoners – “People like ‘Two Tonys’, a convicted murderer who left dead bodies from Tuscon to Alaska” – which enabled him to opt out of gang affiliation.
A relatively new phenomenon in the UK prison system is the growing racial division. In the US this has always been the case. “There it’s all racial,” says Attwood. “As soon as you go in you become part of your own racial group gang. The head of the most powerful gang tells you if you’re caught sitting with any of the other races you’ll get smashed.”
Conditions were cramped and hot and the drug culture was dominant. “I’d say 90% of the prisoners were shooting up crystal meth or heroin,” says Attwood. There were toilets in the cells, but they often overflowed with sewage. And the food was poor. “In Arpaio’s jail we were fed a diet of baloney, which was often green with mould,” he adds.
At this point I am reminded of a quote that is often attributed to Dostoyevsky, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”. Arpaio is not a civilized man and neither are those who cheer him on.