03/21/05 — Opinion: 'Alternative' jail

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Opinion: 'Alternative' jail

By Gene Price
Published in News on March 21, 2005 1:46 PM

Dedicated and popular Carey Winders probably is safe in his position as Wayne County sheriff for as long as he wants to serve.

That is, unless Joe Arpaio comes to town.

Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. He's the fellow who created the "tent city" jail -- army-style squad tents surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire.

He equipped male inmates with chain shackles and put them to work on county projects. Then, to avoid accusations of discrimination, he also put female "clients" on his chain-gang.

Standard prison garb includes pink boxer shorts. And with temperatures running well over 100-degrees, it is not unusual to see inmates wandering around the compound wearing no more than their under clothes.

Inmate James Zanzot once complained to a visiting reporter about the heat: "It feels like we're in a furnace; it's inhumane."

Sheriff Arpaio summoned his minions to a gathering. "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents, too, and they have to wear full battle gear and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut you *#@*# mouths!"

A sign at the gate to the compound proclaims: TENT CITY. Vacancy. Hard labor and Haircuts. Bologna sandwiches. Pink Underwear. NO smoking, coffee or girlie magazines. If you don't want to do the time... don't do the crime."

He cut out the coffee on the grounds that it provides no nutritional value. When inmates complained, he fired back, "This isn't the Ritz/Carlton. If you don't like it, don't come back!"

The sheriff was informed at one point that a court order required him to restore cable TV in his jail. He complied. He hooked up a service that provided Disney programs -- and the weather. Period.

The weather channel? "I wanted them to know how hot it's gonna be while they are working on my chain gang," growled the sheriff.

He also has a Newt Gingrich lecture series piped into the compound.

I don't know if that has been challenged in court yet.

It might well cross the line into harsh and unusual punishment!

But Arpaio might have offered a refreshing alternative to crowded jails.