‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’ Takes Meat off Jail Menu

It's just the latest controversial move by Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff

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REUTERS / Darryl Webb

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," addresses the media on February 9, 2013.

Inmates in Arizona’s Maricopa County jail system already have it harder than most other prisoners. By decree of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, they are only given two meals a day, which they must pay for out of pocket. All inmates, even the mentally ill, are made to wear pink underwear, sometimes by force (the subject of recent litigation). And those residing in Tent City prison, a self-described “concentration camp,” must brave summer temperatures as high as 117 degrees.

Now these same prisoners –totalling roughly 8,000 in number — must suffer one further hardship: they will no longer be able to eat meat.

According to Arpaio, who calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” it’s a cost saving measure. In a recent appearance on Fox 10, a local Phoenix affiliate, the Sheriff explained that “little by little,” he’s taking his prison system vegetarian. “There will be no more meat on the menu,” said Arapaio, “we’ll save $100,000.”

Instead, Yahoo News reports, the jail will replace meat with protein-rich soy. Arapaio defended his decision to Fox 10, donning a chef’s hat and endorsing one soy and vegetable dish.  “It looks great. It looks like stew,” declared Arpaio. “I’m getting hungry.” However, the affiliate’s reporter wasn’t sold, pointing out that many of the carrots in the “stew” were brown, and the soy looked like “wood chips.”

“Oh, that’s probably just dirt,” replied Arpaio. “Don’t worry about that.”

Unfortunately for Arpaio, who has been sheriff for 21 years, many are worrying about the way in which he manages his prisons. The 81-year-old has been condemned by Amnesty International and the ACLU for his poor treatment of inmates. According to the Phoenix New Times, Arpaio’s is the first American county prison system that Amnesty has received enough complaints about to investigate.

The courts have also taken issue with the Sheriff’s tactics. In 2008, a district judge found that Arpaio’s jails failed to meet constitutional standards in multiple key areas, summarized by AZCentral as “quality of food, inmate access to recreation areas, temperatures in which inmates taking psychiatric medication are held, and the quality and availability of medical and mental-health care.” In 2010, the same judge found that there remained “significant areas of failure to comply,” and noted that the only improvements made were those that posed no additional cost.

Ironically, despite Arpaio’s obsession with saving money, his policies have left taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in court fees and settlements. From 1998-2010, the county paid out $13 million to inmates and their relatives for injury and death claims against Correctional Health Services.

In addition to legal fees, the Sheriff’s harsh methods have attracted a large number of critics in the media. In 2008, The New York Times Editorial Board called Arpaio “America’s Worst Sheriff,” and criticized the lawman for “a long and well-documented trail of inmate abuses, unjustified arrests, racial profiling, brutal and inept policing and wasteful spending.”

And for his detractors, it’s Arpaio who’s the real criminal. “Sheriff Arpaio is armed and dangerous,” said the Times. “He is a genuine public menace.”

MORE: Did Someone Try to Blow Up Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio?