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Sensible Sentencing Model Prison in Torture Doco

Sensible Sentencing Trusts Model Prison features in Torture Documentary

Joe Arpaios Tent City prison in Arizona was a main feature of Wednesday nights TV One documentary Torture: Americas Brutal Prisons. The Sensible Sentencing Trust announced last week that it would be visiting the prison with a televison team, to look at alternatives to the current prison system, and to reduce the burden of cost on the New Zealand taxpayer.

The British documentary showed that the number of prisoners in the county jail system had doubled since Arpaio took office. It documented cases of brutality and death within the prison, the use of restraint chairs, and the response of prisoners families to the deaths within the prison; including the formation of a Mothers against Arpaio group.

Kim Workman, Project Leader of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment project, is appalled that the Garth McVicar and Stephen Franks consider that the prison has lessons for the New Zealand justice system.

The Tent City was originally established as a response to prison overcrowding, and is an extension of the county jail system. Arpaios penchant for self-promoting publicity and punishment is well documented. His get tough approach has considerable support in the deep south, and has been well documented by the media.

The idea that running a prison of this kind could present savings to the taxpayer does not hold up. The tents and food both army surplus and on the surface it is a cheap deal. But Arpaio controls both the police and prisons, so he uses savings in prison to prop up the police. For every amenity that he cuts from the prisons, he buys some unnecessary and expensive piece of equipment, gets the county involved in lawsuits due to his cruel prison management, or pays for an extravagant publicity stunt. In his second term of office alone, he bought a howitzer with $15,000 tires, a $70,000 armored car, spent $3 million to move to a penthouse office with big-screen TVs and other luxuries, and spent more than a million dollars on take-home vehicles for his favorite staffers. By 2001, some $16 million had already been paid to plaintiffs in successful lawsuits against the Sheriffs Department in relation to inmate deaths.

If the television crew do decide to go, then they should conduct a proper investigation. Any TV crew worth its salt would not want to leave Arizona without seeking interviews with Arpaios detractors as well as his promoters. Given the Sensible Sentencing Trusts concern for the victims of crime, they should look at how the hard-labour camp has harmed people, as well as helped them. I suggest the following list:

The Family of Scott Norberg. Norberg died in custody in 1996. Norberg was shocked more than 20 times with a stun-gun, including on his testicles. Norberg was already handcuffed and face down when officers dragged him from his cell and placed him in a restraint chair with a towel covering his face. After Norberg's corpse was discovered, detention officers accused Norberg of attacking them as they were trying to restrain him. The cause of his death, according to the Maricopa County medical examiner, was due to positional asphyxia. Sheriff Arpaio investigated and subsequently cleared County detention officers of any criminal wrongdoing. Norbergs parents filed a lawsuit against Joe Arpaio and his office. The lawsuit was settled for $8.25 million (USD) following a highly contentious legal battle. Despite vowing to never settle, the case quickly closed after it was disclosed the Sheriff's office had destroyed key evidence in the case.

The Family of Brian Crenshaw: Brian Crenshaw was a blind inmate beaten into a coma by guards working under Arpaio. Crenshaw suffered injuries that included a perforated intestine and a broken neck. He later died at a local hospital. When asked about the incident, Arpaio insisted, "The man fell off a bunk."

Amnesty International USA, and its 1996 report into allegations that inmates in the County jail had been ill-treated; misuse of the restraint chair in other cases; the conditions for female juvenile detainees; and poor conditions in a facility in which jail inmates were housed in tents

The Police Officers Associations throughout the State of Arizona who have voted "no confidence" in Joe Arpaio as Sheriff. These include the State of Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge Five, Maricopa County Deputies Association, Arizona Cops.

Former patrol and jail staff who attest to the unsafe conditions within the patrol and jail system, which in turn has contributed to severe staff shortages.

The Mothers against Arpaio the mothers of prisoners who have died in the County Jail system under Arpaios leadership.

The Sons of Italy , who dropped Arpaio as being a "Top Cop" citing controversy over allegations of people dying or being seriously injured while being held in Arpaio's jails. Quote: "We just believe that law enforcement officers, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion,"

Corrections researchers at the Arizona State University: Arpaio spent over $10,000 to have Arizona State University study recidivism in his jail system. The 1998 ASU study tracked 4,800 released Maricopa County inmates and showed no evidence that harsh treatment reduced recidivism. Arpaio discounted this study as false and continues to claim that his jail program has reduced crime in the valley.

The Editor of the Phoenix New Times, a newspaper which has been maintaining a close surveillance over Joe Arpaio since he came to office, and has documented his excesses, and abuse of authority.

Has the crime rate reduced as a result of all this activity? Not at all. As of December 2006, Phoenix is strapped with a crime rate that, according to FBI statistics, now tops that of New York, Los Angeles or Baltimore.

If they conduct the investigation well, it will confirm two things. Firstly, that New Zealanders, who have a reputation for being decent, fair and humane will want nothing to do with a prison system that runs along the lines proposed by Arpaio. Secondly, and something that we already know, that boot camps run the Arpaio way do not reduce re-offending, and are more likely to increase it.


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