Sheriff Joe

I suspect many people have heard about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known as America’s Toughest Sheriff for his initiatives such as chain labour.

Now I always just assumed Sheriff Joe was a small town Sheriff with a small population to look after. But upon looking up Maricopa County, Arizona I’ve discovered that the county population is a whopping 3.6 million – around the same as NZ. So Sheriff Joe runs a penal system which is probably larger than all of NZ. This means one can’t dismiss his methods quite so quickly.

The Sheriff Joe entry in WIkipedia lists all his programmes and the criticisms. They include laudable stuff such as only approved high school program in any American jail, anti-drug programmes, and English classes for non English speaking inmates.

The most well known and controversial are the chain gangs, including the first all woman chain gang. What I was unaware of is that the prisoners volunteer to go them, they are not conscripted. They can regain privileges lost through bad behaviour on them, and it seems many volunteer for them just so they get to be outside the prison.

There are some allegations of prisoner mistreatments which appear substantiated, and they can only be condemned.

But overall it’s an interesting mixture. What is most frustrating for me though is I can’t find any info on whether his “tough” measures work or not. Do they have a lower reoffending rate? Is prisoner violence less? Is the general crime rate in the community less?

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