Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of May 10, 2004)

You Gotta Love This Guy

   By John Martin

Rather than dwell on the negative and mock a justice system that has fallen into disrepute and ridicule, I thought it might be a good time to report on something positive taking place in the war against crime.  And naturally that calls for a visit south of the border to my favourite lawman, Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.

Joe is affectionately known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and in an era where all criminals are “victims” and inmates are treated better than most veterans and senior citizens, it’s refreshing to know there’s still some sanity out there in the world of criminal justice.

Joe Arpaio gained infamy a couple years ago for treating his prisoners like, well, I guess you could say, like prisoners.  At day they work their butts off on a prison chain gang in the desert heat and at night they sleep in a tent city right smack dab in the middle of the County dump, sewage treatment centre, slaughter house and chemical treatment facility.  When the wind blows the place smells worse than a Tijuana urinal.  Joe sees nothing wrong with prisoners in tents.  “Hell, our boys lived in tents during the Gulf War” he snarls. There’s no pornography, rap music or Hollywood blockbuster movies for those unlucky or stupid enough to check into Joe’s jail.

Extracurricular activities are limited to reading the Bible and watching the weather station and if the inmates want electricity to heat up some water for tea they can damn well make it themselves by pedalling a series of exercise bikes hooked up to a generator.  “We don’t need no stinkin’ gym.”  And a full time video cam is set up so anyone with an Internet connection can watch what doing hard time is all about.

So what’s Joe been up to lately?

Well, due to budget constraints the good Sheriff has taken responsible measures to look after scarce taxpayer’s dollars by eliminating all hot meals and replacing them with bologna sandwiches.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), of course, took Joe to court on this one but oddly enough, couldn’t convince a judge that cold sandwiches constituted “Cruel and Unusual Punishment.”  One inmate staged a hunger strike to protest what he called “green bologna” and Joe snarled, “If he doesn’t eat that’s okay.  It saves me forty cents a day.”  Which is slightly less than it costs to feed the many German Shepherds that provide security in the tent city.

Contrast this to Canada’s prison system where inmates golf, fish, go horseback riding and successfully sue the government when they fall out of their bunk beds and hurt themselves.  In the last year we’ve heard about inmates in Canadian Club Fed institutions having hot tub parties and barbeques, gorging themselves on lobster and filet mignon and enjoying pizza and closed circuit hardcore porn movies in the comfort of their cells.  Now they’re even getting tattoo parlours inside prison walls. I guess Joe has this strange idea that jail should be uncomfortable.  Weird eh?

Both his fans and foes consider him something of a cross between George Patton and Yosemite Sam.  But the best thing about Joe’s jail is the result.  He may get lots of lawsuits and death threats (forty at last count).  But there’s no problem with recidivism in Maricopa County.  No one comes to Joe’s jail a second time.  And isn’t that what going to jail is supposed to be all about?

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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