Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘joe arpaio

Ninth Circuit: Sheriff Joe-Approved Cross-Sex Strip Searches Are Unconstitutional

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An Arizona pretrial detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was strip-searched by a female guard, the Ninth Circuit ruled last week in a sharply divided en banc decision. The case arose out of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious Maricopa County jail system. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko sums up:

[Charles] Byrd was ordered to strip down to his shorts – colored pink, as required for all inmates by Joe Arpaio, the county’s hard-line sheriff – and was searched by a female cadet from a training academy. She said she had taken no more than 20 seconds, while Byrd estimated the time at a minute. No contraband was found.

“The right to be free from strip searches and degrading body inspections is … basic to the concept of privacy,” Judge Johnnie Rawlinson said in the majority opinion, quoting an earlier ruling.

No emergency existed, Rawlinson said, because male guards were present and could have conducted the search. She said the “humiliating event” was aggravated by the presence of onlookers, one of whom videotaped the search.

Dissenting Judge N. Randy Smith said the cadet had conducted the search professionally and, although it was “unsavory to our sensibilities,” the action met legal standards.

More reporting here from CNN; the full opinion can be downloaded here (PDF). For some background on Ninth Circuit case law on jailhouse strip searches generally, see my earlier post here.

Growing Trend: Jails Around the Country Adopting Postcard-only Policies

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I’ve noted a couple of lawsuits against jails that have adopted postcard-only policies for inmate correspondence. The Los Angeles Times reports that this is a nationwide trend that’s now spread from Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County jails to at least seven states, including most recently, California’s Ventura County jail:

[Ventura County jail official Brent] Morris said that jail officials followed the emerging policy elsewhere through professional associations. They saw it as a way of both cutting security risks and freeing up staff. Two employees now spend most of their shifts sorting through mail flowing to and from 1,500 inmates.

“When you balance it with the challenge of budget and staffing, it seemed like a prudent thing to institute,” he said.

But for Los Angeles County, the tradeoff isn’t worth it, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

“We believe the mail coming to inmates is as important as their phone calls,” he said. “If we were to limit the mail, we believe we would see a rise in mental challenges, maybe even violence.”

UPDATE: Via Twitter, here’s a response from Just Detention International, which advocates for prison rape victims: “this could be problematic for organizations like JDI. We send important packets 2 survivors daily.”

ACLU Sues (Another) Colorado Jail over Postcard-only Policy

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Back in August, the ACLU of Colorado filed suit against the Boulder County Jail over its postcard-only policy for inmates. This week, the same organization announced a second lawsuit against the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs over a similar policy. While the Boulder sheriff defended his policy on safety grounds — as a response to an incident in which two inmates sent letters to area children — the El Paso sheriff has appealed to more of a cost-benefit explanation. From the Gazette:

The policy, implemented last month, says prisoners can only use the small cards sold for 50 cents by the jail. [Sheriff Terry] Maketa has described the new policy as a money-saving move that makes the overloaded jail mail room more efficient.

It also makes it easier for jailers to screen inmate mail for illegal plots, including escape plans. Inmate letters dealing with legal matters are still allowed.

Ultimately, both policies might be traced to the example of neighboring Arizona, and specifically to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was among the first sheriffs in the country to require jail inmates to use postcards — namely, postcards bearing his picture. Whatever the motivation, jails in several states have recently issued postcard-only policies, including Florida (as I noted here), Oregon, and most recently, Washington State (as noted in this editorial, praising the change, from Spokane’s local newspaper).

Written by sara

September 15, 2010 at 7:17 am

DOJ Hands Sheriff Joe an Ultimatum in Ongoing Civil Rights Investigation

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The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has handed Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., an ultimatum: Cooperate with the division’s ongoing investigation into his office’s treatment of immigrants, or face a federal lawsuit. Sheriff Arpaio has previously announced his refusal to cooperate in the investigation, and his office has denied the DOJ access to its facilities, personnel, and requested documents. Among the practices being investigated, as summarized by the Seattle Times:

Arpaio’s office has conducted 17 sweeps in which deputies and “posse” volunteers, focusing on heavily Latino neighborhoods, stop people for sometimes minor violations, such as jaywalking, and then check their immigration status. Prisoners are fed twice a day, sleep in tents with no air conditioning and are issued striped prison uniforms and pink underwear and socks.

Main Justice links to the letter sent to Sheriff Arpaio by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. Some highlights:

MCSO’s refusal to cooperate fully with the Division’s investigation makes it an extreme outlier when compared with other recipients of federal financial assistance… Although we would prefer voluntary compliance in this case as well, we will not hesitate to commence litigation on August 17, 2010…

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