For 17 years I’ve been following the career of Joe Arpaio.
In 1999, I was writing a book about addiction, (SAVE MY SON). Having visited more than a dozen correctional facilities in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, and California, I learned from most sources that harsh prison and jail treatment not only does nothing to help rid inmates of their addictions, it tends to make embittered addicts worse.
Among the names that kept coming up was Arizona’s sheriff, Joe Arpaio. His treatment of prisoners was legion, famous among professionals in all areas of law enforcement, but especially among those treating addicts.
It wasn’t enough that Arpaio humiliated male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underwear, he also brutalized them physically—in so many ways he became a lightning rod for lectures on how NOT to treat convicts. He re-instituted chain gangs, he kept Latinos (exclusively Latinos) in tents whose summer temperatures rose to 120. He brutalized pregnant Latinas, ensuring that none who gave birth within his jails had infants who survived. In various ways, his staff regularly tortured their inmates. Contrary to his claims, his recidivism rate was terrible.
To no one’s surprise, Arpaio labeled his own jail a “concentration camp.” To keep it full, his deputies routinely stopped Latino drivers for no reason except to quiz them about their immigration status. When a judge demanded he stop this practice, Arpaio tried, surreptitiously, to get the judge’s wife in legal trouble. But his deputies never ceased their illegal traffic stops.
I tried to include Arpaio’s record in my book, but my co-author refused, fearing he’d lose conservative votes as he, himself, ran for sheriff.
Eventually, as we all know, Arpaio was convicted of defying court orders—and faced jail time. But now this horrible man has been pardoned by another horrible man.
None of us need reminding of our president’s own past sins—groping women, cheating workers on construction sites, refusing to rent apartments to blacks. Neither he nor Arpaio will ever do anything to make the world proud. But at least they have each other.