Arizona Sheriff Puts Inmates On Bread And Water Diet For Flag Desecration

Submitted by Darren Smith: Weekend Contributor

BreadMaricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now placing inmates suspected of desecration of flags posted inside county jails on a bread and water meal plan for two of the meals each day. Sheriff Arpaio states:

“These inmates have destroyed the American flag that was placed in their cells. Tearing them, writing on them, stepping on them, throwing them in the toilet, trash or wherever they feel,” Arpaio said in a statement. “It’s a disgrace to those who have fought for our country.”

Is this a fitting punishment for 21st Century American Corrections?

The punishment will last for seven days, he said, and a second offense would bring 10 more days of the sparse diet.

A sheriff’s spokesman said the bread provides the daily requirement of calories and nutrients that is necessary.

Are the flags posted in these jails there for ordinary posting of flags or an effort to set up inmates for additional punishment.

The county jail uses as cause jail and local statutes prohibiting the destruction of government property. Violating such rules in every jail or prison environment is an accepted part of operation and life when applied to the ordinary meaning of the word. But is the actions by the Maricopa county sheriff’s office going to far?

Few jails or prisons would place flags or anything else into jail cells or common areas that inmates would damage or use for nefarious purposes, especially items that have been shown to be routinely damaged and serve no real purpose to the operation of the institution or that are required by law. A flag in jail cells does not serve any purpose to security or safety.

While not condoning the actions of these inmates one has to wonder if these flags are just a setup to punish the inmates. Or, is it simply just an action with a lofty goal to instill civic responsibility and patriotism in the inmate population.

Aside from the obvious, the punishment of bread and water has been a form of degradation and inhumanity in human culture for centuries. The sanctions typically assessed by corrections officers include criminal charges for violations of law, isolation cells for safety threats or risks, loss of Television privileges, loss of commissary such as snacks and, special details. The latter few involve taking away of rewards. Under humane jail conditions inmates should not be punished by restraint, violence, depravation of food, warmth, bedding, or clothing, and protection from assault. Punishment should not be equated with safety, security, or protection.
Unfortunately Arizona statutory law does not specify directly what constitutes proper food for inmates. Arizona Revised Statute 31-11 reads in pertinent part:

“31-121. Duty of sheriff to receive and provide for prisoners; contracts for furnishing food; city or town prisoners; employment; canteens; special services fund; insurance; education programs

A. The sheriff shall receive all persons who are committed to jail by competent authority and provide them with necessary food, clothing and bedding, the cost of which shall be a county charge or, if a county jail district has been established, a charge of the district, except as otherwise provided by law.”

Dan Pochoda, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, called the move by Sheriff Arpaio a “publicity stunt.” And, that it “It’s just another vindictive policy that has nothing to do with running a good jail system.”

From a jail management point of view, at least, providing substandard and poor meals to inmates is counterproductive as it has led to unrest and worse in some cases violence against the staff. So why would such a measure be implemented on this basis alone?

It surely seems this type of punishment, and degradation would not be favored at all by the Supreme Court especially in light of Texas v. Johnson, much less the lack of providing nutrition to inmates who as human beings cannot live by bread alone.

Perhaps some basic nutrition requirements of inmates should be addressed by the legislature if human decency is not to be found in certain jail settings.


Arizona Revised Statutes
Texas v. Johnson
by Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility

40 thoughts on “Arizona Sheriff Puts Inmates On Bread And Water Diet For Flag Desecration”

  1. Randy,
    The alcohol/drug laws were in place then. That is delta farm country, and even if the offense was assault while drunk, seems the district attorneys were sophisticated enough about the shortage of skilled cropdusters the charge was never about the ETOH. Assault, yes. Alcohol fueled fight, no.

    One of the guys was the first guy to fly an F-86 under the Greeneville, MS bridge. Locals told me he not only flew under it, he looped and recovered so low he almost hit a Mississippi River towboat on his second pass.

  2. Randy,
    One of the little known facts about county jails is there are a lot of convicted felons doing their time in county lockups. In fact, that is an important source of revenue for local law enforcement. They house felony inmates for a stipend from the state penitentiaries. In some jails, pretrial detainees are outnumbered by state inmates. In a few instances, there may be Federal inmates as well.

    As for who tore the flags down, you are probably right about some inmates leaving them alone. Some inmates are also astute enough to know when Arpaio is dangling a kind of carrot in front of them to trick them into getting into trouble.

    To give an idea of inmates versus temptation. I went to an out of town trial once, and while killing time, the Sheriff invited me in to visit. In the course of the conversation, he asked me if I knew about their big jailbreak that had been open for only a few weeks. I had not, so he told me the story.

    Seems that one recently arrested man was the electrician who had supervised the entire wiring contract when the jail was built. The jail was very modern, with a first class control room, buttons to open or lock every door in the place and still smelled new instead of the stale pee smell of many jails.

    Our electrician house guest knew exactly which inspection plates to remove from the walls with a makeshift screwdriver. He fiddled with some wires and in a few minutes, every electric door in the building was unlocked, and central control was disabled. He and six other guys simply walked out the front door. Of of a completely full house of inmates only those seven walked out. The rest of the inmates were terrified they might get blamed for the actions of this guy.

    They caught all of the escapees in less than a week.

  3. Randy,
    Arpaio does not have just a “county jail.” His facility more closely resembles a regional prison. A big one at that. His inmate population is somewhere between nine and ten thousand–I don’t have current figures, but that was a couple of years ago. May be higher now.

    A smart jail administrator keeps things under control by trying to eliminate problems before they happen. Jails are designed to eliminate destructive behaviors. Sinks and commodes are one-piece stainless steel, and the commodes don’t have lids. If they had lids, they wouldn’t last a week before being ripped off. Inmates look for a way to get back at “the man.” Arpaio knew this, and had this whole thing planned before he ever put those flags in the cells.

    On the other extreme. I was to interview an inmate at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. The assistant warden showed my colleague and me around and took us to dinner at the employee cafeteria. That was interesting. The facility looked very much like a Cracker Barrel restaurant. The wait staff were all trustees, as were the cooks. One of the best home style meals I ever had. Everything we ate was grown and processed on the penitentiary grounds. They have a hog farm, dairy, slaughterhouse, and farm fresh vegetables.

    After eating, we went out on the front porch with the warden. I spotted a duster strip some distance down the road, on the inside of the tall fence. There was a Piper PA-25 Pawnee being serviced by trustees. I could see the white stripe running down the legs of their jeans. Since I knew several of the duster operations in the area, I asked him who did their spraying for them. Talking around his toothpick, he said, “We use inmate labor.”

    He had to explain. Quite a few duster pilots are former fighter pilots. I know you aren’t going to believe this, but old fighter pilots occasionally do some hell raising. All the local sheriffs had to occasionally arrest a duster pilot for something that was not cause to jerk their ticket. Whenever such a pilot was arrested and sentenced, usually a year or two, the pilot was sent to the prison. They were given a few perks, and the warden made sure they were current and cleared with the FAA. Then they were put to work. Parchman is 15,000 acres of delta farmland, with cotton and soybeans as far as the eye can see.

    I said, “Say what, you give an inmate an airplane and a full tank of gas?”

    He pointed at the fence, “All those pilots are short-timers. See that fence? It is fifteen feet high and fifteen years wide.”

    Worked out well for everyone. The pilot kept current and skills honed. The prison got the work done. As you know, pilots have one other favorite pastime besides flying. That was taken care of too, with frequent conjugal visits. They never had a bit of trouble out of any of the pilots, ground crews, or A&P mechanics who passed through.

    1. OS That is a great story. I doubt that they can still find enough ex fighter pilots now to do that work and the FAA has cracked down on that kind of behavior since I just got my medical renewed where they ask if you have ever been arrested for any offense other than traffic ones. Also you have to report any DUIs and will have your medical pulled if you get more than one.

      The fact though is that Arpaio does not run a prison, but a jail which is simply a holding place for misdemeanors and those awaiting trial who cannot come up with bail money. The purpose of the place is not one of rehabilitation, but to keep them quiet and in order. I have no idea of what his resources are to deal with recalcitrant prisoners, but I doubt it is much. I also doubt that many of his prisoners tore the flags down and that most simply ignored them. The few who did made them good copy for his tough talk. Big deal there are lots worse problems in the world than Arpaio using his position to get publicity.

  4. Deputy: Face the camera. Turn left. Turn right. What’ll ya’ have?

    Inmate: Bourbon, neat.

  5. When I was a cadet back in the mid 80’s our department actually gave inmates free alcohol and cigarettes. Surprising? This is why.

    Occasionally, there would be an inmate with a serious alcoholism problem booked into jail. After a while they would start having significant DTs and would shake like a lear. When this happened, and they wanted some relief, we brought them into the booking room, closed the door, and brought out a big jug of fortified wine hidden atop a locker. We gave them a half cup of it and it took the edge off their condition and made things a little more manageable. Of course, they were told if they told the other inmates they would never get another drink again and as you can imagine none ever did. But this ended a few years later when the state required a protocol be followed with a jail nurse.

    When smoking was permitted in the jail, we offered free Bull Durham roll-yer-own cigarettes to anyone that asked for them. The reason for this was two fold: inmate management and that it broke up any cigarette economy in the population. Inmates longing for a smoke, without the option of a free ones, would be subjected to coercion or favors required of them due to their addition. Regular smokes were available by the “gimmie cart”. But the Bull Durham program was a good one.

    The point of this relates to another reason the bread and water diet is bad for a population. Bread and Water inmates, wanting regular food, could get themselves into the same situation with having to perform favors or give up personal items in order to buy decent food, and it creates an economy in the jail. Equal food access is such this is seldom much of a problem.

    This is one of the reasons I find this bread and water situation so counter productive and inhumane.

  6. If they tear up stuff in their cells, flood the place by stopping up the commode or anything like that, it will cost them. There are a number of remedies. A specified number of days in max (solitary) in which they lose “good time,” no comissary priveliges for some period of time, no visitors, and they can get time added onto their sentences if the judge so rules. Food should never be used as punishment, other than losing comissary priveliges.

    What Arpaio did was put bait in their cells, knowing how the average restless, irritable, angry and frustrated inmate was going to react. That is different from some of the other things you mentioned. If they cut up a mattress, then they may have to sleep on a solid steel bunk until they can behave themselves.

    “See, Leroy, we are short of mattresses and don’t have another one to give you.

    What’s that you say? The bunk is hard cold steel and it’s wintertime?

    Terribly sorry, but some idiot tore your mattress up, so you will have to take it up with the guy who tore up your mattress. If we are lucky we can get you another one in a month or so.”

    1. OS We all get angry, frustrated, irritable, and restless, so I think that this is no excuse for bad behavior, and I doubt that ALL the inmates did as some of them did. In a county jail I doubt that they have much facilities for maximum lock up or punishment cells since this is not a prison. I assume that those on a bread and water regimen for two meals are kept in their cells for that period of time as well, and there is not much demand for food since they do get a full meal at the end of the day.

      Darren it seems like where you worked had a pretty good handle on things and used common sense. Too bad this is not more common.

  7. randy,
    I disagree about the responsiblity. For Arpaio to do what he did, the outcome was as predictable as leaving an open box of chocolate candy unattended on the floor in a day care. IMHO, the inmates were set up, literally. Arpaio was looking for an excuse to put them on a bread and water diet so he could once again get some publicity mileage as the “toughest sheriff.”

    I was the chief psychologist for the maximum secuirty unit of the state hospital for just under ten years. We had people in there that even the psych unit at the state penitentiary couldn’t handle. I have run inmate residential treatment programs for everything from alcohol and drug addictions to sex offenders. I also did routine cell checks at the penitentiary for protective custody and maximum secuirty units for years. Two of my kids have worked as correctional officers. So, long story short, I know a lot about jail and prison culture. Arpaio was the culprit here.

    Tough, my a$$. I took a look at his biography. He served in the Army during the Korean war….as an MP in France ❗

    Joe Arpaio is not a badass. Jimmy Gates was a badass. Kirby Cowan was a badass. Sabrina Jackintell was a badass. Arpaio? The mouth that roared.

    1. OS I agree that Arpaio did that as a set up, but my only point of difference is that I think it is a stretch to blame him for the actions of adults who are not mentally ill, nor babies who have to be treated differently. So just what should be done with inmates who defy rules and deface their cells? I would be most interested to know how you would have handled it. Say an inmate tears up his mattress or scribbles obscene messages on the walls and takes the paint off, who should be held to account for that?

      As we both agree Arpaio is mostly mouth and a publicity hound.

    2. Otteray Scribe – great analogy using a box of chocolate on the floor of a day care center!!!! The picture of that in my mind is hilarious.

      It’s like giving out welfare benefits to Citizens or corporations and seeing the line each year grow longer and longer waiting to get enrolled.

  8. The article is highly misleading, These are not ‘flags’ they are plastic stickers that one could place on a helmet in a car window. No different than when a newspaper prints a flag on the 4th of July and you and me and everyone else pitches it out the next day.
    Arpiro is a criminal psychopath who deserves to be behind bars his own damn self

  9. randy,
    It is interesting to see all the folks who have, in all likelihood, never even seen the inside of a jail opining about the behavior of inmates. As I often tell people, if they were able to stay out of trouble, they wouldn’t be in jail. Inmates have nothing but time on their hands to think up mischief. Stopping up commodes and flushing repeatedly is a favorite pastime.

    If anyone is guilty of defacing government property, it is the sheriff. He knew full well what was going to happen to those flags before he ever put them in those cells. It was totally predictable, and he bears full responsibility for the damage and defacing.

    1. OS Given that my total experience in jails is limited to a couple of days, I have a hard time placing blame on Arpaio. While it is probably as you said a set up since Arpaio loves publicity, it is STILL the fault of those who destroy the flags. I doubt that ALL the inmates have done this, so what should happen to differentiate between those who follow the rules and those who do not? If we take the idea of imprisonment to modify and improve behavior, then it would seem to me that requiring the prisoners to not destroy things is a reasonable demand. Punishment should be meted out to those who do not conform. The prisoners are not like POWs who have done nothing wrong other than being caught and have no need for “rehabilitation”. POWs are supposed to try and escape while crooks are not. Also putting the blame on Arpaio would be like blaming a prison for an inmate who escapes. So we punish an escapee, but not one who destroys items in the cell? So another more reasonable factor in placing flags in cells would be to see which inmates need more supervision and which might cause problems. Using something which is cheap and can easily replaced is a good idea.

      I can understand the tendency to condemn virtually anything Arpaio does since much of his actions are publicity driven. But in this case, it is a stretch to blame him for the bad actions of his prisoners. If he were to do some outrageous thing to his prisoners just for kicks, then I could see some condemnation, but this is hardly such a case. The rule is simple, do not deface your cells. Period. Now if he put in a political poster or picture of Newt Gingrich, then I would have a different take on it since that would have political indoctrination and partisan motivations behind it, but an American flag does not qualify. I have looked into a lot of the things he has done such as chain gangs and housing prisoners in tents and it is not as bad as he wants us to think. The prisoners who have not been convicted of anything, have jumpsuits which say no work gangs. Then when I looked at his most wanted fugitives when he had it, about 98% of them were wanted for back child support. They took that one down though because it did not look too heroic locking up mommies and daddies for being behind on their payments. Housing the prisoners outside is a good thing since it should remind the deadbeat parents, that this is what happens to their kids when they do not make payments and their kids will get to eat cheaper food as they do in his jail. Of course, a lot of what Arpaio does is not excusable and from what I have seen is nearly criminal as is reflected in the judgments against him. I would hope that they could get enough evidence against him to have him join his buddy the former DA in prison.

  10. Perhaps the inmates should not destroy government property while incarcerated.

    1. noseit, That is asking too much of crooks. If they cannot obey our laws, it is just too much temptation for them to put a flag in their cells, so they cannot be held responsible for their actions. It is inhuman to deny them good meals just because they hate the sheriff and the USA. They should not be held responsible for any crimes that they may have committed either since they are just trying to improve themselves and get ahead and get the American dream of riches no matter how they have to do it.

      1. We are obviously not justifying the actions of inmates, but trying to understand the actions of both an overzealous law enforcement agent and those held in confinement by the world’s leader in this area.

        For those that have not been confined previously, I was able to survey the detainees during my brief stay in the Gun Club Hotel as it is commonly referred to. I assure you it’s not a hotel as the do not allow sweaters or jackets and keep the temperature at around 70 degrees. Supposed for health purposes all though the various government workers where additional clothed. It’s borderline torture as you are on concrete floors and stainless steal benches. Of course they make sure that it takes all night to process you, therefore, because of the discomfort, you cannot sleep and you are so cold that you are almost numb on your back and butt where you come into contact with the bench, floor and walls. One totally open communal toilet is an attractive touch to the 25-30 person cell.

        My crime by the way was an invalid warrant that had not been taken off the computer system. I had the documentation in my briefcase of the proof and the “arresting” fascists, would not even look at it. I got out the next day and it’s still cost me several hundred dollars for processing fees.

        My survey was basically what they were in there for: child support, loitering, petty drug use including paraphernalia, driving without a license or registration, broken parole. Most seem that this was not their first adventure with the criminal justice system. Most seems that that were quite displeased with the system and that it was quite corrupt. The costs appear to keep them in the system. Once the get into a little trouble, they cannot afford to get themselves out of the issue, i.e. driving fines, parole costs, etc. Primarily black males where the unemployment rates are highest. A lot of homeless as well.

        When we prosecute malum prohibitum laws, it going to effect those in the lower socio-economic strata. It keeps the rift raft off the streets and creates a profit center for our lovely criminal justice system???? Traffic fines alone are a multi $billion business.

  11. sayingthetruthperiod: NO ONE deserves the kind of treatment these prisioners endure.

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