PHOENIX (CN) – The 9th Circuit affirmed a ruling that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio violated the constitutional rights of pretrial detainees by housing them in overcrowded conditions, at “dangerously high temperatures,” and feeding them “overripe, moldy, and generally inedible” food.
The lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors began in 1977. Three indigent prisoners challenged “prison overcrowding, inadequate recreational time, dangerously high temperatures, limited access to reading material, and inadequate food,” the three-judge panel wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union went to trial against Arpaio in 2008, arguing that federal oversight was needed at Arpaio’s five jails.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake in October 2008 ordered Arpaio to end the overcrowding and guarantee that “all pretrial detainees confined in the jails shall have ready access to care to meet their serious medical and mental health needs.”
The 9th Circuit ordered Arpaio to provide inmates with food that satisfies the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
The guidelines recommend 2,400 calories daily for men 19-30 with an inactive lifestyle, and 2,600 to 2,800 calories daily for a moderately active lifestyle.
Judge Wake properly found that the menus Arpaio submitted to the Federal Court “were exceedingly vague” since the Maricopa County dietitian “did not actually know what prisoners were fed,” the 9th Circuit wrote.
Judge Wake also properly ordered Arpaio to house pretrial detainees taking psychotropic medications in cells where the temperature does not exceed 85 degrees.
The ACLU’s psychiatric expert testified that “many psychotropic medications, including those most likely to be prescribed to pretrial detainees, cause patients to suffer from a significantly increased risk of heat-related illness” at temperatures over 85 degrees.
Arpaio’s own expert confirmed that high temperatures can “affect someone’s state when they are taking … psychotropic medications.”
Arpaio objected, claiming that only “some psychotropic medications affect the body’s ability to regulate heat, not all such medications.”
Arpaio also argued that Judge Wake’s order violated the Prison Litigation Reform Act “because the temperature and food in Maricopa County jails do not violate the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments and, even if it did, the ordered relief is not the least intrusive means to correct those violations.”
But the 9th Circuit found that since Arpaio did not know which detainees were “taking medications that affect the body’s ability to regulate heat, limiting relief to that category of pretrial detainees would have been impracticable and thus inadequate to correct the Eighth Amendment violation found by the district court.”
Arpaio, who touts himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” has been sued more than 100 times in recent years, often for conditions in his jails and for his highly publicized immigration raids. He has repeatedly sued his own Board of Supervisors in power struggles.