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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arpaio’s Jails Still Aren’t Ready, ACLU Says

PHOENIX (CN) - The ACLU challenged a motion to end federal supervision of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails, claiming the jails have not met terms of a 2008 court order demanding improvements in health care for Maricopa County pretrial detainees.

The original class action - filed in 1977 and joined by the ACLU in 2008 - alleged that Maricopa County jails knowingly disregarded pre-trial detainees' mental and medical health needs.

U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake in 2008 ordered the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to fix a number of its "unconstitutional health risk(s)" after finding that Arpaio's jails did not "ensure that pretrial detainees receive access to adequate medical and mental health care because Correctional Health Services does not provide timely in-person assessment of the urgency of their need for treatment, is not able to readily retrieve information from pretrial detainees' medical and mental health records and housing records, and does not identify and appropriately treat many pretrial detainees with serious mental illness."

The ACLU has challenged Maricopa County's motion to terminate the federal oversight of its jails, claiming the jail's mental health system is still deficient.

According to a court document filed in response to the motion to terminate supervision, the ACLU claims that Maricopa County "routinely fails to send patients to a higher level of care when needed; fails to ensure timely access to providers; has inadequate suicide prevention and defective medication management practices; provides inadequate access to crisis beds and inpatient level of care; has under-utilized or inadequate mental health programs; and unnecessarily subjects seriously mentally ill prisoners to isolation conditions so harsh as to predictably exacerbate their illness."

The ACLU cites the jail system's refusal to require prisoners to see a psychiatrist after a positive drug screen, despite a recommendation by the court's medical expert, Kathryn Burns. The jail's medical provider, Correctional Health Services, instead lets prisoners be seen by a member of its mental health staff or a psychiatrist.

The ACLU claims Arpaio's jails deny detainees their prescribed mental health medication for up to three weeks after they are booked into the jail system.

One detainee repeatedly spoke of the "blood of Jesus," refused to leave her cell so that it could be cleaned, refused her medication, and was seen washing her clothes in a toilet, but was not taken to the Maricopa Medical Center for treatment for almost a month, the ACLU says.

Maricopa County claims it has complied with Wake's order by implementing new procedures and policies, including "an expanded electronic pre-intake integrated health screen" that identifies mental conditions and asks questions about medication.

The county claims in its request to terminate supervision that almost half of the inmates booked are "now identified as needing further evaluation with an RN resulting in proactive intervention and treatment by a higher level medical provider when recommended, resulting in reduced adverse outcomes and efficient use of resources," and says that mental health referrals have increased by 13 percent.

Arpaio and his office have been sued more than 300 times since 2010, often on civil rights charges. He calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff" and was re-elected in November 2013 to a sixth, four-year term.

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