2000+ immigrant detainees on hungerstrike, Arpaio orders jail lockdown

Posted by admin on May 20th, 2009

ACLU Condemns Jail Lockdown As Retaliation for Protected Speech
PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today condemned the on-going lockdown at three Maricopa County jails, saying Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s decision to suspend visitation and access to television and phone calls was a thinly veiled effort to chill the inmates’ exercise of free speech rights. “It is unconscionable that these inmates – many of whom have not been convicted of a crime – are being punished simply for protesting the inhumane conditions in Maricopa County jails,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “This has turned into a real crisis. Rather than addressing it, Arpaio is retaliating against the inmates for attempting to send a message to the outside world.”

The hunger strike, which began last week with a few hundred protesters, has now grown to include between one to two thousand inmates. The ACLU said that a hunger strike can be considered protected speech under the First Amendment if it was intended to convey a particularized message. Since that is clearly the case in this instance, inmates cannot be subjected to adverse action by jail officials simply for exercising that right. Although Arpaio claimed the lockdown was in response to security concerns, his public statements confirm his retaliatory motive. He was quoted in Monday’s Arizona Republic promising to continue the lockdown until “they start eating again.”

Food quality was one of numerous deficiencies cited in a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging inhumane conditions at MCSO jails. In October, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake ruled that Arpaio’s failure to provide adequate nutritional food violates the constitutional rights of pre-trial detainees. Wake ordered Arpaio to provide food to pre-trial detainees that meets or exceeds the United States Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines.

“We are committed to upholding the federal injunction that we won last fall against Sheriff Arpaio.” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU’s lead attorney on the case. “We’re not going to allow Arpaio to get away with violating a federal court order and the constitutional rights of thousands of detainees.”

“Refusing food, even bad food, is not a decision that people make lightly; the breadth and persistence of this hunger strike is disturbing and suggests that there remain serious problems with the food,” added Meetze. “Arpaio’s failure to address these problems is jeopardizing the health and safety of prisoners and creating an even greater security threat at MCSO jails.”

Attorneys representing pre-trial detainees who are part of the on-going federal court case will continue to monitor conditions at MCSO jails.

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