No. 303

It is often said that “A criminal is someone who gets caught.” In our nation today the problem is not in catching criminals, we can do that; the problem is what to do with them after we catch them. Over the past several years in an attempt to reduce crime and make our communities safer, we have increased the number of policemen on the street. As a result they have made more arrests, leading to great incarceration of those who are tried and convicted of breaking the law and many others who are waiting to go to trial.
As a result, our federal and state prisons and county and city jails are bulging at the seams. If your state and county is like ours, there is always the cry, “we don’t have enough space to house inmates” which is the rule and not the exception. So, what’s the answer? The only answer for some people who are part of the criminal justice system, is to build more prisons and more jails at a tremendous expense to taxpayers who are already taxed to the hilt.
While they may fall on deaf ears I want to offer some thoughts that I am calling, a “common sense” approach to criminal justice. For the past several years I have been hearing about an innovative sheriff out in Maricopa County, Arizona who has done something about the problem of incarceration without increasing the cost to taxpayers. This sheriff’s name is Joe Arpaio. You have probably seen him interviewed on television and know about his ‘tent city’ jail where he keeps nonviolent offenders and those awaiting trial. This has eased the problem of overcrowding at a tremendous savings to taxpayers.
Before you dismiss this idea, let me tell you more about it. When I decided to write this column I made a phone call to Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, and left a message on a recorder simply hoping to get some information. To my complete surprise and pure delight about five minutes later the phone rang and it was Sheriff Arpaio returning my call. We had a wonderful visit and he gave me some first hand information.
In 1993 the U.S. Army gave him 1500 used tents and he erected his ‘tent city’ jail next to the city dump because this is the only place where he could get free land. For a cost of a little over $130,000 he built the compound, guard tower, portable bathrooms, buildings for showers and administration and he said a modern jail heated and cooled that would house the same number of inmates would have cost the taxpayers over 70 million dollars.
When I asked him how he got around the courts he said, “the people of Maricopa County elected me to enforce the law. No where in the constitution does it say that I can not house inmates in tents.” He is known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” and he does not believe in coddling criminals. Apparently the people of his county, which contains the nation’s fourth largest Sheriff’s Office, like it this way. He had an 85% public approval rating and no one ran against him when he ran for a second term.
Because Sheriff Arpaio is innovative and the size of his operation, he developed a food factory that enables him to feed inmates for less than 45 cents a day. There are two basic reasons why I have shared this “common sense” approach to criminal justice. The savings are important because taxpayers need some relief, but personally I believe if the men and women who fought for our nation’s freedom in wars and conflicts could live in tents on foreign soil in the dead of winter, those who break the law in our country today are no better. Secondly, saving millions and millions of dollars on incarceration will enable us to pay our nation’s firemen and policemen a decent salary. For more information on Sheriff Arpaio’s program, check out his website at (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)