Outside magazine, November 1995
"I want the inmates to hate my jails so much they never want to come back," growls Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The bearlike 62-year-old, chief badge-holder of Maricopa County, Arizona, is called "the meanest sheriff in America," thanks partly to his unique meanie innovation: outdoor tent camps that house prisoners in the stifling desert outside Phoenix. He's considered so mean, in fact, that the Justice Department is investigating allegations of physical abuse and civil-rights violations at his sweltering jails.
After gaining office in 1992 on an antimollycoddle platform, Arpaio jacked up the arrest rate and built Tent City, a spread of Korean War-era canvas shelters surrounded by barbed wire. (A second spread, Con-Tents, is in the works.) The sheriff's charges are denied coffee, cigarettes, Playboy, and network TV. They do, however, get to eat greenish bologna and watch video lectures by Newt Gingrich.
Why Newt? "To teach inmates something about government," says Sheriff Joe. "Some say it's cruel and unusual, but I don't think so." Pause. "But if it is, so what?"