Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sheriff Joe

On Thursday, the Department of Justice turned up the heat on Sheriff Joe by filing a lawsuit in federal district court to force the controversial Sheriff to cooperate in the DOJ’s investigation of allegations that his policies and policing discriminate against Latinos/as. The complaint can be found at: That investigation dates to early 2009 and encompasses alleged unconstitutional search and seizures and discriminatory practices, including those targeting limited or non-English proficient inmates. Among the allegations investigated is that Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe runs an English-Only jail, requiring even bilingual officers to speak to inmates in English at all times, except in emergencies.

Even prisoners have constitutionally protected language rights, sourced in constitutional guarantees of free speech and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Of course, these protections are balanced against safety prerogatives and funding issues. For example, a Wisconsin prison demanded its inmates speak English in front of staff, fearing that Spanish conversations might include discussions of escape, assault, hostage-taking, riots, and gang activity. State of Wisconsin ex rel. Velez v. Litscher, 680 N.W.2d 833 (Wis. Ct. App. 2004 ) (unpublished opinion affirming dismissal of lawsuit based on these security concerns and the bilingual capability of the complainant prisoner). This is reminiscent of employer arguments in Title VII cases attempting to justify English-Only policies to prevent worker plots to steal from the workplace. Of course, hiring a bilingual supervisor or prison guards would solve the problem, and there is always the potential for planning illicit activity, in any language, out of earshot of guards.

Prison officials might be motivated by legitimate safety concerns to impose restrictions on non-English language in some limited prison settings. My assumption, however, is that Sheriff Joe cares little for the nuances of constitutional balancing and imposes his English-Only policies as part of his overarching campaign to humiliate prisoners. Pink underwear, scorching tent cities, and forced marches through the streets are the stuff of legend in Arizona, but signal a man with an outlaw agenda that surely exceeds the bounds of decency and constitutional privilege.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Nuestras Voces welcomes passionate and respectful commentary. The administrator will delete comments that insult or threaten other blog participants or that fall outside of the bounds of respectful discourse. Trolling, spamming and other annoying behaviors are strictly prohibited. In the rare event that your post has been deleted, do not post comments regarding that fact. Peace!