'Toughest Sheriff' Visits Rim Country

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Whatever people choose to think about Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, one thing they can't deny -- he puts on a good show as a guest speaker.

The Mogollon Republican Women's Club hosted Arpaio at a brunch July 10 and Sheriff Joe packed the place.

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Vice Mayor Judy Buettner and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had a chance to visit before the Mogollon Republican Women's Club brunch began July 10. "The toughest sheriff in America" was the guest speaker.

With self-mocking quips like, "Yes, I am the toughest sheriff in the country. No, I'm the toughest in the world ... make that the universe," Arpaio had the full house at Tiny's Family Restaurant laughing.

"I feel the only way I can get the job done is by being elected," Arpaio said. "I am responsible to the 3.5 million people of my county."

Arpaio came to the Maricopa County job after 30 years with the Drug Enforcement Agency and working as a police officer in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas. While with the DEA, he served in Istanbul, Turkey and was the director of the DEA in Mexico City when he retired from federal service.

"Every county has its own problems and policies," he said, explaining that what he does is what works in Maricopa County.

"When I first ran for office, I made three promises. I was going to build up the posse, put up tents and get tough. We have 4,200 more people than we have room for in the jails."

He said he does not want convicted criminals thinking they are going into a hotel when they are sentenced to jail.

"We've saved millions and millions of dollars, but the programs were not created to save money," he said. "When people are convicted, they should be punished. People don't want to use the word ‘punish' anymore."

One of the programs that has probably drawn the most attention is the pink underwear his inmates wear.

"The (pink) underwear is all over the world," he said. "Someone saw it on display in pubs in England, someone else saw it in a museum in Scotland."

He said he made the decision to give the inmates pink underwear because the jails were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars when the white underwear was smuggled out by people being released.

His office now sells the pink underwear -- for $10 a pair -- and the proceeds go to the posse.

Talking about the chain gangs to which women and juveniles are sent, Arpaio quipped, "I am an equal opportunity incarcerator."

He said with the help of educators, he has been able to make it possible for juvenile offenders to earn school credit when they are on a chain gang.

"We created a curriculum where they form a trash company and learn it from the ground up, starting by picking up trash," he said.

While the pink underwear and chain gangs get lots of publicity, there are some programs, with far-reaching consequences that are often overlooked, Arpaio said.

"We have the only hard-knocks high school under a sheriff in the country," he said. "When we had our graduation I sent out about 200 press releases and asked every politician I could think of to attend the ceremony, but no one showed up."

Arpaio has allowed the creation of Girl Scouts Behind Bars and Read to Me Mommy. Both are programs for the female inmates to stay connected to their children.

Arpaio said the Read to Me Mommy program helps both inmates and their children learn to read. The mothers read books onto tape, which are given to their children to listen to and read along.

Arpaio said he is not bothered by what people think of him and the publicity he seeks.

"Everything I do, I want the people to know about it," he said.

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