Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio is serving some prisoners "bread and water" as punishment for allegedly unpatriotic behavior.
Arpaio announced his latest jailhouse initiative – "patriotic jails in honor of Veterans Day" – in a Nov. 7 press release. To celebrate the holiday, he said, American flags were placed in each inmate's cell.
"Any defacement or vandalism of the flags by inmates comes with the penalty of bread and water," he warned. At the time of that release 10 inmates had already earned themselves the old-fashioned fare.
Arpaio spokeswoman Lisa Allen says inmates are condemned to the diet for 30-day periods of time. The office's latest count of flag desecrators remained 10 as of Tuesday.
The new policy isn't a smashing hit with everyone.
"Long ago it was decided that the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment is feeding people only bread and water," said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, in a released statement. "If the sheriff is being literal, this punishment is clearly a violation of basic constitutional rights and human decency."
Arpaio's not being literal, Allen says.
Instead, the "bread" is actually an intentionally disgusting but nutritious amalgam of foods.
"It's called nutriloaf and it's all the food we feed inmates, ground to a strained pulp and baked in a bread shaped pan," Allen told U.S. News. "It's nutritionally good (meeting requirements) but it doesn't taste good and the texture leaves a lot to be desired."
The Arizona ACLU is looking into the constitutionality of punishing prisoners for defiling flags, but a lawsuit is not imminent. There may be no constitutional issue because the items are public property. KPHO-TV reports the flags are stickers.
Arpaio coupled his flag dictate with a musical announcement. Inmates are henceforth invited to participate in a daily "sing-a-long" of patriotic songs that will be played over jail intercom systems. There's no punishment, however, for failing to recite "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
His supporters revel in his proud political incorrectness and admire his unique anti-crime tactics. The 81-year-old sheriff, in office since 1993, famously forces inmates to wear pink underwear.
In 2011 Arpaio earned national attention by appointing a five-member "cold case posse" to investigate President Barack Obama's birthplace. The posse determined Obama's Hawaii birth certificate is a "computer-generated forgery," Arpaio announced during a March 2012 press conference. He alleged felonies had been committed and said the culprit(s) should be "brought to justice."
Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, has nearly 4 million residents, around 8,500 of whom live in correctional facilities under Arpaio's supervision.