Photo: Arpaio's Prison Pinks Maybe Unconstitutional
Known to be ‘America’s toughest sheriff,’ Joe Arpaio’s policy of dressing Arizona inmates in pink underwear has recently come under scrutiny after a mentally ill inmate believed he was being raped by prison officials attempting to dress him.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questioned Wednesday, Arpaio’s nearly 20 year policy of dressing inmates in this underwear. They stated, “Unexplained and undefended, the dressout in pink appears to be punishment without legal justification.” They also expressed, “It’s fair to infer that the selection of pink as the underwear color was meant to symbolize the loss of prisoners’ masculinity.”
Originally, the sheriff was praised by voters for his tough treatment of prisoners in the Maricopa County jail. Arpaio was known not only for making inmates wear pink underwear, yet he also forced prisoners to live in tents during Arizona’s scorching summers, and was known to dress them in old fashioned striped jail uniforms.
The scrutiny comes as a result of a lawsuit brought by the estate of former prisoner Eric Vogel. Vogel, diagnosed as paranoid and psychotic, was arrested in November of 2001 and refused to get out of his street clothes. While officers stripped Vogel and forced him into the pink underwear Vogel shouted that he was being raped. A month later, after a minor car accident with his mother, the officer told Vogel that he may have to return to jail as a result of resisting officers during the original underwear incident. This threat caused Vogel to run from the scene of the accident several miles to his home where he died the next day as a result of a cardiac arrhythmia.
Vogel’s attorney, Joel Robbins, said that although the public has long been amused by the use of pink underwear in the prison, people need to remember that a man may have died as a result of this practice. “That’s where it loses its humor value,” Robbins stated.
A deputy chief for the sheriff, Jack MacIntyre, disagrees with the court’s ruling. According to MacIntyre, the prison began to dye the underwear in the 1990s in an attempt to discourage them from taking the underwear home after being released. He does not believe it is an attempt to strip the inmates of their masculinity as previously stated.