In 2008, the ACLU joined an ongoing lawsuit against corrections officials in Maricopa County (AZ) over conditions in the five Maricopa County Jail facilities that house pre-trial detainees – people who have been arrested but not yet tried or convicted.
In October 2008, a federal court ruled that unconstitutional and life-threatening conditions in the jails necessitate federal court oversight to ensure that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other county officials maintain safe and humane conditions and provide the thousands of detainees held there basic levels of medical and mental health care. And in 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that Arpaio and county officials are required to abide by a federal district court order mandating that they fix unconstitutional conditions in the jails that jeopardize the health and safety of prisoners.
Despite this victory, the thousands of men and women who are booked into MSCO jails each year remain at risk. In 2011, Ernesto "Marty" Atencio died after being severely beaten and Tased by deputies shortly after he was booked into the 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix. Atencio’s death is the latest in a string of highly publicized fatalities at Maricopa County jails during Sheriff Arpaio’s tenure. To date, the county has paid out tens of millions to settle wrongful injury and death lawsuits brought on behalf of Maricopa County inmates and their families.
In 2013, the Maricopa County jails filed a motion to terminate the 2008 federal court order, arguing that the medical and mental health care for pre-trial detainees in its jails had improved sufficiently. The ACLU challenged that petition with a statement of facts showing systemic problems with the jails’ medical screenings, delivery of services, referrals to hospitals, and other aspects of health care. These deficiencies have caused detainees’ medical conditions to worsen unnecessarily, causing extreme suffering and even death. The county jails and Sheriff Arpaio are now facing the ACLU at trial.