Citing evidence of "inedible'' food, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected efforts by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to escape an order that he serve meals that meet federal dietary guidelines.
In an unsigned ruling Wednesday, the judges said there was evidence of ongoing violations of the constitutional rights of inmates who are being housed awaiting trial.
More to the point, they said that U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake gave Arpaio adequate opportunity to present a plan to remedy the problems. When he did not, the judge said, Wake was free to impose his own requirements.
Attorney Larry Hammond, who represented the prisoners, said the order technically applies only to pretrial detainees -- those who have not been convicted of anything but either cannot post bail or are being held without bond. But statistics from the sheriff's department show these people make up about three-fourths of the approximately 8,000 inmates in Arpaio's jails.
Sheriff's spokesman Jack McIntyre said the jails already are in compliance with Wake's original order. He said his agency appealed because it didn't believe Wake had a basis for imposing those mandates.
But Hammond said it is clear from the appeal that the sheriff's department wanted out from under the requirements.
One of those is that those being housed in the jails be provided with food that satisfies the dietary guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Wake said those guidelines recommend 2,400 calories a day for males age 19 to 30 with a sedentary lifestyle and from 2,600 to 2,800 calories for those with a moderately active lifestyle. And Wake said if pretrial detainees are getting the exercise time to which they are entitled, they would fit into the second category.
The county's dietician testified he designs menus to provide prisoners with 2,400 to 2,500 calories a day.
But Wake did not give that a lot of credibility, the appellate court said, because the menus provided were "exceedingly vague'' and "it was clear the dietician did not actually know what prisoners were fed.''
That, however, wasn't the only problem.
"Substantial testimony from pretrial detainees established that they are often given food that is overripe, moldy, and generally inedible,'' the appellate court said. The judge said Arpaio produced no evidence that inmates are provided with food that meets or exceeds the guidelines.
The other issue relates to temperature.
Hammond said there is evidence that inmates taking certain psychotropic medications cannot properly regulate their body temperature. And the cells were reaching temperatures above 85 degrees.
"What happens is they were dying,'' Hammond said.
Arpaio argued to the court that this did not apply to all psychotropic medications. But the appellate judge said even if that is the case, there was nothing wrong with Wake's ruling.
Arpaio said he is anxious to put the entire legal dispute behind him. He pointed out the original lawsuit was filed in 1977, long before he was sheriff.