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Inmates put on bread, water diet for desecrating flag

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 7:18 p.m.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio pauses as he answers a question at a news conference at Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Headquarters Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, in Phoenix. County officials are holding a closed-door meeting Thursday to consider action in two lawsuits that accuse Arpaio of abusing his powers. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Dozens of Arizona inmates will eat nothing but bread and water for at least seven days, the latest punishment by one of the country's toughest sheriffs.

“These inmates have destroyed the American flag that was placed in their cells. Tearing them, writing on them, stepping on them, throwing them in the toilet, trash or wherever they feel,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. “It's a disgrace to those who have fought for our country.”

Arpaio said a second offense would bring 10 more days of the sparse diet.

The flags are part of a push for patriotism in the county's jail cells. In recent months, the Maricopa County jails have broadcast patriotic songs over the public address systems — “The Star Spangled Banner” in the morning and “God Bless America” at night.

A sheriff's spokesman said the bread provides the daily requirement of calories and nutrients that is necessary. There are about 8,300 inmates in the jail system.

Dan Pochoda, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, said the move is nothing more than a “publicity stunt.”

“It's certainly not illegal, but what he is doing is bad policy,” Pochoda said. “It's just another vindictive policy that has nothing to do with running a good jail system.”

Arpaio has made headlines for keeping thousands of inmates outdoors in repurposed military tents in 117-degree weather and banning smoking, coffee and movies in jails.

He has even put his stamp on mealtime. Inmates are fed only twice a day, and he stopped serving salt and pepper — all to save taxpayers money, he said.

Arpaio, who was elected to his sixth term in 2012, has served as sheriff since 1993. He has raised $3.5 million in campaign contributions during the past year and is considering a run for governor.

Arpaio demanded this month that the federal government cover the cost of court-ordered reforms and attorneys' fees associated with the office's long-running civil-rights case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled in May that the Sheriff's Office engaged in systemic racial profiling of Latinos through its immigration-enforcement policies.

He has strongly denied the accusations.

Reuters, USA Today and the Arizona Republic contributed to this report.

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