America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff has a soft spot for animals. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) runs his own controversial, no-kill animal shelter. Arpaio has joined forces with Pam Anderson and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to promote a new change he’s instituted at an Arizona jail: removing meat from the menu.
Why I Won’t Go to Maricopa County
Arpaio’s cause might be good, but he is not. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s not very fond of Latinos. The sheriff is in legal hot water over allegations that he’s racially profiled, harassed and ignored Latinos. According to Alternet, things are much worse for Latinas in Maricopa County: incarcerated women were allegedly forced to sleep in their own menstrual blood, a pregnant woman was allegedly attacked and a Latino woman was allegedly stalked by officers. So, I’m not going to make it a secret that Maricopa County wouldn’t feel very welcoming to me. I don’t want to feel criminalized for my ancestry, brown skin color or gender.
I Actually Agree With Arpaio About Something (Eek!)
But this is a story about good news. As reported in US News, Pamela Anderson, a passionate animal rights activist and celebrity, joined the PETA-backed Sheriff Joe Arpaio to serve inmates meat-free meals.
Arpaio is a big fan of the meatless meals. While the sheriff plays up the health benefits, he’s also strongly driven by dollars and cents. It’s estimated that Maricopa County saved $200,000 dollars from cutting meat off the jail’s menu. The sheriff thinks every jail would benefit from making the meatless switch since the diet makes sense “financially for the taxpayer, health-wise for the inmate.”
In a statement, Pamela Anderson explained her visit: “I believe people can be rehabilitated from the inside out. Jails are full of people wanting to change, to make amends, to learn healthier habits and understand compassion and empathy.”
In response to ThinkProgress‘ critique of PETA and Arpaio joining forces, PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk fired back as she defended supporting the controversial sheriff in true PETA style:
That’s right, slam PETA for praising something good that saves animals’ lives and is healthier for those incarcerated than the ‘mystery meat’ usually served jail inmates.
And everyone’s kind of right about everything in this case — even a sheriff like Arpaio, who seemingly violates the constitutional and human rights of his constituents. There’s no denying that meatless options are better for people, the environment and, of course, the animals.
Can Going Veg Benefit Society?
While they’re busy dishing it out, I’m more intrigued by this: can our society really can benefit from more jails going meatless or vegan? In 2011, Vegetarian Spotlight focused on California’s 500-inmate private prison project, Victor Valley Medium Community Correctional Facility’s NEWSTART, where inmates were required to eat a vegan diet and participate in other programs (e.g. bible study and anger management coursework).
During its run, Victor Valley was very different from other prisons in the state. The private prison had a recidivism rate of two percent, compared to California’s 95 percent. Racial divisions that dominate most prisons were insignificant at Victor Valley. Julianne Aranda, the facility’s nutrition services coordinator, attributed diet to some of the stark differences between Victor Valley and other prisons: “[W]hat we eat not only affects us physically, but it affects our mental attitude, our aggressiveness and our ability to make good decisions.”
Shellethics gives us another point to consider. We know that crimes against animals usually escalate to crimes against people. But does that link still exist if we pay others to commit these violent crimes against animals for our food? According to Shellethics, the presence of slaughterhouses correlates with a 166 percent increase in arrests for rape and “meat workers’ aggression levels were ‘so high they’re similar to the scores […] for incarcerated populations.” It’s a troubling reminder that there’s no nice, humane or nonviolent way to murder another sentient being.