PHOENIX – An Arizona sheriff known for his tough jail policies is offering basic English classes to inmates who don't speak the language.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the language barrier has caused problems for his jail officers and even prompted complaints from English-speaking prisoners.
"They are in the United States, and they should start speaking English," said Arpaio, who is known for making inmates wear pink underwear and take part in old-style chain gangs in striped uniforms.
Arpaio said the inmates are so eager to learn English that there's a waiting list for the two-week courses, which began Monday.
Elias Bermudez, chief executive of advocacy group Immigrants Without Borders, said he believes Arpaio is "not doing this for the good of the inmate" but instead to "showcase" himself.
Arpaio said the majority of the 1,000 illegal immigrants and some of the legal U.S. residents in his jails don't speak English. He said he wants to teach them about America's three branches of government, the criminal justice system and communicating their health and safety needs to jail officers.
He also wants to teach them to sing "God Bless America," a song the sheriff had ordered to be played each morning in his jails.
If Arpaio runs out of volunteers, he said he would make the non-English speakers attend the classes.