Dozens of inmates in Arizona jails have been put on a diet of bread and water for desecrating U.S. flags that hang in their cells, Reuters reports.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, told the news agency that 38 inmates in six different jails were getting meals of bread and water twice daily – the punishment for destroying government property while in custody.
“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,” Arpaio said in a statement. “It's a disgrace to those who have fought for our country.”
Arpaio said the punishment will last seven days; a second offense would bring 10 additional days of the bread-and-water diet.
There are about 8,300 inmates in the jail system.
Dan Pochoda, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, called the move a “publicity stunt.”
“It's certainly not illegal, but what he is doing is bad policy,'' Pochoda told Reuters. “It's just another vindictive policy that has nothing to do with running a good jail system.”
The Maricopa County jails have, in recent months, played patriotic songs over the public address systems, including “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
Arpaio, a six-term sheriff, has cemented his persona as a tough-as-nails lawman, coming under criticism in recent years for his actions, including a hard-line stance on immigration.
Arpaio is facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Justice Department accusing him of civil rights abuses, over allegations he and his officers profile Latinos.
The Arizona immigration law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court allows police in the state to ask people they stop about their immigration status.