- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2010

The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” in America, Phoenix’s Joe Arpaio, who cranked up his Christmas music machine for inmates last month, has scheduled a caroling contest for interested pre-trial prisoners - with the winner to receive a “real Christmas dinner for himself and his cell mates.”

In a move Sheriff Arpaio said “is likely to make Ebenezer Scrooge smile,” the eligible inmates are those being held at the Maricopa County jails on charges ranging from burglary and driving under the influence to murder.

Besides Santa Claus and the sheriff, the judges will include Elfis the singing detention officer, who also will perform “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You.”

The contest’s final round begins Tuesday and, according to spokesman Lt. Brian Lee, 50 pre-trial detainees have signed up for the sing off. Ten finalists were chosen by the sheriff’s detention staff; four women and six men. Each must sing a well-known Christmas carol,   either “a capella” or with musical tracks.

Lt. Lee said the winner will receive a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings for himself or herself and their entire housing unit, which will be served on Christmas Eve. The other 8,000 inmates, he said, will receive the regular holiday meal, which utilizes donated food and usually costs the sheriff’s office about 14-cents each.

And in the true holiday spirit, Sheriff Arpaio has asked that the top three inmate winners. who will be awarded a Christmas stocking full of canteen goodies, donate their winnings to a charity of the choice.   

He said all finalists agreed.

The singoff will be videotaped and shown to the whole inmate population of Christmas Day, Lt. Lee said.

Last month, the sheriff started his annual Christmas program of music with the playing of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Feliz Navidad.” The inmates hear, among others, “A Christmas Kwanzaa Solstice,” “Over the Skies of Israel,” “Ramadan,” “Llego a La Ciudad,” “Let it Snow” and “Rodolpho El Reno de la Nariz Rojita.”

“Maybe the holiday music can help lift the spirits of the men and women who are away from friends and family during the holidays, not just the inmates, but the dedicated men and women who work in the Maricopa County Jails,” the sheriff said in an announcement.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, to which Sheriff Arpaio was first elected in 1992 after a 25-year career at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), has played the holiday songs all day, every day, during previous seasons despite six separate inmate lawsuits trying to stop them. The latest inmate lawsuit was dismissed in federal court in December 2009.

Sheriff Arpaio has long expressed his fondness for Christmas music, especially “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and anything by Alvin and the Chipmunks, so it was with some glee last year that he announced in a red-and-green press release that the lawsuit had been dismissed and the music would begin.

“We keep winning these lawsuits. Inmates should stop acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas and give up wasting the court’s time with such frivolous assertions,” the press release read.

Inmates have sued six times claiming that being forced to listen to the Christmas songs 12 hours a day was in violation of their civil and religious rights and a cruel and unusual punishment, but U.S. District Judge Roz Silver disagreed, dismissing the case and denying claims for $250,000 in damages.

The court issued a summary judgment saying it found no evidence of fact, so Sheriff Arpaio was entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.

In upholding the decision, the court said the sheriff was free to “inject the holiday spirit into the lives of those incarcerated over the holiday season in the third-largest jail system in the U.S.”

Sheriff Arpaio has noted that his music selections have been multiethnic and culturally diverse, from all religions and ethnicities. He told The Washington Times that in addition to tunes by Alvin and the Chipmunks, the music included the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Bing Crosby and Doctor Demento.

“All people everywhere deserve a little Christmas cheer,” he said.

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