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Prisoners cleaning the Great Mississippi River Road after the flood. Alton, Illinois, 2008. © Jo Ann Walters, from the series Dog Town.

Following on nicely from yesterday’s post about prisoners work details, is this image (right-click for a larger view) by Jo Ann Walters, from her series Dog Town.

Chance, or seemingly chance, encounters between photographers and prisoner road crews are not uncommon – portraits by Roger Kisby and Alec Soth spring to mind as similar types of images. Not to mention the dozens of photographers including Scott Houston, Jon Lowenstein and Jim Lo Scalzo who’ve photographed Sheriff Joe Arapio’s chain-gang publicity stunts.

I’ve always lived on the west coast and I haven’t happened upon prisoner work teams but I think this is because the work, for example, of the 200 fire crews and 4,000 offenders at the 42 California DOC Conservation Camps goes on in isolated areas.

How about you? Have you ever seen prisoners on your daily commute or holiday road-trips?

…. was today’s New York Times’ rueful statement of fact.

Writers note: These immigrants are undocumented and unsentenced. They are not criminals. This is not prison. This situation is of acute interest to Prison Photography blog because Maricopa County Sheriff’s office is deliberately trying to blur the distinction between these two very different populations.

I recently commented on Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s scurrilous publicity stunt and parading of immigrants in Maricopa County, Arizona. Not only does Arpaio don his ensnared with the stripes of historical chain gangs, he actually puts them to work as such.

Carlos Garcia for the New York Times

Carlos Garcia for the New York Times

Arpaio’s continued antics are firmly in the national spotlight. The New York Times has a long and varied history of comment. His mob-rule is increasingly divisive because a) we now hope for a just application of the law under an Obama administration and b) Janet Napolitano, former Governor of Arizona, and new Secretary of Homeland Security has yet to prove whether she can run the department without trampling human rights AND in so doing put pay to Arpaio’s abuses. The New York Times notes:

The burden of action is particularly high on Ms. Napolitano, who as Arizona’s governor handled Sheriff Arpaio with a gingerly caution that looked to some of his critics and victims as calculated and timid.

Ms. Napolitano, who is known as a serious and moderate voice on immigration, recently directed her agency to review its enforcement efforts, including looking at ways to expand the 287(g) program. Sheriff Arpaio is a powerful argument for doing just the opposite.

Now that she has left Arizona politics behind, Ms. Napolitano is free to prove this is not Arpaio’s America, where the mob rules and immigrants are subject to ritual humiliation. The country should expect no less.

All eyes are rightfully on this situation. It cuts right to the heart of the ideals America professes to uphold. Watch closely.


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