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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
UK blogger takes on 'toughest sheriff in US'
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Shaun Attwood during his stockbroker days
Shaun Attwood, serving a nine-and-a-half-year sentence
A British stockbroker in jail in the United States has been lifting the lid on a controversial prison regime through a compelling weblog.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio forces inmates to wear pink underpants, puts women on chain gangs and brags that it costs more to feed the guard dogs than the prisoners he oversees. No surprise then that he is often called America's "toughest sheriff".

But while his hardline tactics have won him plenty of admirers among the voting public of Maricopa county, Arizona, they have outraged human rights campaigners.

Now, as Mr Arpaio seeks re-election to his job, few would have suspected one of his most vocal critics to be a 35-year-old stockbroker from Widnes, Cheshire.

Shaun Attwood landed in Mr Arpaio's authority after he was arrested in connection with raves he organised in and around Phoenix. Through a series of letters, penned from the confines of his remand centre, and published on the net, Mr Attwood has shed light on a controversial prison regime.

Hardline regime

Sheriff Arpaio's prison policies have made headlines across the United States. He reinstated chain gangs, for women and juveniles, as well as men, forces inmates to wear pink underwear and the old fashioned black and white hooped uniforms, and hit on the idea of housing minor offenders in a huge "Tent City" in the desert.

1991: Moves from UK to Arizona, US, and gets a job as stockbroker
Late 1990s: Quits job to become a full-time rave promoter in Phoenix area
May 2002: Arrested on charges of money laundering and held on remand.
Jul 2004: Sentenced to nine-and-a-half years and moved to a prison with 'better conditions'
Oct 2004: Still blogging and campaigning against sheriff Joe Arpaio
Mr Arpaio, whose jurisdiction covers Arizona's capital, Phoenix, is defiant about his policies although insists he runs a "humane jail system".

Nevertheless, Shaun Attwood's online diary tells a disturbing story of life in the Maricopa penal system, which he calls "subhuman". Attwood, who has since been moved to a more lenient state prison, and thus out of sheriff Arpaio's control, managed his weblog with the help of his father, Derick, back in the UK.

Fleeing the British recession of the time, Attwood, an economics graduate then fresh out of Liverpool University, moved to Phoenix in 1991 where his two aunts lived. He took local exams before getting work as a stockbroker and, as a successful day trader, earned about 1m.

But he became bored with the world of financial markets and opted to turn his hobby into a full-time job. A fan of the rave culture in Liverpool, Attwood took his love of dance music with him when he moved to the US. By the late 1990s he was organising several large raves in and around Phoenix.

It was a role which eventually saw him arrested, and convicted for money laundering and drugs offences. After more than two years in a remand prison, run by Sheriff Arpaio, he was sentenced, in July this year, to nine-and-a-half years inside.

Pencilled pleas

His weblog started after Attwood began writing to one of his aunts in Arizona. Attwood wrote his notes using a tiny, blunt pencil stub - proper pens and pencils are banned as potential weapons - and paper, which was frequently sodden from sweat because of the intense heat in the prison.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Everybody complains - but if you don't like it, you don't violate the law and you won't come back
Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Although bleak and depressing, the letters were also "beautifully written and deeply moving", according to his father, Derick, to whom they were passed on. Inspired by the example of Salam Pax, the so-called Baghdad Blogger, Derick Attwood set up a weblog in an effort to publicise his son's views.

Fearing repercussions, Derick Attwood initially made the blog anonymous, calling it simply Jon's Jail Journal. A picture of Shaun Attwood was only added in the summer, after his move to the state prison.

Attwood's weblog makes disturbing reading and includes a catalogue of alleged breaches of human rights for those on remand. They include:

  • prison food being mixture with rotten meat, fruit and vegetables and mouldy bread. Attwood even says he saw a rat's head in one stew;
  • cells infested with cockroaches;
  • coolers which did not work and temperatures frequently touching 100F.

    Ruby Wax visiting one of the jails in Maricopa County
    No laughing matter: Ruby Wax visits prison guards in Maricopa
    Speaking to the BBC News website, Mr Arpaio defended his regime.

    "I feel that you should be tough on crime and run a tough jail. They don't get steaks, movies, porno, cigarettes or alcohol, but it's humane," he says. "Everybody complains - but if you don't like it, you don't violate the law and you won't come back. "

    It's a record he will be judged on later this month when Mr Arpaio, along with thousands of sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys across the US, comes up for re-election. He will be running on a Republican party ticket.

    Although his Democrat challenger Bob Ayala is highly critical of the Arpaio rule, Derick Attwood says he is unlikely to break the sheriff's stronghold.

    Meanwhile, Shaun Attwood's mother, Barbara takes comfort in the belief that her son has done something to lift the lid on Maricopa county's extraordinary prison regime.

    "One of the guards once told Shaun 'nobody knows what's going on in here'," says Barbara Attwood. "Well they do now."

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