This piece originally appeared in the Arizona Capitol Times.
The first thing that hits you is the smell—an acrid stench that knocks you back a few paces.
When you see inside the cells, you understand. Men, often nude, are covered in filth. Their cell floors are littered with rancid milk cartons and food containers. Their stopped-up toilets overflow with waste.
These are the living conditions that prisoners with acute mental illness endure in the Maricopa County Jail’s Special Management Unit (SMU) in downtown Phoenix. In my 23 years of visiting prisons and jails nationwide, it is the single worst unit I have ever seen.
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