The self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America" has begun rolling out a uniform change at Maricopa County jails, saying he assigned inmates who are military veterans to hand out striped jail suits with U.S. flags now stitched onto them.
The uniform change that adds flags to the jail suits was announced last week. It went into effect Monday, on Independence Day.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio says affixing the flag to the uniforms is about honoring the nation's heritage.
The Arizona sheriff is famous for making inmates wear pink underwear, and for business raids aimed at finding people who used fake or stolen IDs to get jobs.
Critics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio called the new uniforms "disrespectful."
Dan Saban, who is mounting a primary challenge against Arpaio for the head of the sheriff's office, criticized the sheriff's actions outside the Tent City jail off Durango Street and 31st Avenue.
Saban said Arpaio strategically timed this press conference to distract the public from his legal troubles and a federal court hearing set to be held on Friday.
"I do believe this is just another mid-year gimmick and a prop. You're patronizing something people have died for," said Saban.
The sheriff defended his actions saying, "This flag represents everybody. Everybody in the United States of America, doesn't matter if you're in jail or what have you."
The sheriff said the new uniforms would replace old ones, so the costs would even out in the end, although he could not provide an exact dollar amount when asked.
A federal judge is mulling changes to Arpaio's office in response to a contempt-of-court ruling against him and a top aide for defying a 2011 order to stop their immigration patrols.