His hero is Ronald Reagan. His first vote was cast for Richard Nixon. A portrait of John Wayne, shotgun in hand, adorns his office wall. So it’s no surprise that Richard K. Jones, the newly elected sheriff of Butler County, Ohio, is grabbing headlines.
Besides, it’s hard not to notice when the cigar-stoking conservative Republican’s solution to jail overcrowding is pitching tents in the prison yard. Or when he resurrects the chain gangs of the 1950s and has his inmates dressed in green-and-white-striped jumpsuits picking up litter on public roadways. Or when he puts a sign out front welcoming illegal immigrants. “Illegal aliens are committing crimes in my county,” he says. “They need to be deported because they have broken the law to be here.”
Jones grew up in the sleepy town of Hamilton, Ohio, and has always been somewhat defiant. He went to college—including earning a master’s in criminal justice from Xavier in 1985—even though his high school counselor declared he wasn’t college material. And, at least so far, political correctness hasn’t infiltrated his career.
But he makes no apologies for his controversial ways, which have garnered him media attention from around the world. He’s appeared in newspapers, magazines and on TV and radio talk shows, mostly to discuss his novel ideas about jails, such as cutting cable and satellite television and serving a “Warden Burger”—a soy patty that is perfectly nutritious though thoroughly tasteless—to difficult inmates. He’s now considering serving two meals a day instead of three to save money.
What’s next? Who knows? But rest assured Jones won’t be shy about talking about it. “I say what I think,” he says, “and if you don’t want to know, don’t ask.”