Archive for the ‘Corrections’ Category

ht to John Cole over at Balloon Juice for writing about the modern practice of punishing people for crimes they haven’t yet committed

From the source article they cite at the NY Times:

“…risk scores are not based on the defendant’s crime. They are primarily or wholly based on prior characteristics: criminal history (a legitimate criterion), but also factors unrelated to conduct. Specifics vary across states, but common factors include unemployment, marital status, age, education, finances, neighborhood, and family background, including family members’ criminal history.”

In a way we’ve been doing this kind of things for decades but now they’re calling it “evidenced based sentencing”.  I’m gonna call BS on this and here’s why.

20+ years ago when I was a probation officer for the state of FL, I did both pre and post conviction sentencing reports–basically risk assessments. Back then the two biggest factors in recidivism for those on community supervision were known to be employment and positive family support. The inclusion of these things was actually a reform, meant to help offenders by putting them in the situation that would most likely lead to more positive results. Unfortunately, the “why” of it got lost in the implementation. It became a factor in how they were punished instead of how they were helped. And this came about during the Reagan and Clinton years with the resurgence of conservative politics and the “get tough on crime” wave of nonsense that swept the nation.

So judges would often sentence someone with a job and/or a stable home to live in to serve their sentence under community supervision and of course that meant that the poor would be more likely to go to jail. And the ability of a person who has been incarcerated to recover their lives was and still is infinitely more difficult than that of a person who was lucky enough to serve their sentence in the community. Basically it was always unfair.

It did get better over time in some jurisdictions but this was due only to 1) the progressive nature and quality of the judges 2) the quality and quantity of community resources (e.g., semi-independent living for the mentally ill, advocacy organizations that helped people coming out of the system to find jobs and homes, drug treatment programs with living spaces, etc) and 3) the progressive nature and quality of the officers doing the risk assessment. An officer could shade and characterize things to suit their own bias against the offender or they could choose to help.

For instance when we did a psi report one of the things we had to do was investigate the home address they proposed to live in.  We also had to interview family members.  If they didn’t have a home to live in or if the one they listed fell through, the officer was not required to but could contact family members–often people who cared about the offender but were not informed as to what was going on in their case would want to help. I don’t know how many times I was able to find a family member who was willing to take an offender into their homes but it was only because I put forth extra effort. Or if they were mentally ill and their family wouldn’t or couldn’t take them, I’d try to find a bed in a group home for them somewhere*. 99% of officers just left it at “they’ve got no place” so they aren’t suitable for community supervision.

That bias is now being given steroids by adding in things that the offender has no control over whatsoever. If their parents or siblings are assholes, how is that their fault? If you were born and raised in the ghetto and that’s where your family lives, how the hell are you supposed to be able to control that?  You’re in jail awaiting sentencing and you’re supposed to just pull a nice apartment in SoHo out of your ass?

As I mentioned earlier, the problem is that these things should never have been a part of the sentencing equation in the first place. The ONLY thing they should have EVER been considered for was in how to treat and help offenders. Unfortunately this country is so wed to being “tough on crime” that they’ve lost sight of the ultimate goal which is not only equality before the law but also reducing recidivism not just for society’s sake but for the individual’s sake as well.

Add on to this trend of incarcerating the poor and disadvantaged for simply being so, the use of blatantly biased drug laws, three strikes laws and the push to incarcerate non-violent offenders and voila you have the clusterfuck that is the American Correctional System.  We incarcerate more people than China, which has a population four times larger than ours.  Next time you hear a stupid bumper sticker talking point from a politician about being tough on crime.  Tell him to STFU because you’re not buying it any more.  Tell them you want to hear a detailed plan for reducing prison overcrowding, increasing the fairness in our justice system AND reducing recidivism.  I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it–You can’t reduce recidivism without treating the underlying causes and treating the underlying causes does not mean throwing everyone in prison.

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* Thanks again Ronnie Reagan for destroying the nation’s mental health institutions….you screwed the mentally ill for many generations……

There is a new documentary coming out about the “Cash for Kids” scandal that rocked Pennsylvania.  This is why Private Prisons and Jails are a very bad idea and why I’ve been advocating against them for over 20 years.  This film is a must see.

One of my pet peeves is the ongoing effort in this country to privatize aspects of the state’s inherent powers such as the responsibility to educate or to punish the convicted.  There is an ongoing assault by private corporations to take over these government responsibilities in order to use them as profit centers.  The Charter School movement is a great example of this trend.  I won’t dwell on it here, since others are much more informed about it than I.  I will say that I oppose allowing private schools to be funded with public monies.  Likewise, I vehemently oppose the privatizing of prisons and for similar reasons.

For-profit corporations don’t see people as people, they represent a profit or a loss.  To private prison operators, the more bodies, the more they make.  There is an economy of scale, dontchaknow.  Many on the right will say that the government is not accountable enough.  And in some cases I would agree.  But we do have a peaceful ultimate recourse (voting, which we use to infrequently IMHO) and there are legal mechanisms (recalls, constitutional legal challenges, etc) that we, the people, can use.  With government we can and do institutionalize our morality, a conscience of a sort.  For example, we have food stamps because at one time the people of this country felt that it was only we should help feed the hungry (although that value may be waning, see my post from yesterday).

So we DO legislate and then implement our values in our governmental structures and processes.  A corporation organizes as it sees fit.  It creates it’s own mission statement, goals and vision.  A government is created to provide services to the citizens of said government.  A corporation is created to provide profit for it’s shareholders.  Those are VASTLY different reasons for being and it affects not only WHO the stakeholders actually are but also how they and non-stakeholders are treated.    Corporations have no conscience and only the government, if and when it’s forced through enormous pressure, can force the country’s conscience on them.  And you see how well THAT worked with the banks and executives that crashed our economy recently.

All this is on my mind because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced and is implementing mandatory minimum sentencing reform that will drastically reduce the number of people that get sent to prison.  Under these reforms, people currently charged with certain drug offenses will no longer be sent to federal prisons (this is a simplification of the policy but you get the gist).   You may or may not know this but there has been in US sentencing a massive disparity between how the law treated Crack Cocaine versus powder cocaine–on the order of 100 to 1.  In other words, a person with a small amount of Crack would be sentenced the same as someone who had a buttload of Cocaine.  Why was this a problem?  Because the powdered stuff is more expensive and is more likely to be used by the upper economic classes.  Crack, cheap and plentiful, was most likely to be used by the lower economic classes.  And since race is still very much tied to economic class, these laws drastically affected minority communities.  The African American community has been decimated by such laws.  If we had, instead, allowed such people to go into supervised release instead of prison, their ability to earn for their family would have been a real possibility.  Instead we took generations of young men and threw them into prison to rot and fester.  Nothing makes a man into a criminal faster than incarceration will.  Believe me, I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes.

Of course, the right opposes these reforms because they believe everyone and anyone that has broken the law should go to prison.  Unfortunately, the fact that there are too many potheads taking up bed space so that the pedophiles are given community probation instead never seems to catch up with them come election time.  And believe me, this kind of thing has been happening for decades.  Violent thugs and child molesters were and are being given alternative sentences because the drug war with its mandatory minimum and three strikes laws filled up and overflowed both state and federal prisons.   We still have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Higher than communist China, plutocratic/oligarchic Russia, free-for-all Somalia, etc, etc, etc.  And we’re supposed to be the land of the free…pshaw.

In the meantime, while pushing for stricter and stricter laws, the same politicians have been calling for lower and lower taxes.  Exactly how we were supposed to pay for our behemoth of a corrections system, never seems to have occurred to them or the voters.  The light bulb never goes on for voters because they share a similar malady with conservative politicians called cognitive dissonance.  What the voters don’t usually see is what is going on behind the curtain.  There is a wizard and he has an agenda.

Funding the movement for lower taxes and higher imprisonment rates is the private prison industry.  Players like the Corrections Corporation of America, PRIDE (a FL company), ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)*, the Koch Foundation**, etc make sure that their agenda is pushed at the state and local level and that they blanket the media with their own marketing spin so that the opposing voices like mine are never heard.  It’s why you may not know that private prisons are booming and that the U.S. has a national slave labor force that fulfills your online shopping orders, sews the jeans that make your ass look oh so good, and processes the chicken patties that your child eats in school cafeteria.  The chain gangs of yesteryear were child’s play compared to what is going on now.  The cheap labor provided by inmates drives down wages for those of us on the outside. How long before people in large numbers decide that being incarcerated is better than trying to make it in our supposed free market paradise?  Maybe after the next Great Recession/Depression?

It boils down to this….incentivizing the loss of liberty is incentivizing tyranny.  Except now we don’t have to fear that the government will be the force that puts the chains on us.  It will be the private corporations beholden only to shareholders and owners.  They’ve seized the mainstream media and are busy waving red flags about guns and the scary brown immigrants in front of the voters while they pick our pockets and enslave us.  We need to keep our eye on the ball, people, otherwise Workhouses will be the new gray***.

from Matt Davies at GoComics.com

Sources:

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2013/09/20/his-sense-is-this-is-very-much-like-subprime-lending/

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/06/11/1215508/-Labor-and-Business-Win-Prison-Industry-Battle

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/displayArticle.aspx?articleid=22734&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/25/949367/-Slave-Labor-Gerrymandering-Redistricting-ALEC-Koch-Brothers-and-their-Conservative-Agenda

http://www.phoenixmag.com/lifestyle/valley-news/201102/power-to-the–prison–people-full-version/1/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/us/politics/administration-orders-new-step-to-curtail-stiff-drug-sentences.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/us/justice-dept-seeks-to-curtail-stiff-drug-sentences.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/opinion/sunday/no-crime-no-punishment.html?hp

Notes:

*This is a conservative group that drafts state-level legislation for laws opposing abortion, supporting mandatory minimum sentencing laws, supporting three strikes laws, preventing wage increases, criminalizing immigrants (SB1070), laws allowing for private prisons and profiting off of prisoner labor, loosening gun control regulation, etc.  They give these drafts to lawmakers in the various states and they in turn use those drafts to formulate policy–many of the laws are passed verbatim as originally written.  This group is behind the many execrable laws passed in recent years to include forced ultrasounds against a pregnant woman’s wishes, union busting efforts, attempts to enact personhood for fetuses, eliminating conceal carry permits, etc.  This is the group that is making our laws–not our legislators–and they do so based on their conservative agenda.  Their perspective has nothing to do with the constituents of the said state….which is what our legislators are supposed to listen to and represent.  

**This foundation formed by Koch brothers to push their extreme conservative agenda on the rest of the US.  The two brothers own the second largest private corporation in the country.  If you want to know who is behind the conservative juggernaut that has hijacked this country, follow the money to these two billionaires.  

***I’m sure they’ll pick a new Orwellian name for it, like “insource vacationing”–the new way to have a staycation that lasts forever.  

George Orwell, author of 1984, has been rolling in his grave for nigh on 20 years now because the modern conservative movement in the US have become so masterful at using “doublespeak“.  I was trying to write a post about immigration reform when I stumbled across a Fox News article (WARNING:  clicking and reading Fox News may be hazardous to your health) about a group that wants to build a wall all the way across the U.S./Mexican border–all 2,000 miles of it.  Not only is that impractical in both terms of construction costs and the nightmare of logistics in maintenance, it’s not who we should be as a nation.  Anyway, the name of the group advocating the fence?  “Let Freedom Ring, Inc”.  Is it just me or does a wall represent anything but freedom.  Walls force people to stay in and stay out.  It forces someone in authority to monitor that situation and restrict the flow of people through it.  That’s not freedom, it’s increased governmental control.  It’s authoritarianism.

These thoughts prompted me to create a list of my all time favorite “doublespeak” phrases from the GOP and their true meaning.

  • “No Child Left Behind” is really “Every Child Left Behind”–it was a resounding failure and until it was recently reformed, and now it’s only mildly failing.
  • “Compassionate Conservatism” is really “Fuck you, I’ve got mine but I might occasionally donate privately to non-governmental charities so long as I can claim it on my taxes”
  • “Clearing the market” is really “Foreclose on those houses and get it done, quickly so we can get back to making profits”
  • “Class warfare” is really “Any challenge, legitimate or not, against the rich”
  • “All of the Above Energy Policy” is really “No policy, no plan, no diversity, just drill”
  • “Activist Judges” is really “Any judge that makes a decision that doesn’t follow a literal interpretation of the Constitution unless the judge is a conservative, then he/she can do whatever they want”
  • “Patriot Act” is really “The government can spy on you and violate your civil rights and if you don’t like it, you’re not a patriot”
  • “Discovery Institute” is a conservative think-tank.   One might think from the name that they are scientific, looking into new and exciting things that would better society or exploring new frontiers.  Nope.  Their primary purpose is to force Christianity further down the throats of their fellow Americans by advocating for Creationism in Science classes, instructing conservative voters how to vote as God would, etc, etc.  That’s the opposite of discovery.
  • “American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research”  You might think that the term Enterprise refers to Capitalism, so you might expect that their main focus is economic policy.  Nope.  You might expect to see research coming out about what policies worked and what didn’t and then recommendations on what policies the public should implement.  Nope.  See research (in the Social Sciences and Public Policy) is where you start out with a hypothesis, then you do a survey of what’s been implemented and the results, to see if that hypothesis is true or not.   Then you base your recommendations off of that study.  Example Hypothesis:  Alternative sentencing by Drug Courts reduces the rates of incarceration and recidivism (i.e., re-offending).  Example Survey:  There are tons of states who have tried this over the years and in most cases, they found that yes, Drug Courts were helpful in getting drug users out of the system because they increase the odds of the person getting treatment and not just punishment alone.  Example Conclusion:  Drug Courts are recommended and here are some best practices to follow.  The Enterprise Institute does the EXACT opposite. They start with a premise:  defend conservative principles like capitalism and limited government.  So they go out and find examples that support that premise and ignore the ones that don’t.  If they can’t find anything to support their premise, they make stuff up or lie about what they find.  So, no research and no real enterprise.
  • “PEPFAR – President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” – A G.W. Bush-era law that provided $15 billion to African nations for the relief of AIDS.  What most people don’t know is that there were three VERY big impediments built into the law.  First, the law barred funding for organizations that operate programs overseas but do not have a blanket policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.  On the face that seems reasonable.  But NGO’s (like the Red Cross) don’t have policies like this because those statements alienate the people they are trying to help and gets in the way.  For example, in Africa one of the primary means of HIV transmission was through prostitution.  Such policies would be like setting up a Red Cross tent and then putting a neon sign out front that says, “we hate prostitutes”.  Not too many prostitutes would come to them for medication or counseling and the source of the problem would not be addressed.*  Second, the law required that one-third of all the monies be directed toward abstinence-until-marriage programs and excluded comprehensive approaches, i.e., the NGO’s couldn’t discuss male and female condoms.  Why was this a problem?  Again, it’s societal.  In Africa one of the primary ways that AIDS/HIV was spread was through heterosexual intercourse (this is not true in most other parts of the world).  Not offering condoms and counseling on those methods and telling the average male to simply abstain in most cases means that man will have sex, contract HIV and will pass it on.  Third, the law did not provide any funding for needle exchange programs.  This is a BIG deal and is one the key strategies to preventing the spread of HIV.   So, in essence there was very little actual relief going on and a whole lot of imposition of American Christianist** religious values.  In the end, this law did little to actually help prevent the spread of HIV in Africa and most likely has resulted in more people dying as a result.  Probably should have just called it “PEPFSA – President’s Emergency Plan for Spreading AIDS”.
  • “Mission accomplished” in May 2003, was……do I need to spell it out for ya?

    Mission NOT Accomplished

    Mission NOT Accomplished

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Notes:

*Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this provision of the law by a vote of 6-2 in June 2013.

**I’m going to start referring to the conservative Christian movement in the US as either Christianist or the US Taliban, because they certainly not real Christians.  There are multiple instances in the Bible where Jesus helped someone first without questioning their moral choices in life.  He also looked at people as humans capable of great love and not as just a bundle of past sins that predict future behavior.  We’re all so much more than our past failings, thank goodness!  One of my favorite stories is the time he had dinner with a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50) where a prostitute attended Jesus by washing his feet and anointing him with oil, doing him great honor, whereas the Pharisee did nothing.  Jesus concludes:

“Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”  Luke 7:47

  • Ann Coulter is a disgusting human being–she thinks the government should make a list of all women who have had abortions. I honestly don’t think she believes a single thing that comes out of her mouth. She’s a grifter making a ton of money off ignorant, conservative American voters just like Beck, Limbaugh, etc. But the irresponsibility of such talk, all for the sake of making money, takes my breath away. What’s next? Scarlet A’s for the women on the list? I have a suggestion. How about a big “C” brand for Coulter’s forehead?*
  • It’s official. Sheriff Joe Arpaio now has members of his all volunteer posse patrolling carrying weapons at approximately 50 schools in Maricopa County today. Congratulations Arizona! You’ve joined the ranks of third world countries with authoritarian governments. Woohoo! So proud, I could weep. Fortunately they’re not patrolling in Peoria where my daughter goes to school or I would be there following their ass around with a protest sign and videotaping their dumbasses. I wonder how they would feel if I came with my Ruger Speed 6 loaded with jacketed hollow point 38 Special rounds with two speed loaders full? If they can carry on campus, why can’t I? I have security clearances or at least, I used to. I’m more qualified than many in his damn posse, some of whom have a criminal past.   Ht to Bob Cesca

  • Here’s a question for you to ponder. Why are private for profit charter schools not held to the same standards as public schools? They receive our tax dollars. Here’s another. How come no one ever talks about the profit being made by these private corporations and how they’re in bed with the standardized test makers? Why are we allowing corporations who only care about the bottom line take over public functions like schools, prisons, health care, etc? What is most important in those particular types of services? The profit or the people? Whenever a profit motive is introduced corruption and a lack of oversight gets introduced. At least with government we have oversight, legal recourse, etc–we have built in mechanisms for controlling them. Charter schools are a new and growing business and it’s a particular problem in Ari-loony-zona. Unfortunately, there is no proof that they actually educate our kids any better or educate them on the right things. They also play favorites. They take the cream of the crop and leave the rest, the harder to teach to the underfunded public schools. The entire set up is a national recipe for failure. If you care to read more, Kay over at Balloon Juice follows educational issues and she’s got a ton of information on this topic.
  • They were fer em before they were agin em! The President has nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to replace Panetta as the Secretary of the Department of Defense. Of course, if you hop into the “way back” machine and go to the mid-2000’s you’ll see that McCain and other GOP leaders thought Hagel was the bees knees. Now that the Brown Muslim Manchurian Socialist Usurper has chosen him, they don’t think he’s qualified.  They must think we’re stupid….oh, that’s right….
  • Here’s some background information you need to remember when you start hearing about the “fight over the debt ceiling” in the coming months. Raising the debt ceiling does NOT authorize the President to spend more. It authorizes the President, specifically through the Treasury Department, to pay the bills on debt that CONGRESS PREVIOUSLY AND CONSCIOUSLY decided to incur. Here’s a simple metaphor. You work for a company with a board of directors. The company needs to buy some new property and buildings. The Board itself sets the limits on how much they can spend. The Board then proceeds to spend more than they were authorized. The Board now has to raise the limit on what they can spend to pay for the extra amount. But the Board is trying to blame the office secretary that pays the bills and accusing him/her of asking for unlimited spending power. If the Board refuses to raise the limit, does not pay those bills, the company’s credit will be destroyed. This company is crucial to their industry and if it collapses so will those related companies. Similarly, the President is trying to pay the bills. The US is the largest issuer of currency–money and credit. So the entire world economy depends on us and our good credit status. If we default on paying our debts, our credit goes bad. If our credit goes bad a serious of dominoes will fall and affect the world economy, very, very badly. Do you see how crazy it is to play politics with such a serious issue? Do you see how the Republicans are jeopardizing us and even the entire world by doing so? It’s madness.
  • A Republican Lobbying group in Washington, D.C. is taking the term “Republican” out of their name. However, they are saying that they still “represent the governing wing of the Republican Party”. Is you or is you not a Republican? This is like naming a law that allows the federal government to spy on citizens without a warrant the “Patriot Act”. Doublespeak bullshit.
  • You know how conservatives and even some moderates have been saying we need to “cut spending” and “tighten our government belt” like they did in Europe in response to the recent Recession? Well they were and are wrong. According to the International Monetary Fund:

    On Friday, in its first working paper of the year, it revealed the full horror of what did happen. Personally authored by the fund’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, the paper said for every dollar those nations cut their budgets their economies crumpled something more like $1.50.

    [snip]

    His defence [sic] is that in normal times they would have got it right. In normal times a budget cut of $1 would have cut economic growth by 50¢. But the times weren’t normal. European interest rates had been cut to nearly zero, meaning there wasn’t the normal room for authorities to cut further, and households were more heavily indebted than normal, so cuts to their income flowed through more quickly than normal to cuts in their spending. And the starting point was different. The European economies had been in recession, which was far from normal.

    The U.S. was one of the few nations, other than China, to actually do some Stimulus and the U.S. is in much better shape than most of Europe as a result. And the situation in the U.S. remains similar to what the conditions were in Europe at the time they decided to trod down the austerity path–low interest rates and households still heavily indebted. We have a consumer driven society. If consumers don’t have liquidity to spend on stuff the economy cannot and will not grow.  We don’t need austerity–we need investment in our national infrastructure and new, sustainable energy.

  • Remember Lt. Bradley Manning, the young man who leaked classified material to WikiLeaks who then plastered it all over the Internet? Well I’ve been saying all along that his treatment during pre-trial detention was excessive and illegal. I KNOW what is acceptable and what is not, even in a military prison, and the way they treated him was unacceptable. Innocent until proven guilty, folks. Anyway, seems a judge actually agrees with me. Regardless of whether you think Manning did the right thing or not (I don’t think he did, actually) you should stand up for his rights in this particular regard. This is America dammit–we shouldn’t allow this kind of thing.
  • And finally, have you heard about SHART? They are the Society of Heavily Armed Resistance Troopers….and they want a “Gun Appreciation Day”!**

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Notes:   

*The C stands for a word that rhymes with “bunt”

**Hehe, the “article” purports to be from Smallwood, TX….small wood indeed