November 28, 2008

Creating Crises, Shortages and a Police State

Financial Crisis Could Trigger Social Unrest, Warns UN Chief

Gulf Times
November 30, 2008

The global financial crisis has brought an abrupt end to a long era of economic growth, and if not handled properly it could result in social unrest and political instability, according to the United Nations.

Seeking additional emergency financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the central banks of the advanced countries, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested a six-point agenda to set the world economy in order.

“If not handled, today’s financial crisis will become tomorrow’s human crisis. Social unrest and political instability will grow, exacerbating all other problems,” he said, declaring open the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development. The ultimate danger would be a cascading series of crises, each building on the other, with potentially “devastating” consequences for all, he said.

He welcomed the fiscal and monetary rescue packages and stimulus plans launched by major economies, but said that probably more needed to be done since the vast sums committed to bail-out “dwarfed” overseas development assistance, which remains a crucial pillar of development finance for many countries.

Elaborating on the six-point agenda, he said there was a need to address the liquidity needs, especially for the developing countries. He said that the wealthiest nations had moved to keep credits flowing at home, and added that credit flows must be ensured to developing countries as well. Their (wealthy nations’) currencies were not reserve currencies; their foreign reserves, often large, were not sufficient to withstand the threat coming from today’s crisis, Ban Ki-moon said.

“We, therefore, need additional emergency financing from the IMF and the central banks of the advanced countries. Without it, the credit crisis will spread to emerging economies,” he said. In this process, growth would stall, hurting them and the world as a whole, he said. Suggesting that an increase in grants and long-term lending from the development banks should be a part of the globally co-ordinated approach, he said reducing aid to the poorest nations under current circumstances would have devastating consequences...

Food Prices Will Rise, Causing Export Bans, Riots

November 28, 2008

Food prices will rise next year, prompting a revival of protectionism from food-growing nations and risking a renewed bout of rioting, according to Jochen Hitzfeld, an analyst at UniCredit SpA in Munich.

“Agricultural commodities will outperform the broad commodity indices in 2009,” Hitzfeld wrote in a research note this week. “If key crop-producing countries then impose export bans again and speculators drive up prices via physical stockpiling and futures contracts, new food unrest is even conceivable in the second half of 2009.”

The CHART OF THE DAY shows food prices for the past 10 years as measured by an index compiled by UBS AG and Bloomberg that tracks at least 13 foodstuffs, including wheat, soybeans, sugar, cocoa and coffee. The index has declined 35 percent since peaking in July.

“The prices of many agricultural commodities are now clearly below their production costs,” Hitzfeld wrote. “We expect the coming year to bring a cutback in area under cultivation as well as a decline in the yield per hectare.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Gilbert in London at

November 23, 2008

Obama's Empty Promises of Hope and Change

An Open Letter to Barack Obama: Between Hope and Reality

By Ralph Nader
November 3, 2008

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words "hope and change," "change and hope" have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not "hope and change" but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity--not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention, right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an "undivided Jerusalem," and opposed negotiations with Hamas--the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored "direct negotiations with Hamas." Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote: "Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state."

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians.
Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League's 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: "There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President."

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, "of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. ...Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli's use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli's assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its 'legitimate right to defend itself.'"

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government's assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on "the heart of a crowded refugee camp... with horrible bloodshed" in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate - Uri Avnery - described Obama's appearance before AIPAC as one that "broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama "is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future-- if and when he is elected president.," he said, adding, "Of one thing I am certain: Obama's declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world, and bad for the Palestinian people."

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled "Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama" (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled "Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque." None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans - even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to "tumultuous applause," following a showing of a film about the Carter Center's post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the "middle class" but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the "poor" in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke "change" yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the "corporate supremacists." It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics - opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches) - and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. "Hope" some say springs eternal." But not when "reality" consumes it daily.

November 22, 2008

Human Trafficking in America's Private Prisons (Updated 8/14/2011)

In the late 1960's, the US began to expand the powers of law enforcement agencies around the country, generating by the 1970's an unprecedented reliance on incarceration to treat its social, political, economic and mental health problems. By calling new acts crimes, and by increasing the severity of sentencing for other acts, US citizens witnessed a "prison boom." Soon, prison overcrowding surpassed prison construction budgets, and politicians that had promised to build new prisons could no longer build them. In the mid-1980's, fifteen years of massive and unprecedented growth within the US prison system hit a snag -- it ran out of money. When the state wants to build a new prison, it traditionally asks the voters to approve the cost through a bond issue. But this time, voters throughout the country began to say no. So many turned to private investment, to venture capital, both to fund new prison projects and to run the prisons themselves for costs around $30 to $60 per bed, per day. This began what we know today as the for-profit, PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY. In 1970 the U.S. had 280,000 prisoners; today that number has risen to over 2.5 million [the private prison industry provides plenty of cheap labor for multinational corporations operating in collusion with our corrupt government]. - The Private Prisons,

The Private Prisons

Outlawed at the beginning of the 20th Century, private corporations are once again owning and operating prisons for profit. A controversial issue which dates back to the days that followed the Emancipation Proclamation, CORRECTIONS examines its re-appearance today amidst globalization and the most awesome growth of prisons in all of modern history, painting a complex portrait of what many are calling the "prison industrial complex."

In the mid-1980's, fifteen years of massive and unprecedented growth within the US prison system hit a snag -- it ran out of money.

When the state wants to build a new prison, it traditionally asks the voters to approve the cost through a bond issue. But this time, voters throughout the country began to say no.

So many turned to private investment, to venture capital, both to fund new prison projects and to run the prisons themselves for costs around $30 to $60 per bed, per day. This began what we know today as the for-profit, PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY.


1970 : 280,000 prisoners | 2000 : 2,000,000 prisoners

In the late 1960's, the US began to expand the powers of law enforcement agencies around the country, generating by the 1970's an unprecedented reliance on incarceration to treat its social, political, economic and mental health problems.

By calling new acts crimes, and by increasing the severity of sentencing for other acts, US citizens witnessed a "prison boom." Soon, prison overcrowding surpassed prison construction budgets, and politicians that had promised to build new prisons could no longer build them.

So in 1984, a number of Tennessee investors with close friends in the legislature recognized a business opportunity and formed CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA (CCA). Their plan was to use venture capital to build a new prison and -- like a hotel -- lease their beds to the state in a profit-making endeavor.

Today, nearly ten percent of US prisons and jails (meaning 200,000 prisoners) have been privatized, the three largest firms being CCA, WACKENHUT CORRECTIONS CORPORATION and CORNELL CORRECTIONS, INC. The federal government also contracts with them to house a growing number of undocumented immigrants and resident aliens, while some of the companies have facilities in countries outside the USA.

Correctional Corporations have amassed large political influence through government ties, lobbying power and campaign contributions, while attempting to convert the discourse of justice into the language of the marketplace. In this way, they accuse government agencies as having a monopoly on corrections, espouse the need to downsize and cut through red tape. They claim that they can run prisons more efficiently and cheaper, doing a better job and saving the taxpayers money.


At the same time, prison privatization has met severe criticism. From human rights activists to criminologists, economists, religious and community leaders and even correctional officers' unions, privatization has been accused of corruption, corrosive incentives, and a resemblance to a historically racist practice of the old confederate U.S. South: CONVICT LEASING.

Some claim that private prisons really don't save money, but like any for-profit business, attempt to maximize their own profit. This results in a reduction of essential services within the prison -- from medical care, food and clothing to staff costs and security -- at the endangerment of the public, the inmates and the staff.

Other critiques are concerned with the power and influence of for-profit prisons. At a time when much of public discourse is questioning the war-on-crime and the war-on-drugs being fought as wars, critics claim that the incentive of profit skews public discourse away from reasoned debate about viable solutions to social problems.

And finally, grasping the demographic make-up of today's prisons in the US and the history that's produced this make-up (roughly 50% African-American, 35% Latino and 15% White), the privatization of prisons threatens to re-institute a link between race and commerce that has not been seen since the 1800's.


There are also different ways that those who make the laws profit from the laws they make through prison privatization.

The most direct are those who own stock in private prisons, such as former Tennessee Governor and his wife, Lamar and Honey Alexander, who owned stock in the early Corrections Corporation of America. There are also those officials who are on the actual payroll of these corporations, such as Manny Aragon, the New Mexico legislator who Wackenhut hired as a lobbyist for New Mexico when they were trying to begin privatization in that state.

A third way comes from campaign contributions and political action committee moneys, through which the corporations financially reward those officials that allow private prisons in their states or jurisdictions, or who pass laws that will continue prison expansion -- public or private -- thus expanding the resource base of the privatization industry. (These are often the same law makers who are handsomely rewarded by public sector groups such as correctional officers' unions and other law enforcement groups, who also profit from criminalization and mass imprisonment).

Less directly, the privatization of prisons contributes to and buoys the overall "culture" of law enforcement and criminal justice, one that levels our common sense understanding of the causes of our social problems and puts as their solution responses of violence, force and containment. By expanding the criminal justice system beyond the grasp of elected officials and civil servants, private prisons grow this culture in ways that are both ideological and practice-related.

The private sector also serves as a "career alternative" for many, hiring bureaucrats and officials from the public sector who are either looking for a raise and stock options, or are looking to come out of retirement. These include people from the FBI, CIA, various state and federal departments of corrections, sheriffs, and even former attorney generals.

And most importantly, public officials profit from prison privatization as it allows them to act with less accountability to the public, allowing prisons to be built without passing prison bonds for the public to vote on, and not having to worry how one will budget their inflammatory and expensive tough-on-crime rhetoric.


Although the predominant myths about PRIVATIZATION (whether of prisons or anything else) claim that privatization means tax savings for the public, it actually costs us more. Even though on paper a private agency or corporation may present a lower figure to do the same job, once that money has been taken out of the public's hands, it no longer remains ours.

In the public sector, tax money tends to make more of itself, meaning that each public dollar paid through one social service will spend itself four to eight times more elsewhere within the public sector. Once public money goes into private hands however, that money stays there and is gone for good. This is especially true if we consider that privatization corporations are usually given handsome tax breaks and "incentives," in the form of what some people call "corporate welfare," which means we are even less likely to see that money again.

And finally, if we remember that the people who privatize are generally wealthy, this reminds us of an old story where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer -- where the hard earned tax money from each of us is funneled into the hands of the wealthy few for their own personal gain. While we each like to think we don't live in a society like that, today this is justified to us through the myth that "free markets" are the same thing as democracy; that if everything is privatized and ruled by the law of the dollar then democracy will be ensured.

Add this to the fact that prisons do not make us safer and are by far the most expensive way of dealing with what we call "crime," we suffer other costs as well. Social costs of broken families and communities -- of both victims and perpetrators; hidden financial costs like paying for the foster care of prisoners' children; what we will only pay again when a prisoner re-emerges more desperate, addicted, uneducated and disenfranchised than they went in; the vengeance our society seeks through prisons and punishment will cost us twice the price of ensuring true equality, opportunity and social health at the roots of our society.

The PRIVATIZATION OF PRISONS is but one case in which a few people exploit our society's larger problems for their own gain, at a cost we all bare and get little in return.

Corrections, a Film by Ashley Hunt

CORRECTIONS is a story of justice turned to profit, where the war on crime has found new investors: VENTURE CAPITAL and FOR-PROFIT PRISONS, a story of how PRIVATE PRISONS have come back.

At a time when the U.S. has achieved the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, at a cost of $55 billion a year, and with statistics that tell us:
  • 1-in-4 Black men are in prison, on parole or probation, 10% stripped of their right to vote;
  • Unprecedented numbers of children are locked up, many sentenced into their adult lives;
  • Native Americans have the highest percentage of their population in prison;
  • Latinos and women are the fastest growing populations in the prison system;
  • New prisons are being forced upon rural communities to revive their "economies";
  • 70% of prisoners are locked up for crimes that did not involve violence;
  • Immigrants are now subject to separate laws, many disappeared and detained indefinitely;
  • All giving the U.S. the highest incarceration rate in the entire world...
The U.S. public is witnessing an unfolding crisis of MASS IMPRISONMENT, more and more visible to us each day.

Yet, this crisis has meant booming profits for a growing number of politicians, corporations, government agencies and unions, while we find increasing political and economic pressure to push the crisis further -- far beyond what ideas of "safety" and "justice" would seem to demand.

CORRECTIONS is a story of profits and mass imprisonment: how the histories of racial and economic inequality in the U.S. are emerging today from the walls of its prisons, and how this crisis has formed the incentive, profit and resource base for an entire industry.

Where the "Tough-on-Crime" movement meets the ending of welfare, globalization, finance capital and neo-liberal policy, and today, the "war on terrorism."**

CORRECTIONS explores how prisons have fast become the accepted solution to unemployment and housing crises, crumbled schools, livable wages without credit and the undoing of the Western Social Contract, set within the scene of collapsed rural economies and the "urban decay" of potentially expensive neighborhoods.

CORRECTIONS takes you to:
  • A prison trade show & the corporate headquarters of leading prison corporations;
  • A poverty stricken community enticed to host a new prison for "economic development";
  • A timeline of the Tough-on-Crime movement, following its emergence during the Civil Rights Movement, people's movements, the War on Drugs and into political "common sense";
  • A Southern African American community alive with the memory of for-profit prisons, and still struggling for justice today;
  • A juvenile prison where violent defiance of human rights law are perpetrated upon children as young as thirteen years old...
Featuring stories of the leading correctional corporations, testimony from the world's leading experts and the lives of ordinary people, CORRECTIONS takes audiences behind the walls of the prison system that Wall Street has called a "growth industry."

** CORRECTIONS was made before September 11th, 2001, to which the state's response of increasing detentions has not changed but rather grown and exacerbated what this film describes.

U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs That of Other Nations

The New York Times
April 23, 2008

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China's extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

"In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States," Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in "Democracy in America."

No more.

"Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror," James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. "Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons."

Prison sentences here have become "vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared," Michael Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in "The Handbook of Crime and Punishment."

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States "a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach."

The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation's relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

"The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different," said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. "But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it's much higher."

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics.

"The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism," said Stern of King's College.

BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle (Excerpt)

In the first few days after BP's Deepwater Horizon wellhead exploded, spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, cleanup workers could be seen on Louisiana beaches wearing scarlet pants and white t-shirts with the words "Inmate Labor" printed in large red block letters. Coastal residents, many of whom had just seen their livelihoods disappear, expressed outrage at community meetings; why should BP be using cheap or free prison labor when so many people were desperate for work? The outfits disappeared overnight.

Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced—and they get lucrative tax write-offs in the process.

Known to some as "the inmate state," Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration of any other state in the country. Seventy percent of its 39,000 inmates are African-American men. The Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) only has beds for half that many prisoners, so 20,000 inmates live in parish jails, privately run contract facilities and for-profit work release centers.

Prisons and parish jails provide free daily labor to the state and private companies like BP, while also operating their own factories and farms, where inmates earn between zero and forty cents an hour.

Obedient inmates, or "trustees," become eligible for work release in the last three years of their sentences. This means they can be a part of a market-rate, daily labor force that works for private companies outside the prison gates. The advantage for trustees is that they get to keep a portion of their earnings, redeemable upon release.

The advantage for private companies is that trustees are covered under Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a holdover from Bush's Welfare to Work legislation that rewards private-sector employers for hiring risky "target groups." Businesses earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they hire. On top of that, they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to "target group workers."

In the late 1960's, the US began to expand the powers of law enforcement agencies around the country, generating by the 1970's an unprecedented reliance on incarceration to treat its social, political, economic and mental health problems. By calling new acts crimes, and by increasing the severity of sentencing for other acts, US citizens witnessed a "prison boom." Soon, prison overcrowding surpassed prison construction budgets, and politicians that had promised to build new prisons could no longer build them. In the mid-1980's, fifteen years of massive and unprecedented growth within the US prison system hit a snag -- it ran out of money. When the state wants to build a new prison, it traditionally asks the voters to approve the cost through a bond issue. But this time, voters throughout the country began to say no. So many turned to private investment, to venture capital, both to fund new prison projects and to run the prisons themselves for costs around $30 to $60 per bed, per day. This began what we know today as the for-profit, PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY. In 1970 the U.S. had 280,000 prisoners; today that number has risen to over 2.5 million [the private prison industry provides plenty of cheap labor for multinational corporations operating in collusion with our corrupt government]. - The Private Prisons,

Defense Contractors Using Cheap Prison Labor Rather Than High Paid Union Workers to Build High-Tech Weapons Systems

Prison labor seems like a win-win to many, but a closer look reveals a race to the bottom for skilled workers.

April 28, 2011

It is a little known fact of the attack on Libya that some of the components of the cruise missiles being launched into the country may have been made by prisoners in the United States. According to its website, UNICOR, which is the organization that represents Federal Prison Industries, “supplies numerous electronic components and service for guided missiles, including the Patriot Advanced Capability Missile (PAC-3)”.

In addition to constructing electronic components for missiles, prison labor in the United States is used to make electronic cables for defense items like “the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing (BA) F-15, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, Bell/Textron’s (TXT) Cobra helicopter, as well as electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems”.

Traditionally these types of defense jobs would have gone to highly paid, unionized workers. However the prison workers building parts for these missiles earn a starting wage of 23 cents an hour and can only make a maximum of $1.15 an hour. Nearly 1 in 100 adults are in jail in the United States and are exempt from our minimum wage laws, creating a sizable captive workforce that could undercut outside wage standards.

"It's no different than when our government allowed a United Steelworkers-represented factory of several hundred good jobs in Indiana called Magnequench to shut down," United Steelworkers Public Affairs Director Gary Hubbard told AlterNet. "This was the last high-tech magnetics production plant in the U.S. that made guidance components for missiles and smart bombs. The factory was sold to a Chinese state enterprise that moved all the machinery to China. And now we depend on prison labor to build our defense products?"

As the governments look to cut costs and trim deficits, they are giving more and more contracts for skilled work to prisons, whose workers often make 1/15th of the wages they would earn in the private sector. Whereas in the past prisoners made license plates and desks for state offices, they are now being trained for skilled work doing everything from assembling cable components for guided missiles to underwater repair welding. Even the much heralded green jobs aren’t immune to being outsourced to prison -- the solar panels being used to provide electricity for the State Department’s office in Washington, D.C. are constructed with prison labor.

States are increasingly expanding the type of products they use prison labor for to help cover the cost of keeping a person in prison -- nearly $29,000 per year. States spend a whopping $60 billion dollars per year to maintain prisons, one of every 15 state dollars is spent on prisons, and corrections spending is the second fastest-growing expenditure in state budgets. Prisons are popular in small town America because they often mean bringing several hundred jobs to economically depressed communities. Thus many are in favor using incarcerated labor to pay for prisons because they work as a means of economic development.

According to the New York Times,

“Using inmate labor has created unusual alliances: liberal humanitarian groups that advocate more education and exercise in prisons find themselves supporting proposals from conservative budget hawks to get inmates jobs, often outdoors, where they can learn new skills. Having a job in prison has been linked in studies to decreased violence, improved morale and lowered recidivism." Michael P. Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice, told the Times, “At the grossest financial level, it’s just savings. You can cut the government worker, save the salary and still maintain the service, and you’re providing a skill for when they leave.”

For many people, prison labor looks like an easy win-win. Workers get skills, the state is able to pay for more prisons as the prison population grows, and local towns are eager to get prisons for the jobs they bring. But is it really a win-win for all?

“At first, giving people in prison a job looks like a good idea. The prisoner gets the job skill and a few extra dollars, the state takes some payment to let it happen, and the industry gets the work done. But this is not a win-win situation” says prison expert and SEIU senior research analyst Eric Lotke. “It’s actually a lose-lose. The person in prison is paid far less than a real wage negotiated by free people in a free market economy. So free-market wages are undercut, driving wages down in the real economy. Meanwhile, business gets an incentive to lock people up for convict labor and the state loses its financial incentive to improve its criminal justice policies.“

In some cases, forced prison labor has resulted in inmates being brutalized rather than rehabilitated. Last year, Georgia inmates went on strike at six prisons for over a week. They complained that they were beaten if they refused to work prison jobs for little or sometimes no pay.

Prison experts like Lotke say that while such jobs can be valuable in a productive environment, there are different ways to do things.

“You could pay workers union wages and incur it into an account for when they are released. This would give them an incentive to behave well while they are in prison and give them a financial base for when they get out of prison,” he said.

Lotke’s union, SEIU, which represents many government service workers whose jobs are threatened by slave wage prison labor, is looking at ways to invest in programs that will help create jobs. SEIU is working with state governments to dedicate resources away from prisons and into government services that keep people out of prison like education, after school programs and other services that create good jobs in underdeveloped communities.

“The prison industry is extraordinarily destabilizing because small towns want the jobs that prisons create. However, Its all backwards—a small town could get a highway or a university or a grant for a factory—any of these things could create jobs,“ says Lotke. “We could be investing in good jobs, creating the conditions where poor youth don’t turn to crime out of economic frustration. Instead we replicate the problem by throwing all this money at the prison system. When people realize what a waste of money, economic opportunity, and how ineffective it is to have so many people locked up, that is when we finally solve the criminal justice and jobs problem in this country.”

The effort by SEIU to move resources away from prisons is a bold one, as prison guard unions have traditionally lobbied heavily to expand the number of correctional facilities in places like California. But as public sector union workers lose their jobs and other services are cut to keep prisons open, more unions are realizing they have to do something or their jobs are going to be lost in a race to the bottom with America’s cheapest labor – incarcerated labor.

Hersh: Cheney Ran SS-Style Political Assassination Unit

Prison Planet
March 12, 2009

Award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh dropped another bombshell this week when he revealed that former Vice-President Dick Cheney had his own SS-style political assassination unit that reported directly to him.

Hersh told a University of Minnesota audience on Tuesday,
“After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet.”
Hersh then went on to describe how the Joint Special Operations Command was an executive assassination unit that carried out political assassinations abroad...
“It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently,” he explained. “They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office… Congress has no oversight of it.”
The revelation that Cheney had his own private assassination unit is not too far removed from Hitler’s notorious SA (Sturmabteilung), the much feared para-military wing of the Nazi party who were used to beat, torture and kill political opponents of the Nazi party in 1930’s Germany and the Waffen SS, who were later used in the war to carry out executions and war crimes.

The SA were later targeted by Hitler during the Night of the Long Knives, a brutal purge to eliminate political adversaries both inside and outside of the Nazi party. Hundreds of people were executed in cold blood by the Gestapo and the SS.

Tellingly, German courts and cabinet quickly swept aside centuries of legal prohibition against extra-judicial killings to demonstrate their loyalty to Hitler. The Waffen SS was deemed beyond prosecution despite it blatantly being involved in egregious and ongoing war crimes, as well as domestic assassinations.

The Joint Special Operations Command, Cheney’s assassination unit, is also described as an area of ‘extra-legal’ operations.
“It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on,” Hersh stated. “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”
And it’s still going on. None of Obama’s reversals of Bush executive orders say anything about abolishing the Joint Special Operations Command. Indeed, the specialist unit is an integral part of Obama’s vastly expanded bombing raids and other incursions in Pakistan.

Secret U.S. Forces Carried Out Assassinations in a Dozen Counties
The Militarization of Our Police and Privatization of Prisons

Cheney, Gonzales Indicted on Prison Abuse Charges

Associated Press
November 19, 2008

McAllen, Texas – Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor.

District Attorney for Willacy County, Juan Angel Guerra, said the prison-related charges against Cheney and Gonzales are a national issue and experts from across the country testified to the grand jury.

Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies.

Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on Tuesday, saying that the vice president had not yet received a copy of the indictment.

The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons.

Gonzales' attorney, George Terwilliger III, said in a written statement,
"This is obviously a bogus charge on its face, as any good prosecutor can recognize." He said he hoped Texas authorities would take steps to stop "this abuse of the criminal justice system."
Gonzales and Cheney

Indictments Against Cheney, Gonzales Dismissed

Associated Press
December 2, 2008

Raymondville, Texas – A judge dismissed indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Monday and told the southern Texas prosecutor who brought the case to exercise caution as his term in office ends.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra had accused Cheney and the other defendants of responsibility for prisoner abuse. The judge's order ended two weeks of sometimes-bizarre court proceedings.

Guerra is leaving office at the end of the month after soundly losing in his March primary election.
"I suggest on behalf of the law that you not present any cases to the grand jury involving these defendants," Administrative Judge Manuel Banales said in court while ruling that eight indictments against Cheney, Gonzales and others were invalid.
He also set a Dec. 10 hearing on whether to disqualify Guerra from those cases.

Even in defeat, Guerra saw the outcome as confirmation of the very conspiracy he had pursued.
"I expected it," he said. "The system is going to protect itself."
Banales withheld judgment on whether probable cause existed for the Cheney and Gonzales indictments because they were not represented in court and did not present any argument. For the other defendants, he found no probable cause to support the charges.

A White House spokeswoman said Monday night that Cheney's office had no comment. A call to Gonzales' attorney was not immediately returned.

Three of the eight indictments returned Nov. 17 targeted private prison operator The GEO Group, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., Cheney and Gonzales, as part of an investigation into prisoner abuse at privately run federal prisons in the county.

Guerra ran the investigation into alleged prisoner abuse with a siege mentality. He worked it from his home, dubbed it "Operation Goliath" and kept it secret from his staff, he said. He gave all the witnesses biblical pseudonyms — his was "David."

Banales dismissed all eight indictments because GEO Group attorney Tony Canales showed that two alternate jurors were part of the panel that day but had not been properly substituted.

Five of the indictments — against two district judges, two special prosecutors and the district clerk — were dismissed because Guerra was the alleged victim, witness and prosecutor. The indictments accused the five of abusing their power by being involved in a previous investigation of Guerra.

The indictment against Cheney alleged that his personal investment in the Vanguard Group, which invests in private prison companies, made him culpable in alleged prisoner abuse at privately run federal detention centers.

Gonzales was accused of using his position to stop an investigation into abuses at a federal detention center.

Lucio was alleged to have used his Senate position to profit as a prison consultant, but Banales ruled that the indictment failed to address whether Lucio knew he was only being hired to consult because he was a state senator.

Rising Prison Population Is 'Good News' for Stocks

November 1, 2010

Privatized prison stocks have seen a modest gain in the past three months, so is there room to run from here?

T.C. Robillard, analyst at Signal Hill, discussed his insights.
“You’ve seen prison populations pretty consistently over the last three decades move up a couple percent a year…and from a business model perspective, it’s clearly good news,” Robillard told CNBC.
Robillard has a “buy” rating on The Geo Group and a “hold” rating on Corrections Corporation of America.
“What you see in a recession is that states end up overcrowding their own prisons in an effort to save money,” he explained.

“And as budgets start to flatten out and improve, the first things you’re going to see them turn to is the private sector to help alleviate some of that overcrowding, because the states [still] will not have the funding necessary to build new prison beds.”

ICE to Make Privately-owned Detention Centers More Humane

Houston Chronicle
June 8, 2010

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are preparing to roll out a series of changes at several privately-owned immigration detention centers, including relaxing some security measures for low-risk detainees and offering art classes, bingo and continental breakfast on the weekends.

The changes, detailed in an internal ICE e-mail obtained by the Houston Chronicle, were welcomed by immigrant advocates who have been waiting for the Obama administration to deliver on a promise made in August to overhaul the nation's immigration detention system.

The 28 changes identified in the e-mail range from the superficial to the substantive. In addition to “softening the look of the facility” with hanging plants and offering fresh carrot sticks, ICE will allow for the “free movement” of low-risk detainees, expand visiting hours and provide unmonitored phone lines.

ICE officials said the changes are part of broader efforts to make the immigration detention system less penal and more humane.

But the plans are prompting protests by ICE's union leaders, who say they will jeopardize the safety of agents, guards and detainees and increase the bottom line for taxpayers. Tre Rebstock, president for Local 3332, the ICE union in Houston, likened the changes to creating “an all-inclusive resort” for immigration detainees.

“Our biggest concern is that someone is going to get hurt,” he said, taking particular issue with plans to relax restrictions on the movement of low-risk detainees and efforts to reduce and eliminate pat-down searches.

The changes outlined in the ICE e-mail are planned for nine detention centers owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, including the 900-bed Houston Contract Detention Facility on the city's north side.

Some of the changes will be implemented within 30 days; others may take up to six months, said Beth Gibson, ICE's senior counselor to Assistant Secretary John Morton and a leader of the detention reform effort.

Other major changes include:

Eliminating lockdowns and lights-out for low-risk detainees.

Allowing visitors to stay as long as they like in a 12-hour period.

Providing a unit manger so detainees have someone to report problems to other than the guard.

Allowing low-risk detainees to wear their own clothing or other non-penal attire.

Providing e-mail access and Internet-based free phone service.

Not about punishment

Gibson said the improvements are part of ICE's efforts to detain immigrants in the least restrictive manner possible while ensuring they leave the country if ordered to do so.

“When people come to our custody, we're detaining them to effect their removal,” Gibson said. “It's about deportation. It's not about punishing people for a crime they committed.”

ICE officials have faced pressure from immigrant advocates and some members of Congress to improve the detention conditions for the roughly 400,000 immigrants it houses annually. The agency has relied on a hodgepodge of more than 250 government-run detention centers, private prisons and local jails to accommodate its growing population — with roughly one in four detainees held in Texas.

At the CCA facilities that have agreed to ICE's changes, detainees will see more variety in their dining hall menus and have self-serve beverage and fresh vegetable bars.

CCA also plans to offer movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring and computer training, the e-mail states.

Detainees also will be allowed four hours or more of recreation “in a natural setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise.”

CCA also committed to improving the look of the facilities, such as requiring plants, fresh paint and new bedding in lower-risk units.

Advocates pleased

Some of the improvements offered at the CCA facilities counted as hard-fought victories for immigrant advocates, including plans to improve visitor and attorney access.

“A lot of these measures are what we've been advocating for,” said Lory Rosenberg, policy and advocacy director for Refugee and Migrants' Rights for Amnesty International.

“Many of these points are very important to changing the system from a penal system, which is inappropriate in an immigration context, to a civil detention system.”

Union members said they have concerns about the plans, primarily focusing on safety.

Rebstocksaid some detainees may be classified as low-risk because they have no serious criminal history but still may be gang members that “haven't been caught doing anything wrong yet.” He also said eliminating lockdowns will make it more difficult to protect detainees from one another. He said reducing or eliminating pat-down searches could allow contraband into the facilities, including weapons.

Gibson, with ICE, said the agency is developing a sophisticated classification system and will make sure “that our detainees are still safe and sound.”

“As a general matter, it will be the non-criminals who don't present a danger to anyone else who are benefiting from the lowest level of custody,” Gibson said.
‘On the taxpayers' dime'

Rebstock also questioned the cost to taxpayers for the changes.

“My grandparents would have loved to have bingo night and a dance class at the retirement home they were in when they passed away, but that was something we would have had to pay for,” he said. “And yet these guys are getting it on the taxpayers' dime.”

Gibson said CCA is making the improvements at no additional cost to ICE. The agency's contract with CCA for the Houston detention center requires that ICE pay $99 per bed daily for each detainee, slightly lower than the $102 average daily rate ICE pays nationally .

Rosenberg said some of the changes, like new flower baskets, may seem small, but they will combine with the bigger changes to make a difference in the daily lives of detainees.

“Taken together they will go some way to making this system less penal,” she said.

Private Prisons That Fight to Lock Up America’s Children

Juvenile detention centres in the US have even bribed judges to imprison young offenders

The First Post
March 12, 2009

Every year, two million young people are arrested in the United States, and half-a-million spend time in detention centres. In Pennsylvania, two judges thought they could make some money out of this repulsively strict juvenile justice system. Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan received more than $2.6 million in bribes for sentencing children to time in privately-run juvenile detention centres. Now they're spending the next seven years in jail themselves.

In one case, 15-year-old Hillary Transue was sent to a detention centre for making a fake MySpace page which belittled the deputy headmaster at her school. In another, 14-year-old Phillip Swartley was packed off to reformatory school for petty theft. It wasn't easy.

"Sometimes they'd have you standing there for hours with the staff yelling in your face. They expect you not to make any facial expressions, not to look away or look down", Swartley recounted.

"Once he got released home", his mother said, "every time I'd try to get him to go to school he'd curl up in a ball and become physically sick."

Jamie Bryk was sent to court after she got into a fist fight with another girl after an argument over a boy at a bowling alley. It was her first offence, and her parents assumed that she'd get a slap on the wrists, so they didn't think they'd need an attorney. As it was, the hearing with Ciavarella lasted all of 60 seconds, and Jamie left in handcuffs. She was locked up for 10 months in total at a detention centre. Then, whilst at an institution run by Vision Quest, her mother says Jamie learnt to self-harm:
"Prior to her cutting herself she told me of how kids there were cutting themselves and then, lo and behold, she started cutting herself."

Detention centres are promoted as part summer camp, part motivational seminar

The places these kids were sent to are all privately-run. So like any other business, they have to make money. Generally, this means they recruit cheap, inexperienced, and hastily-trained staff, and, by monitoring the inmates with state-of-the-art CCTV systems and getting architects to design buildings that reduce the need for wardens, keep the number of people that they have to pay to a minimum.

The push for profit also means, as it would in a hotel, filling beds, which is where Ciavarella and Conahan, the two disgraced judges, had the chance to earn their money.

And to get business, private prisons have to promote themselves to the judges, probation departments, defence attorneys and social workers who decide where to place the children. The very idea may seem distasteful, but the Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp (MAYS), the parent company of two institutions involved in the Pennsylvanian scandal, has a website which promotes it as a cross between summer camp and a motivational seminar.

The photo of the smiling young girl on its homepage looks more like an advertisement for toothpaste than for prison; the whole website is drowning in schmaltz.

This means mission statements:

"Long or short, all roads to recovery start with a single, life altering step. Let us lead the way," fatuous statements: "Our environment provides residents with a high degree of structure, utilizing clearly defined norms and expectations and logical consequences," and testimonials from happy discharged 'customers': "No staff member could have said it better than Mr Gallagher who said, 'if you are man enough to get yourself in placement, be man enough to get yourself out'."

The idea seems to be to market MAYS as a jolly boarding school. So it's only too easy to forget that this is a firm which takes kids as young as 12, with IQs as low as 60, which is the boundary between 'mild' and 'moderate' mental retardation, and locks them up. And to forget that the two corrupt judges sent thousands of children there for such petty offenses as stealing a $4 jar of nutmeg.

In Britain, our privately-run prisons don't yet promote themselves with quite the silky management-speak of their American cousins. Nor has there yet been a scandal of the sort seen in Pennsylvania.

But that's not to say that all is well in our private prisons. Last year, there were calls for Oakhill secure training centre, a child prison run by G4S in Milton Keynes, to be shut down after a report on the "staggering levels of use of force by staff." In one nine month period, the highest level of restraint, "requiring at least three members of staff, with one holding the child's head," was employed 532 times.

Profiting Off of Incarcerated Youth

Justice Matters
June 1, 2007

A wise person once said to me,
“Anyone who looks at a child and sees the potential for profit should be the last person put in charge of that child’s life.”
But everyday across the country, private, for-profit companies run juvenile prisons and boot camps, turning taxpayers’ dollars into investors’ profits and turning children into commodities.

In 2003, roughly 1 in 3 young prisoners in the United States were being held in a prison that was run privately, with many of these prisons run for profit. Over 30,000 young people were incarcerated in private prisons, and over 66,000 were incarcerated in publicly-run youth prisons. And 2 out of 3 of those youth were being held for non-violent crimes (property crimes, drug crimes, and public order crimes.)

Unfortunately, young people in prison are an especially vulnerable prison population, and they have suffered from abuse in both public and private prisons. But, the pressure on corporations to watch the “bottom line” and draw a profit adds an extra layer of danger for youth incarcerated in private prisons.

Fundamentally, corporations are businesses, and they’re in it for the money. Anything left over after the bills are paid is profit, so there is tremendous incentive to cut costs and cut corners. This translates into staff members who are paid much less than people who work for the state, high staff turnover, fewer educational, treatment or mental health programs, and more violent prison environments.

Some of our readers are intensely familiar with GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), since both companies incarcerate our some of our Washington and Idaho members in private prisons in Minnesota and Texas. These same corporations run youth prisons in several states, and are major players in the “youth incarceration” industry. And what are taxpayers getting in return?

The Lawsuits

Because of abuse and sub-standard conditions, both GEO Group (Wackenhut) and other companies that run private youth prisons have paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits stemming from the abuse of children in their prisons. In 1998, Wackenhut paid $1.5 million to settle a suit filed by 12 girls who were sexually, physically and mentally abused by the staff in the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center. One guard pled guilty to sexual assault, but the terms of the agreement stated that the private company was not to blame.

Also in 1998, the Justice Department sued the State of Louisiana over another Wackenhut-run youth prison. The first demand of the suit was for “the State and Wackenhut to: stop using corporal punishment, excessive force, and gas grenades.”

The Scandals

Some of those problems were in the 1990s but GEO Group’s Coke County private prison for youth was back in the news just last month (March 2007) for abuse and mismanagement. In March, GEO fired a Coke County Juvenile Justice Center staffer who had previously been convicted of a sex crime with a child -- only after intervention by the state’s troubled youth commission. The staffer maintained that he had disclosed his previous conviction (for exposing himself to a child while he himself was a juvenile) when he interviewed for the job. Two youth escaped from the facility and were apprehended soon after.

Texas is facing an epidemic of abuse reports in its prisons and jails, with thousands of separate reports of abuse (including medical neglect) under investigation by the Texas Jail Standards Commission and other state entities.

GEO Group’s infamous youth prison in Michigan, the Lake County was closed last year as a cost-saving measure by the state shortly after advocacy groups who had been examining conditions there filed a lawsuit. The investigations noted that staffing levels were inadequate, youth were not being housed based on security risk, and youth were attempting suicide at an increasing rate. The state’s argument for closing the prison was that they could save millions by locking up the youth in state-run settings.

One of the most notorious private youth prisons in the country was in Tallulah, Louisiana. Children were forced to fight over scraps of clothes and food, and regularly beaten by guards. A warden who was brought in to change things in 1998 said,
“When I got here, there were a lot of perforated eardrums. Actually, it seemed like everybody had a perforated eardrum, or a broken nose.”
Parents got together, organized, worked with attorneys, and finally forced the closure of the Tallulah prison in 2004. Unfortunately, it reopened as an adult prison.

Can We Afford to Lock Up Our Youth in Private Prisons?

These infamous youth prisons are especially appalling given that so many people want to see youth in the criminal justice system rehabilitated. The public is eager to see a system that transforms adjudicated youth so that they leave prison and never come back again.

But, it takes a commitment to youth and thoughtfulness to make that happen. A system committed to the rehabilitation of youth spends money in the short term to have a positive effect in the long-term. It can’t be a system focused on cash profit. And let’s remember: anyone who looks at a child and sees the potential for profit should be the last person put in charge of that child’s life.

U.S. Judges Involved in Human Trafficking

UPDATE: A former juvenile court judge in Luzerne County, Pa., who accepted nearly $1 million to send juveniles to for-profit detention centers has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. The court also ordered the former judge, Mark Ciavarella Jr., to pay $1.17 million in restitution. - “Kids for cash” judge sentenced to 28 years in prison, Global Post, August 11, 2011
February 21, 2009

At this point in my life I am against the death penalty, mainly because I know the system is corrupt; however I have been a supporter of the death penalty in the past and may become one in the future, so I have a question for those who support the death penalty in the United States of America, or anywhere else for that matter. Would you execute the members of a criminal syndicate responsible for child trafficking?

Specific Example

On Thursday, 12 February 2009,

“Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and colleague Michael T. Conahan appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.”

Profits and Costs

“While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

“‘In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,’ said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.”

These judges sold 5,000 children in five years for $2.6 million. This means that, on average, they sold approximately three children per day for $520 each for a net profit of $1,560 per day. These are the numbers that have been revealed so far.

In Ohio the cost of housing a juvenile is $90 per day but in Pennsylvania prisons are among the nation’s most costly facilities at $93.21 per adult inmate per day. The cost of incarcerating juveniles is in general higher than adults, so for our calculations let’s assume the cost to be $100 per child per day.

Considering that judge Mark A. Ciavarella sentenced Hillary Transue,

A stellar student who had never been in trouble”, to three months at one of the private juvenile detention centers “for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school”, I believe it would be safe to assume that the average sentence per child would have been much higher than that.
Let’s assume the average sentence to be approximately six months to one year. If we assume this estimate to be in the right ballpark, then PA Child Care and its sister company, Western PA Child Care, would have made between $18,250 to $36,500 per child sentenced by the judges. Multiplying this by 5,000 children brings the cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers to between $91,250,000 to $182,500,000.

All that money explains how PA Child Care was able to afford the two judges and the expansions to their facilities all the way up to 2008.

It should also be noted that the above judges:

“Shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition… and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers. Prosecutors say the judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida.”

This is the cost of the Prison-industrial complex in the United States and the difference between good infrastructure and bad infrastructure. This is what the system has been doing to our children, so just imagine what they have been doing to minorities and the poor. Keep in mind that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners”, with "1 in 100 U.S. adults behind bars.”

Consequences and Implications

Amazing isn’t it? Child trafficking in the United States of America by a criminal organization which included two judges and numerous other people who may or may not be charged in the future. The only thing we know so far is that the first two people charged with this specific crime may only serve “87 months in federal prison” and be forced to “resign from the bench and bar.”

In prisons everyone is threatened by physical, sexual and mental abuse, and this criminal organization was responsible for systematically forcing thousands of children and their families and loved ones to endure the pain and anguish of this reality. So my question to those who support the death penalty is this: after all the investigations are done and everyone who was involved in commoditizing our children is arrested, charged and prosecuted for human trafficking, would you execute them?

Keep in mind that these people did not accidentally destroy the lives of these children and their families, nor did they do it because they were mentally ill. They committed these crimes against humanity for money. They abused and victimized the most vulnerable in our society because they wanted to accumulate a fiat currency. They treated other human beings, our children, as a commodity in a private prison industrial complex that makes profit from incarcerating as many people as possible.

Tip of the Iceberg

Our civilization is sick and in need of help, and if you think this is just one isolated case of child abuse by the government, then watch the following 1994 documentary: “Conspiracy of Silence”.

VIDEO: Conspiracy of Silence (51:48)

Do We Want Judges Who Have Profited Off of Private Prisons and Locking Up Children?

By Jill Filipovic, AlterNet
March 10, 2008

Gus Puryear is a well-connected Republican attorney who, after working for Bill Frist, went on to serve as general counsel for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a huge corporation that feeds off of the American prison system. CCA made $1.5 billion in 2004, and is the fifth largest prison system in the U.S. — behind the federal government and three states. CCA also runs the notorious Hutto detention center in Texas, which detains immigrants and their children in prison conditions.

But it isn’t Gusyear’s CCA employment that’s drawing criticism; it’s his membership in a discriminatory country club.
Yes, it is true that the club does not allow women to vote. In fact, women have their own class of membership—they’re called “lady members”—and lady members can’t vote or hold office, even Martha Ingram, who is listed on the club’s membership rolls.

The only people who can vote are the club’s resident members and, lo and behold, all of them are men. The club’s “constitution,” which Puryear, as a judicial candidate essentially completing a take-home test, must have reviewed before answering Kennedy’s questions, notes the following about resident members: “They alone, to the exclusion of all other classes of membership, shall have the right to control, manage, vote and hold office in the club.”

So that means that non-resident members, associate resident members (younger members like Puryear) and, of course, lady members can’t have any say in the governance of the club.The club technically allows people of all races to join, but they only have one black member. And he lives in another state.
While I think it’s fairly clear that Puryear’s club membership should disqualify him, it’s his work on behalf of CCA that I find more damning. According to Wikipedia:
CCA is the largest private prison “provider” in the United States, with meteoric stock growth, more than doubling in the first eight months of 2006. Among other facilities, CCA runs T Don Hutto, a former medium-security prison in Taylor, TX which, since 2006, has held non-criminal, immigrant “detainees,” against their will, under a pass-through contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of Homeland Security. The basic contract pays CCA approximately $2.8 million monthly, for a maximum incarceration of 512 individuals. (Minimum = $5,000+ per prisoner.)

Approximately half the prisoners are children, many of them born in this country. No prisoner held is charged with a crime, nor are they deemed to be a danger to national security; it is simply their immigration/amnesty request status that has marked them for imprisonment. This is the first (and only other) time since the interment of Japanese during WWII that children have been imprisoned by the United States.

A recent lawsuit asserted that the children were being held in inhumane conditions. The resulting settlement (September 2007) gained on-site pediatric service for the children being incarcerated, as well as a requirement that the toilets in their open cells be made private with the addition of a shower curtain. Additional visitation hours, schooling, and recreational opportunities were also agreed upon. The facility continues to be the site of vigils and protests by various human rights groups.
Prisoners at CCA facilities do much of the work for the facility, including cooking and cleaning, and are paid $1 per day for their efforts. The Nation has a great piece on CCA’s profiteering on prisons and prisoners.

CCA’S T. Don Hutto prison, which is discussed in the above quote, is also the subject of this must-read New Yorker article. None of the incarcerated people in Hutto are criminals. Many of them are children. They’re mostly immigrants who came to the United States seeking amnesty.
The governing idea of Hutto was that detainees would constantly supervise their children—as a result, it wasn’t deemed a child-care facility, and required no relevant licensing. But this also meant that children had to be in the same room even when, say, their parents recounted stories of torture, rape, or domestic abuse. Barbara Hines, a law professor who runs an immigration clinic at the University of Texas, in Austin, and who was one of the first legal representatives to see detainees at Hutto, began bringing crayons and markers with her, hoping to distract the kids.

Children were regularly woken up at night by guards shining lights into their cells. They were roused each morning at five-thirty. Kids were not allowed to have stuffed animals, crayons, pencils, or pens in their cells. And they were not allowed to take the pictures they had made back to their cells and hang them up. When Hutto opened as an immigration-detention center, children attended school there only one hour a day. Detainees, including children, wore green or blue prison-issue scrubs. In November, 2006, Krista Gregory, who lives in Austin and works with church groups there, got a call from a couple of Hutto employees who, she says, were unhappy about the lack of supplies for child detainees. Gregory arranged for local churches to donate toys, baby blankets, and Bibles.

Staff members, who wore police-type uniforms, were mostly people who had backgrounds in corrections rather than in child welfare. Detainees said that when parents or children broke rules guards threatened them with separation from their children. Kevin Yourdkhani, at the prompting of one of Hines’s law students, wrote a brief description of one such occasion. “I was in my bed and my dad came to fix my bed,” he wrote. “When the police came and saw my dad in the room, he said, ‘If He comes and see my dad again in my room His going to put my mom in a siprate jail and my dad in a sipate jail and me a foster kid.’ I cried and cried so much that I lost my energy. I went to sleep. I felt If I will be siprated I can never see my parents again, and I will get stepparents and they will hurt me or maybe they will kill me.”
Do read the whole article.

And it’s not just Hutto that’s a problem. Private prisons run by CCA don’t have the same reporting requirements that federal and state prisons do, and CCA has purposely made it difficult for anyone to get information about its practices:
Getting information about Hutto—especially from the people who run it—is hard. Private prison companies are not subject to the same legal requirements as public prisons to provide incident reports on assaults, escapes, deaths, or rapes.

It’s true that a company’s contract stipulates that it must report such incidents to the government agency for which it is a vender, and people seeking information about what goes on inside a private prison can submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the government agency. But this can be an exercise in frustration, as Judith Greene, a researcher who is a critic of private prisons, found out.

Several years ago, she and a colleague, Joshua Miller, were doing research on a new prison in California City, California, that was to be operated by C.C.A. for the federal Bureau of Prisons. According to Greene, before awarding the contract the bureau had signalled that the government would not delegate to a private company the legal authority to use force against inmates. Greene and Miller wondered how this would work in practice. In a Freedom of Information Act request, Greene asked for documents that might shed light on this question. Eventually, she recalls, she heard from the Bureau of Prisons that it was prepared to give her the information but had to get permission from C.C.A.; a second letter informed her that C.C.A. had said no, claiming that the information she sought about the use of force was a business secret.

Greene told me, “Prisons in general are to a great extent secretive, isolated places, but if you’re dealing with private prisons you’ve got an additional layer to penetrate in order to find out essential facts and figures. And government agencies seem to give a lot of the decision-making to the private companies when it comes to what to reveal.” A bill now pending in Congress would, for the first time, make private prisons as accountable about their daily operations as public ones.

It’s easier to gain access to the death-row section of most publicly run prisons than it is to get into Hutto, unless you are a detainee or an employee of C.C.A. Even Jorge Bustamante, a sociologist and a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, was denied access to Hutto. From Geneva, he had applied to visit, as part of a tour that he was making of immigration-detention facilities in the U.S, and permission was granted. But when he arrived in America, last May, Bustamante was told that permission had been revoked. Bustamante remains angry about the incident, and says he will mention it in a report that he plans to submit to the General Assembly this month.

For my part, I got no response to repeated requests to tour the facility, which were sent by phone and fax to Evelyn Hernandez, the administrator of Hutto. (She also refused multiple requests to speak on the phone, as did top officials at C.C.A.) Two weeks after I submitted questions in writing to C.C.A. officials, I did receive some answers.

Steven Owen, a spokesman for the corporation, wrote that “C.C.A. always strives to provide humane, safe and secure housing to the populations entrusted to our care in accordance with applicable laws and the expectations of our customers. We are proud of the company’s 25-year track record.”

No reporters have been admitted on any occasion since a single-day group media tour, in February, 2007. Currently, the only way to see the inside of Hutto is to watch an intermittently blurry video available on YouTube, evidently filmed by immigration officials and later posted by a blogger. It shows kids and adults in blue and green scrubs walking down fluorescent-lit halls and eating food from plastic trays. There are brief shots of a prison cell outfitted with a crib and of a man lying on a couch, his wrist encircled by a bright-blue I.D. bracelet. Another sequence shows kids outside their cells, learning the alphabet song. The footage has no sound.

And the children in Hutto understand that they are in prison — and they’re depressed and scared.
Kevin, it must be said, was lucky. The plaintiffs’ lawyers soon figured out that the crayons and markers they had brought in to occupy the kids while they talked to their parents could also be politically useful. They were particularly so in the hands of articulate, indignant Kevin. One day, Kevin drew an American flag and wrote “Pleace help us” inside one of the stripes. He drew a picture of his common area, with sofas, tables, “police,” and “camra.”

And he wrote a letter to Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, in a rainbow of colors: “Dear Mr. Priminster Harper, I don’t like to stay in this jail. I’m only nine years old. I want to go to my school in Canada. I’m sleeping beside the wall. Please Mr. Priminster haper give visa for my family. This Place is not good for me. I want to get out of the cell.”
CCA receives tens of millions of dollars every year to run Hutto. And they know who lines their pockets:
Early investors in C.C.A. included Honey Alexander, the wife of Lamar Alexander, then the governor of Tennessee. Over the years, C.C.A. has continued to strengthen its political ties. The company’s PAC gave more than three hundred thousand dollars during the 2006 election cycle, overwhelmingly to Republican congressional candidates, and has given more than a hundred thousand so far for the 2008 elections.

The company’s chairman, William Andrews, and its C.E.O., John Ferguson, have been generous donors to Republican senatorial and Presidential candidates. Philip Perry, who is the son-in-law of Dick Cheney, and who served as general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security between 2005 and 2007, lobbied for C.C.A. while he was at the law firm Latham & Watkins, to which he has returned.

And C.C.A. spends a lot on lobbying. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2005, the year that Homeland Security awarded C.C.A. the Hutto contract, the company paid close to $3.4 million dollars to five different firms to lobby the federal government.
And, like the private military contractors that the Bush administration pays to do our dirty work in Iraq, private prison employees were long not subject to the same laws that federal and state prison employees are:
Last May, a guard at Hutto was caught engaging in sexual activity with a female detainee in the cell that she shared with her young child. The guard was videotaped crawling out of the detainee’s cell—trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid the camera—on two occasions, once at 11:36 P.M., seven minutes after entering, and once at 11:47 P.M., following a ten-minute visit. Employees watching the security camera alerted their supervisors.

The man on the videotape was seen “adjusting his pants around the belt area” as he left, according to a report on the incident by federal investigators. (The report—or eighty of its four hundred pages, at least—was obtained by the Taylor Daily Press.) It is unclear if the activity was consensual, but any sexual contact between correctional officers and inmates in a federal prison is a crime.

At the time of the incident, however, the law applied only to prisons under the authority of the Department of Justice, and not to immigrant-detention centers, which are under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security. The guard was not prosecuted. (This past July, Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, introduced legislation that closed the loophole.)
So this is all Bad. And Puryear, the judicial nominee, is one of the legal architects of all of this Bad Stuff.

But, not surprisingly, it’s not his involvement with CCA that has him up for scrutiny — it’s his membership in a notoriously discriminatory country club that doesn’t allow women to vote and that only has one black member (who conveniently lives in another state).

I’m all for calling politicians and judges out on discriminatory memberships. His affiliation with the country club is certainly more than enough of a reason to question his ethics. But what the hell is wrong with us when prison profiteers who make millions imprisoning non-criminal immigrants and children (some of whom are citizens) are considered upstanding people who are qualified to serve on the bench? What’s going on when discriminatory country club memberships are an issue, but a career of exploiting immigrants and people of color is just dandy?

Texas School Police Ticketing Students as Young as 6

The Lookout at Yahoo News!
January 10, 2011

School police officers in Texas are doling out more tickets to children as young as 6, who under past disciplinary practices would have been sent to the principal's office instead, according to a report by a Texas nonprofit.

"Disrupting class, using profanity, misbehaving on a school bus, student fights, and truancy once meant a trip to the principal's office. Today, such misbehavior results in a Class C misdemeanor ticket and a trip to court for thousands of Texas students and their families each year," says the Appleseed Texas report (PDF).

It examined data from 22 of the state's largest school districts and eight municipal courts. Over six years, school police issued 1,000 tickets to elementary school children in 10 school districts.

The study found that where a child attends school -- not the severity of the allegation -- was the best indicator of whether the child would be ticketed instead of sent to the principal's office. Black students and special education students were overrepresented among those ticketed.

Most Texas schools have police officers, and that staffing is on the rise. The most common infractions earning misdemeanor tickets: disorderly conduct and leaving school without permission.

Appleseed recommends that Texas ban ticketing for children under 14.

Here's a graph from the report showing how increased police presence resulted in increased ticketing over time in five districts:

Father facing fines for teen's truancy

Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Arrested for Sending Kids to Jail for Failure to Pay Truancy Fines
July 30, 2010

An Hidalgo County Judge finds herself on the other side of the bench after being indicted.

Judge Mary Alice Palacios of Precinct 4, Place 2 is accused of sending kids to jail for months at a time because they couldn't pay their truancy fine.

Shielded by family and friends, Judge Palacios made her way from the Hidalgo County Jail at 12:32pm Friday just 15 minutes after being booked into the jail.

Palacios is being charged with official oppression and was given a $2,500 PR bond, after an Hidalgo grand jury handed down an indictment against her Wednesday.

Before being whisked away in an awaiting vehicle, she rolled down the window and thanked those who supported her through the years.
"Thank you to everyone for all of their support" said the Judge.

She also stated "the truth will come out and you'll hear it."

Olga Rodriguez, Palacios' sister, told Action 4 News what's happening isn't fair. She added that all of the family will stand behind her, because she's done nothing wrong.
"She's taking it hard, but we're going to get through this. We'll be there and so will you" said Rodriguez.
Palacios has been under fire for her truancy practices in the past, but this is the first time she's actually been charged.

Judge Palacios is also facing a federal lawsuit filed against her by the ACLU for several kids she allegedly put in jail for unpaid truancy fines.

Judge Mary Alice Palacios’ Statement:
First, I thank my supporters for their thoughts and prayers. I ask the community to not pass judgment on me because there’s more to this than meets the eye. I want to assure everyone that my conscious is clean. I have done nothing wrong, let alone illegal. I take my job very seriously and respect your office, and the position to which you voted for me into 10 years ago. That old adage that “any DA can indict a ham sandwich”, couldn’t be more appropriate to a case than the one I’ve been put in. The honest truth is that this case is personal between Rene Guerra [Hidalgo County Judge] and myself. Rene Guerra is a tyrant, and this is what happens when you refuse to bow down to a tyrant. Sometime back, he personally called me and demanded that I not do something pertaining to a friend of his. I refused and he threatened me. I was expecting his wrath and am now facing this indictment. His office is both defending me in a civil lawsuit and now prosecuting me. Both stemming from the same matters. Let there be no doubt, this is as personal as it gets. I repeat, I have done nothing illegal. I have done nothing to bring disrespect to your office or the position you have entrusted me with. I look forward to defending myself in our open and public court system, where the truth will come out. I will vindicate and clear mine and my family’s good name.

Penn. Judges Accused of Taking Kickbacks for Jailing Youths in Private Prisons

The New York Times
Originally Published on February 12, 2009

At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke. Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment.

She was handcuffed and taken away as her stunned parents stood by.
“I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare,” said Hillary, 17, who was sentenced in 2007. “All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”
The answers became a bit clearer on Thursday as the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.
“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.
The case has shocked Luzerne County, an area in northeastern Pennsylvania that has been battered by a loss of industrial jobs and the closing of most of its anthracite coal mines.

And it raised concerns about whether juveniles should be required to have counsel either before or during their appearances in court and whether juvenile courts should be open to the public or child advocates.

If the court agrees to the plea agreement, both judges will serve 87 months in federal prison and resign from the bench and bar. They are expected to be sentenced in the next several months. Lawyers for both men declined to comment.

Since state law forbids retirement benefits to judges convicted of a felony while in office, the judges would also lose their pensions.

With Judge Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Judge Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kickback scheme in motion in December 2002, the authorities said.

They shut down the county-run juvenile detention center, arguing that it was in poor condition, the authorities said, and maintained that the county had no choice but to send detained juveniles to the newly built private detention centers.

Prosecutors say the judges tried to conceal the kickbacks as payments to a company they control in Florida.

Though he pleaded guilty to the charges Thursday, Judge Ciavarella has denied sentencing juveniles who did not deserve it or sending them to the detention centers in a quid pro quo with the centers.

But Assistant United States Attorney Gordon A. Zubrod said after the hearing that the government continues to charge a quid pro quo.
“We’re not negotiating that, no,” Mr. Zubrod said. “We’re not backing off.”
No charges have been filed against executives of the detention centers. Prosecutors said the investigation into the case was continuing.

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Judge Ciavarella was unusually harsh. He sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a state rate of 1 in 10. He also routinely ignored requests for leniency made by prosecutors and probation officers.
“The juvenile system, by design, is intended to be a less punitive system than the adult system, and yet here were scores of children with very minor infractions having their lives ruined,” said Marsha Levick, a lawyer with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.

“There was a culture of intimidation surrounding this judge and no one was willing to speak up about the sentences he was handing down.”
Last year, the Juvenile Law Center, which had raised concerns about Judge Ciavarella in the past, filed a motion to the State Supreme Court about more than 500 juveniles who had appeared before the judge without representation. The court originally rejected the petition, but recently reversed that decision.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that children have a constitutional right to counsel. But in Pennsylvania, as in at least 20 other states, children can waive counsel, and about half of the children that Judge Ciavarella sentenced had chosen to do so. Only Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina require juveniles to have representation when they appear before judges.

Clay Yeager, the former director of the Office of Juvenile Justice in Pennsylvania, said typical juvenile proceedings are kept closed to the public to protect the privacy of children.
“But they are kept open to probation officers, district attorneys, and public defenders, all of whom are sworn to protect the interests of children,” he said. “It’s pretty clear those people didn’t do their jobs.”
On Thursday in Federal District Court in Scranton, more than 80 people packed every available seat in the courtroom. At one point, as Assistant United States Attorney William S. Houser explained to Judge Edwin M. Kosik that the government was willing to reach a plea agreement with the men because the case involved “complex charges that could have resulted in years of litigation,” one man sitting in the audience said “bull” loud enough to be heard in the courtroom.

One of the parents at the hearing was Susan Mishanski of Hanover Township.

Her son, Kevin, now 18, was sentenced to 90 days in a detention facility last year in a simple assault case that everyone had told her would result in probation, since Kevin had never been in trouble and the boy he hit had only a black eye.
“It’s horrible to have your child taken away in shackles right in front of you when you think you’re going home with him,” she said. “It was nice to see them sitting on the other side of the bench.”

"Kids for Cash": the Dangers of Private Prisons Laid Bare

March 27, 2009

Last month two Pennsylvania judges pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges which relate to the jailing of around 2000 children between June 2000 and January 2007. The children were sent to two private detention facilities in exchange for bribes worth more than $2.6 million; the private prison companies belonged to the Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp. The case has become known as the “kids for cash” scandal and has raised questions about the close ties between the courts and private contractors, as well as the harsh treatment adolescents have received in the criminal justice system in the Pennsylvania and beyond.

President Judge Mark Ciavarella and former President Judge Michael Conahan agreed to 87-month prison sentences for themselves, but as Jurist has reported, the pleas will not be formally accepted until sentencing, which could take up to 90 days. Ciavarella claims he took the money innocently, assuming it was a legitimate "finder's fee" from the private company for help in building the detention centre. He denies sending children to custody in return for kickbacks. This matter will also have to be determined by the court.

The story did not receive much attention this side of the Atlantic, although the Guardian covered it and George Monbiot wrote a good piece where he provided the following examples of the types of sentencing decisions the judges made in relation to children coming before them:
“Michael Conahan sent children to jail for offences so trivial that some of them weren't even crimes. A 15 year-old called Hillary Transue got three months for creating a spoof web page ridiculing her school's assistant principal. Mr Ciavarella sent Shane Bly, then 13, to boot camp for trespassing in a vacant building. He gave a 14 year-old, Jamie Quinn, 11 months in prison for slapping a friend during an argument, after the friend slapped her.”
Monbiot’s focus was not so much the issue of judicial corruption but more the fact that “This is what happens when public services are run for profit.” He reports that the judges also took action which resulted in the closing of a competing prison which operated in the public sector. The money was diverted to a private company called PA Child Care (PACC) which it helped to build a new facility in the area.

And it is this point that links to more commonplace acts of corruption and bizarre decision making regarding the operation of the prison sector in the USA. Where prisons are run for profit, there is a corporate need to ensure that the market for imprisonment does not fail. Therefore people must be imprisoned. The ultimate connection between both the politicians responsible for criminal justice policy and the courts can then become tainted at best, and corrupted at worst, as in this case.

The legal fall out from the Pennsylania corruption cases is now being felt. On 26th March the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that convictions of hundreds of children be overturned and the relevant records expunged without hearing. This decision followed the recommendation of Special Master Grim which was made in order to investigate the “alleged travesty of juvenile justice …[and] to identify the affected juveniles and rectify the situation as fairly and swiftly as possible”.

Grim recommended that this should be done in all non-serious cases where the juveniles appearing before Ciavarella were not represented by lawyers, something that happened in half of the cases before him. Grim wrote:
“This prompt action in these non-serious cases will be at least one step towards righting the wrongs which were visited upon these juveniles and will help restore confidence in the justice system. Furthermore, it is not in the interest of the community to relitigate these non-serious cases, nor do I believe that the victims would be well-served by new proceedings.”
In more serious cases the juveniles can object to a decision and the Supreme Court will examine those cases.

University of Pitsburgh School of Law Professor David Harris criticised the plea deal made by the judges and is quoted on Jurist
"I don’t think seven years is nearly enough for the harm they did to the system of justice, to our collective belief in the rule of law, to these children, and to their families."
His point is well made. The judges sent children to prison establishments and boot camps in situations that were inappropriate or for offences that were not even criminal or warranting detention. The impact of that detention is in many ways immeasurable in terms of the psychological, physical and emotional harm that those children will have experienced and are still experiencing. The criminal justice system is often regarded as being overly punitive, but not when it comes to corrupt judges who were willing to trade children’s lives for financial benefit.

And what of the corporation that was willing to pay for those children? The culture of private prisons as business seems to be breeding corporations that see nothing wrong in finding alternative means of filling their facilities. In this case there has been no action in relation to the corporation. PACC's then owner, Bob Powell, has not been charged. The company is still operating and its spokesman denies that its current owner knew of the kickbacks.

Mayor Calls for Reform of Juvenile Justice System

The Epoch Times
December 23, 2010

With a recidivism rate for boys of 81 percent, the highest in the country, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the juvenile justice institutions “relics” this week and called for an overhaul of the system, which is costing city taxpayers approximately $62 million a year.

The mayor said that sending young offenders hundreds of miles away from their families is not working. He compared the system to a turnstile, which is both costly and doesn’t aid in keeping the public safe.
“The current system is not helping our kids, it isn’t helping taxpayers and is not helping public safety,” said the mayor.
Bloomberg has proposed a new plan that includes allocating more resources to local juvenile centers, which would allow kids to stay close to their families in order to help them reintegrate into the community once they exit the system.

The current institutions are costing approximately $270,000 per child per year, said the mayor, whereas community-based programs cost significantly less, approximately $17,000 per child per year. He also highlighted that many of the community based programs have shown strong rates of success.

Although the number of kids in state institutions has decreased by two thirds, those facilities remain fully staffed while being half-empty.

Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs joined Bloomberg to a visit to Finger Lakes Residential Center on Tuesday. There were about 148 staff members for approximately 40 kids, she noted.
“We’re getting fiscally clobbered in the process. In a time when we have to lay off teachers and public services, we’re paying the state for unused beds and idle staff,” Bloomberg said.
The mayor is asking the governor to enact legislation to allow empty centers upstate to close faster, while transferring more resources toward New York City facilities across the five boroughs.

Apart from the high recidivism rate and the cost to the taxpayers, Bloomberg cited low quality of education within the current system as another major concern. According to the mayor, none of the upstate juvenile centers have accredited schools. He described their school facilities as little more than “rubber rooms.”
“If you don’t have an education, you can’t get a job. If you don’t have a job, you can’t have the dignity to be self sufficient; you can’t feed yourself, you get hungry, and you get back into a life that spirals down,” noted Bloomberg.
The mayor also said that upstate facilities have a history of “failing to protect the security of the juveniles in their care.”

In August 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted a report to Gov. David Paterson, documenting findings from a series of 2008 investigations into four juvenile justice facilities, including the Lansing Residential Center, the Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center, the Tryon Residential Center, and the Tryon Girls Center.

The DOJ found that staff was quick to resort to a high degree of force, which the agency called disproportionate to the level of infractions. They also concluded that the implemented restraining techniques resulted in a large number of injuries to the youth.
“I have had a long-time concern about allegations of abuse in state facilities that could be monitored more easily if juveniles were closer to their families,” said Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton stated in a press release that the ultimate goal should be to bring the kids back into a family and community environment rather than isolate them. Sending children more than five hours away to upstate facilities makes it very difficult for the families of the youth to reach out and bond with them, in order to help them in the reform process, he noted.

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