Thursday, August 18, 2016

Private Dungeons: A Setback?

Justice Department Says It Will End Use Of Private Prisons:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a critical report concluding that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.
Of course, this isn't new information. While the inspector general's report is a damning indictment of the use of privatization, the findings merely echo what the GAO found on privatization more than 25 years ago, and continued to update regularly and with equal derision for the past quarter century: "private prisons are ineffective, not cost-saving, more violent" and so forth. More drugs, more tobacco, more cellphones, more assault, rape, name it, it's worse in a private facility, and has been so, since the move towards privatization began back in the late 80's.

Sidebar: want to read a harrowing account of what it's like to work in a private dungeon? Read this now.

And if I can also note: almost all of my mentors in penology, especially people like Michael Welch, Christian Parenti, Jeffrey Reiman and others, have been trumpeting these GAO reports and leading the charge against privatization for years, but usually falling on deaf ears. It's great that we now have a justice department (on its back nine) willing to listen and implement. It's not so great that this justice department will be out of existence in 5 months and who knows what the next administration may do.

Also, the move really isn't as sweeping as it sounds. While it addresses the federal inmates who have been convicted and sentenced in the federal system, it does not address the vast network of private detention facilities used to hold illegal immigrant and non-citizen detainees throughout the country.

The feds utilize detention facilities (viz. concentration camps) to hold detainees when they are swept up in raids, but before they can be deported, and the vast majority of these facilities are subcontracted to private companies. On any given day, they are holding more than 30,000 detainees, and in a calendar year will process roughly 400,000 persons. This is big business and, from my read of the DOJ order, is not covered or addressed (why would it? non-citizen detainees don't count anyway).

The role of the congress should also be noted in this. Private dungeons, er companies, deploy a vast army of lobbyists to push for inclusion in criminal justice policy. The congress could easily order the justice department to renew or expand private prison company contracts, via the budgetary process. So while the deputy AG's words are noteworthy and laudatory, they are also limited and fixed in duration.

And finally, let's remember too: the private dungeons make most of their money running state facilities (110,000 of the 130,000 private inmates are state inmates), which would be completely unaffected by today's order.

Nevertheless, I'll try not to be too skeptical and join the ranks of others who are celebrating the release of this report. For me personally, it's a head-nodding moment 15+ years in the making.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday To Us

Yep...according to the blog archive, we went live August 16th, 2007. Nine years, 950+ posts, and over a quarter of a million hits later...still in the arena.

Hotter 'n Hell

Constitutional Clash Over Air Conditioning:

Judges from Arizona to Mississippi to Wisconsin have declared over the years that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution forbids incarceration in decidedly hot or cold temperatures. Still, prison reform activists encounter deep resistance in their quest to cool the nation’s cellblocks.

“It’s almost impossible for courts to deny the constitutional violation because extreme heat undoubtedly exposes individuals to substantial risk of serious harm,” said Mercedes Montagnes, a lawyer for three inmates with health issues who challenged conditions on Louisiana’s death row. “Now what we’re grappling with is the remedy.”

Officials offer a range of justifications for the absence of air-conditioning and for their reliance on cold showers, plentiful liquids and fans to help prisoners manage in the heat. Some contend that cooling systems are prohibitively expensive to install, particularly in older facilities.
And articles like this usually appear every August, during the dog days, particularly when we've had a brutally hot summer as this one has been, asking the same questions: is it a violation of the 8th amendment not to provide A/C to inmates, especially when heat indices soar into the 90's and above inside prison cells?

The most obvious answer, if you've ever spent any time at all below the Mason-Dixon line between May and September, is hell yes. 

But the get-tough types still cling to the notion that giving inmates a/c, even minimal amounts to get the temperature into the low 80's, is a dern travesty, and what's next, giving them a dang country club jail or something?
In places like Louisiana and Texas, sweltering states where elected officials cherish tough-on-crime credentials, it is politically poisonous to be perceived as coddling prisoners. And many officials simply say that temperatures are not anywhere near as dire as prisoners and their lawyers claim.

“For the first 20 years of my life, I lived in a house with no air-conditioning,” said Jim Willett, the director of the Texas Prison Museum and a former warden at the state’s death house. “I just have a hard time sympathizing with anybody over air-conditioning.”

In Jefferson Davis Parish and elsewhere, plenty of people wonder why climate control is even before the courts. Prisoners are serving punishments and do not merit, as people here repeatedly put it, “a country club jail.”  
Lord. Just read those couple of paragraphs again...the "Jefferson Davis" parish...the "I never had no a/c, why should them inmates have it" revisionist history...etc. 

Depriving inmates of air-conditioning is another relic of the get tough 80's and 90's, when most prisons and jails, which are functioning in the U.S. today, were built. The notion that retrofitting these relatively modern institutions is "cost prohibitive" is also absurd, given the billions we routinely spend on corrections annually in the U.S. anyway.

But again, it's not about the constitution, dollars and cents, or plain old sense for that matter. It's all about puttin' a hurtin' on them inmates, making them uncomfortable, and learnin' them a lesson.
But after her release, Ms. Bourque, 25, described an environment where inmates found little relief.

“It’s hot as hell,” she said. “The church ladies come over there, and I told her that. And she was like, ‘No, I believe hell is hotter.’ And I was like, ‘It’s just an expression. It’s hot as hell.’”
Image result for dana carvey church lady 
Ha ha! "Could it be Satan? I'm sure hell is hotter, missy." 

Left out of the article is the perspective of the corrections officers and jailers who have to carry out their tough-talking bosses wishes. Can you imagine going to work every day where there was no a/c? And then having to deal with angry, disoriented, agitated inmates, desperate for some kind of relief?

Talk to anyone who actually works in corrections and they'll tell you: an air-conditioned prison or jail facility not only means a more compliant and easier to deal with inmate, it makes for a safer, more sane and tolerable work environment as well.  

But again, don't let a few facts get in the way. When the politics of punishment trumps the practicality of punishment, common sense loses every single time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Certain Fees May Apply (like, all of them)

The Financial Firm Ripping Off Jail Inmates:

Numi Financial describes itself as a “leader in stored value card solutions for the criminal justice and corrections industry.” Its parent company, Stored Value Cards, based in Carlsbad, California, provides debit-card services to jails in 44 states through Numi Financial and Futura Card Services, issued by banks. The terms for the card used in Multnomah County lists 11 possible fees—the $5.95 monthly fee, a $2.95 fee for ATM withdrawals, $0.95 for a declined transaction, $1 to check the balance, and $9.95 to have the balance refunded by check. Some cards have as many as 19 fees, a maintenance fee as high as $15 a month, and higher fees for international transactions. As for the banks that issue prepaid cards like these, they spent, on average, only 10.3 cents per transaction in 2013, including processing and third-party fees, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.

Numi is one of many for-profit players in an increasingly privatized prison industry. State spending alone on corrections hit $52.4 billion in 2012. Hundreds of private-sector contractors now provide food, clothing, riot gear, phone service, computers, and health care, in addition to directly operating many correctional facilities. In addition, prisoners and their families pay for numerous services, including phone calls, a $1.2 billion-a-year business, according to The New York Times.

At least 10 companies now offer release cards or inmate banking services to correctional systems. JPMorgan Chase does not give a card to each and every prisoner, but according to the Center for Public Integrity, it has a “lock” on the Federal Bureau of Prisons population, which currently stands at just under 200,000. At the state level, CPI found that JPay, a company founded in 2002, dominates, generating “well over $50 million in revenue” in 2013. (It was acquired for $250 million in 2015 by Securus Technologies, a Dallas-based prison phone provider.) But when it comes to county jails, Numi has quietly become a big player.

Numi is now in more than 400 jails across the country, including large facilities that house up to 8,500 inmates, and the company issues more than 600,000 cards a year. That’s enough to make Numi one of the top 10 providers nationwide of prepaid cards of all kinds, according to Adam Rust, research director of the North Carolina–based Reinvestment Partners, which advocates against predatory lending practices. The Mercator Advisory Group estimates the entire US prepaid-card market was $594 billion in 2014. 
Basically, when anyone goes to jail, even if you're there for only a few hours, your money is confiscated and when you "check out"* you are given a debit card instead of your cash back. Even if you have only a few dollars, it is not returned to you in cash, but on these prepaid debit cards, which then sock you with activation fees, balance fees, etc. until you not only lose whatever money you came in with, but you are in debt to these people, who can then come after you the same way a credit card company would if you fail to pay your debts. It's an astonishing rip off...the rich literally stealing from the poor...and in most states it's perfectly legal.
Deloney claims the card is easier than a cash or check system for jailer and arrestee alike. For jails, the Numi card eliminates check fraud, reduces “manpower, processing, accounting,” and takes “potential graft out of the system.” For inmates, Deloney says, “We try to make it easy.” He says cardholders can “buy a cup of coffee or brand new shirt, and get all your cash back at no charge. There are plenty of ways to liquidate this thing without the account maintenance fee kicking in.”  
All of which is absurd. The "manpower" it takes to convert the cash to the prepaid debit cards far exceeds that of a clerk sitting there in Release, counting out your money and giving it back. And the "graft" isn't being taken out of the system...the graft is just occurring on another level of the system.

So why would jails and local jailers (sheriff's departments) contract with these companies, rather than simply have a clerk give the freed inmate back their money? Because they receive a kickback (graft) for every inmate the debit card companies rip off (er, I mean process). It's a get rich quick scheme that makes everyone involved (jailers, sheriff's, investors, these companies) millions and millions of dollars.

Everyone except, of course, the poor guy in jail who has just been legally shaken down and lost whatever money he came in with. And the claims of 1% non-usage rate on these cards has been shown to be false...more than a third are never activated, which means companies like Numi just pocket the inmate's money. In other areas of crime and law we call this "robbery."

The players involved in this shouldn't be all that surprising to you, dear reader. I've written about JPay and their less than ethical involvement in ripping off inmate's families via their phone service. I've also noted JP Morgan Chase's cozy, if not incestuous, relationship with the BOP, and why that relationship possibly explains the DOJ's refusal to indict, convict and imprison Chase executives for the Great Rip Off (er, Recession) of 2009.

I also understand the need for a prison-based firm to run inmates accounts (and why currency is and should be considered contraband). Families can wire money to an inmate's account, and the inmate can purchase things in the commissary via electronic debit. I have no problem with that fundamentally as a concept, or even those companies being paid something to administer those accounts.

But jails are completely different from prisons, and there is absolutely no justifiable reason an inmate's money can't be returned to them upon a release (cash, on the barrel-head) by the jail operator. Most of the 12 million people who go to jail annually in the U.S. are only there mere hours. And while long-term inmates could certainly become eligible for some kind of administered account, there is no valid or legitimate reason (beyond simple graft) for these debit cards to exist.

* Numi actually refers to being sprung from the joint as "checking out," as though the inmate is checking out of a hotel or something. "Mr. Smith, did you enjoy your stay with us at Cross-Bar Hilton? Here's your lovely Numi gift card."

Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Rules For Debt Collection Agencies

Consumer Protection Agency to Crack Down on Collection Abuses:

For the first time in nearly 40 years, federal regulators are preparing to significantly strengthen the rules that govern debt collection in an effort to clamp down on collectors who hound consumers for debts they may not even owe.

Under the proposed regulations, which will undergo a lengthy review process, debt collection companies will have to more fully document the debt they are trying to collect, make it clear how a consumer can dispute the debt, and observe state statutes of limitations that bar them from legally pursuing older debts — all safeguards that are frequently flouted, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency that plans to put forth the new rules on Thursday.

The regulations also take aim at the stereotype of the harassing debt agency: Collectors would be barred from trying to contact people more than six times in a week. And, after a debtor dies, the collectors would have to wait 30 days before contacting family members about paying up.
Let's just pause for a moment and imagine being the sub-human cretin who calls on grieving family members over a $500 credit card bill only days after their loved one passed. 

Actually, let's not imagine being that brain dead.
Some 77 million people — roughly one in three adults with a credit report — have a delinquent debt in collections, according to an estimate by the Urban Institute. 

The bureau receives far more complaints about debt collection than any other issue — more than 7,000 a month, on average — and 40 percent of them are about collection attempts on debts the customers say they do not owe.

Susan Macharia, 39, an administrative worker who lives in Buena Park, Calif., said she was blindsided in January when she got a call from a collector saying that her wages would be garnished unless she paid off a $10,000 credit card debt that she allegedly ran up in 2003.

A debt so old would normally be beyond the statute of limitations, and legally uncollectable, but the company had a copy of a 2006 default judgment that was entered against her when she failed to respond to a collection lawsuit.

But Ms. Macharia, who opened her first credit card account just three years ago, had no recollection of being notified of a lawsuit, and she was living in Atlanta when the papers were said to have been served on her in California. Fraudulent service is a problem so common it has a name — “sewer service” — derived from the way process servers metaphorically toss the papers they are supposed to deliver into a sewer instead.

Just as with mortgages at the height of the financial crisis, delinquent consumer debt is often resold, sometimes multiple times, and in the chain of custody, things can go awry. The nation’s courtrooms have been glutted with millions of collection lawsuits, many of which are backed by thin documentation. And tales of abuses — like robo-signed affidavits filed in bulk, or aggressive collection efforts on erroneous debts — are rife.
But at least the new rules, backed up by the enforcement of the Consumer Protection Bureau, promise to reign in these bottom-feeding debt collection agencies and their lobotomized employees. A step in the right direction.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Black and Blue (and Green, Part 2)

Odd, the last thing I wrote in my last post was, "Frankly, if that's the kind of job you want, join the army and deploy to a war zone. And get out of law enforcement." After another ghastly ambush on law enforcement yesterday in Baton Rouge, a common thread beyond race emerges: the shooter in Baton Rouge and the shooter in Dallas were both former Army/Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who both used the "open carry" laws passed in Louisiana and Texas to their advantage in the ambushes they carried out.

As investigators worked, details about Mr. Long, 29, of Kansas City, Mo., began to emerge. Like the gunman who killed five police officers more than a week ago in Dallas, Mr. Long had served abroad in the military.

On Sunday, officers observed a man, wearing all black and holding a rifle, outside the beauty supply store, the colonel said. In the next four minutes, there were reports of shots fired and officers struck, said Colonel Edmonson, whose agency has taken the lead on the investigation, helped by local and federal investigators.
Same MO as the Dallas shooter: by appearing in public legally armed with an assault rifle, the shooter evades instant identification as a threat, allowing police to be drawn into standard approach/questioning, and thus ripe for targeting. These open carry statutes, which are fundamentally a perversion of the rule of law, are literally making marks of the men and women in law enforcement.

The Cleveland police actually went so far as to ask the governor to suspend open carry around the Republican Convention kicking off today, arguing the same threat (the governor, Kasich, not surprisingly declined their request). 
The attack in Baton Rouge resonated in Cleveland, where delegates were gathering for this week’s Republican National Convention. Stephen Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, called on Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio to temporarily suspend the state’s open-carry laws in light of the recent tragedies.
But while the motivation for these shootings (supposedly race related) is the only coverage the media seems to be engaging in, the more common aspects (other than the open-carry, easy access to assault rifles) seem to be the military background, training, and lack of follow-up veteran's care these guys need after coming back from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and hitting the streets here.
Pentagon records released just after the shooting show Johnson's service didn't end until April 2015. In an email statement Saturday, an Army spokeswoman said that Johnson was never formally discharged; he was released from active duty "with an Honorable characterization" in August 2014. Even after his reserve service ended the following year and he was no longer affiliated with a unit, he could have been recalled on an individual basis.

In any case, those close to Johnson say, the Army did little or nothing to check up on someone it had trained to kill, and who had shown signs of mental distress. At one point, he sought help from the VA for a back injury, according to his mother. But he became overwhelmed by the hassle and paperwork and gave up. Fischbach, the squad leader, also questions the Army's follow-up.
So PTSD, social isolation and marginalization, and perhaps other forms of mental illness, which are not getting treated, then pervert what is an otherwise peaceful protest movement such as Black Lives Matter, as a call to arms. And all of this is driving the police, understandably, into an even more heightened state of anxiety and defensiveness.
The twin attacks — three officers dead Sunday in Baton Rouge, five killed on July 7 in Dallas, along with at least 12 injured over all — have set off a period of fear, anguish and confusion among the nation’s 900,000 state and local law enforcement officers. Even the most hardened veterans call this one of the most charged moments of policing they have experienced.

Officers from Seattle to New Orleans are pairing up in squad cars for added safety and keeping their eyes open for snipers while walking posts. It is an anxious time: Officers must handle not only vocal denunciations from peaceful protesters who criticize abusive policing, but also physical attacks by a tiny few on the periphery.

“We’ve seen nothing like this at all,” said Darrel W. Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and an instructor at the Public Safety Leadership Program at Johns Hopkins University. “The average officer in America, who was tense anyway, their tension and vigilance is going to increase even more. Police officers have always been vulnerable, and they know it. But somewhere inside you, you didn’t think it would happen. But now we’re seeing it happen.”
Even though, as the article goes on to note, law enforcement deaths in the line of duty remain at historic lows, that fact that we've had eight officers killed, ambush style, in a matter of weeks, is beyond alarming. And the fact that it's happening at the hands of military-trained veterans, whose knowledge of, and easy access to, assault rifles and how to use them, even more startling.

Eventually, one assumes, 40+ years of militarized policing is going to produce a militarized response among some in the public. Throw in race, these perverted open-carry statutes, and the toxic anti-government rage unleashed in 2010 (which was fundamentally about race, but for which the police become the perfect symbol of in the eyes of the deranged), and you get the summer of 2016.

Pray for a calm week in Cleveland.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Community Policing v. The Bulletproof Warrior

Bulletproof Warrior Training Now In Question:

Many police departments across the country, with encouragement from the Justice Department, have opted for what they refer to as a guardian mentality, in which de-escalation of potentially violent situations and similar techniques are emphasized.

Some departments, however, believe that a more traditional and aggressive so-called warrior approach is necessary.

Officer Yanez underwent a two-day training course called “The Bulletproof Warrior” in May 2014, according to records from the City of St. Anthony, a suburb near St. Paul. The training combined the two approaches.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported that Officer Yanez took the course. It was conducted by a company called Calibre Press in Glen Ellyn, Ill., owned by Jim Glennon, a former police lieutenant in Lombard, Ill., according to its website.

Mr. Glennon said in an interview that the main focus of the course was to teach police officers to maintain a sense of flexibility in their work, which he calls “balance,” and involves when to use force and at what level, given the circumstances. He said the course did not teach officers to have a warrior mentality.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this — that’s what we teach,” he said. “We tell them that they have a three to four times greater chance of dropping dead from a heart attack than from being shot by a felon with a gun.”

Asked about the guardian and warrior approaches, Mr. Glennon said, “If anyone says they are mutually exclusive, that’s nuts.”
Er, I don't think anyone's saying they're "mutually exclusive." I think what they're saying is using only the "warrior" approach in law enforcement is nuts.
Critics of the seminars say that the training offered, which includes watching videos showing officers being shot, runs counter to the reforms departments must adopt if they are to win back trust, especially of black residents.

“Courses like this reinforce the thinking that everyone is out to get police officers,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy organization based in Washington. “This teaches officers, ‘If you hesitate, you could lose your life.’ It is the exact opposite of the way many police chiefs are going.”

The “Bulletproof Warrior” booklet handed out at the company’s seminars addresses warfare as much as police work. A copy of the booklet was obtained by The New York Times. It has charts and graphs on “Combat Efficiency” and “Perceptual Distortions in Combat.”

The booklet portrays a world of constant and increased threat to officers, despite more than two decades of declining violent crime in the United States, and the fact that the last few years have been among the safest to be an American police officer.
Don't let a few facts get in the way of good old fashioned, highly-charged, testosterone-pumping chapters and training videos.
One section is titled “Pre-attack Indicators.” It says, “Unfortunately, the will to survive is all too often trained out of the psyches of our police officers,” and warns of “predators” and “adversaries” who are younger than officers and who have “been in more gunfights and violent encounters.” It advises: “An attack on you is a violent act! What is the only way to overcome that violence?”

Another booklet distributed at seminars, “Anatomy of Force Incidents,” repeatedly makes the point that officers are allowed to — and need to — use more force than they may believe, and to use it pre-emptively. “Myth: The officer must use the minimal amount of force necessary to affect their lawful law enforcement objectives,” it says, and “Myth: An officer must use the ‘least intrusive’ or ‘best’ option when using force.”
Myth: this kind of Rambo-like training doesn't lead to increases in unjustified force, accusations of brutality, and lots of dead citizens who shouldn't be dead.

But even though most policing experts agree that deescalation should now be the preferred method of training, it's this "bulletproof warrior" mentality that still reigns supreme. As this article notes from last year:
Officers at police academies have always been trained in de-escalation, but there has been less emphasis on such methods over the past 20 years. A recent Police Executive Research Forum survey of 281 police agencies found that the average young officer received 58 hours of firearms training and 49 hours of defensive tactical training, but only eight hours of de-escalation training.

The training regimens at nearly all of the nation’s police academies continue to emphasize military-style exercises, including significant hours spent practicing drill, formation and saluting, said Maria R. Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
In other words, the same kind of regressive, retro, pseudo-military style training that got us into this mess is still pervading the profession of law enforcement generally. And if you think about it, doesn't the rhetoric demand nothing less? Because if you are constantly "declaring war" on inanimate objects like Drugs, Crime, Immigration, etc., eventually those things are going to animate. And what starts as a brain-dead political soundbite (a war on drugs) becomes real in its consequences (a war on a segment of your population; namely poor, minority, and so on).  

And while talk of "demilitarizing the police" is trendy, it's not translating to the streets, where officers are still being trained to view the streets of St. Paul the same as the streets of Fallujah or Damascus. 

You've got to go back in history and understand that the role of the Peace Officer is to keep the peace; to serve and protect. It is not to engage in "combat efficiency" or look for "pre-attack predator indicators" while riding around the streets of Palookaville in a tank, grenade launcher at your side, and dressed in so much kevlar you can't even bend over.

Frankly, if that's the kind of job you want, join the army and deploy to a war zone. And get out of law enforcement.