Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Virginia prison sits empty, at a cost of more than $700,000 a year

This is how bad the economy is in southwestern Virginia: People are wishing they had more criminals in town.

That’s because Grayson County has a brand-new state prison standing empty. No prisoners. And that means no guards, no administrators, no staff, no jobs.

“I wish they would go ahead and open it up,” said Rhonda James of Mouth of Wilson, echoing many residents there. “We really need it in the county really bad.”

Three hundred new jobs — maybe 350 — that’s what people were told when the prison was planned. With about 11 percent unemployment and no relief in sight, that sounded really good to an awful lot of people here.

But months after the commonwealth finished building the 1,024-bed medium-security prison for $105 million, it remains empty, coils of razor wire and red roofs shining in the sun, new parking lot all but deserted and a yawning warehouse waiting for supplies.

And it’s costing more than $700,000 a year to maintain.

Read on...

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Chief Blair told by civilian board to consider police layoffs

Confronted with the possibility of a $1 billion operating budget next year, the Toronto Police Services Board is considering police layoffs to cut costs.

The civilian oversight board has asked Chief Bill Blair to investigate the safety impact and possible savings associated with reducing the force by 500 officers. Earlier this year, Blair agreed to delay the hiring of 200 officers in order to balance the 2011 budget.

At a Monday board meeting, Blair presented his preliminary 2012 operating budget of $969.7 million (net) — a 4.2 per cent increase, about 85 per cent of which is tied up in salary and benefits.

Board vice-chair, Councillor Michael Thompson, said later Toronto may be forced to follow the lead of many American police services and lay off officers.

“It’s something we have to look at if we want to address the issue about the police budget (and) in the case of policing, 90 per cent of the policing cost is the bodies,” said Thompson.

Read on...

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Delinquent Realities: Christianity, Formality, and Security in the Americas

Kevin Lewis O’Neill

The masks looked ridiculous, and the guys knew it. The shiny strips of plastic made them look like old-fashioned bandits or, worse yet dopey superheroes. A former member of Mara Salvatrucha, Central America's most notorious gang, complained into the camera, appealing to a public that he assumed was already laughig at him, "This thing makes me look like Batman or something. Or, no, like a little Batgirl, right?" The masks didn't even do a good job of obscuring their faces, which was their official purpose. They were supposed to protect the identities of ten former gang members while they participated in a reality television show cosponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and titled Desafio 10, or Challenge 10. Recruited from local churches, in which many of these former gang members his for their lives, the ten men were split into two teams, each of which was expected to build a sustainable business within Guatemala's formal economy. One team used its seed money (approzimately US$3200) to start a car wash, while the other team began a shoe repair service. Successful Guatemalan executives mentored both teams from the start to finish, nurturing and nudging these men toward entrepreneurial self-sufficiency.


Gang members "converting" during a reality tv show in Guatemala. This paper is by Professor Kevin O'Neill who gave a talk at a Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies colloquium last fall. Tom

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Arrival of the Fittest

Canada’s crime rate is dropping as immigration increases. Is there a connection?

The view from one of Thorncliffe Park's towersThe view from one of Thorncliffe Park’s towers

Late last summer, the MV Sun Sea, a small Thai cargo ship, entered Canadian waters off the British Columbia coast, where it was intercepted by the navy and the RCMP. Crowded on board were 492 Tamils, including women and children. The vessel’s arrival was not unexpected; in fact, the government had been monitoring its journey for months and had intelligence that it was smuggling refugees from Sri Lanka. Canada has been a popular destination for people fleeing the ravages of the twenty-six-year civil war and a 2004 tsunami: there are now 20,000 Sri Lankans here, and more coming all the time.

A few days before the Sun Sea reached the coast, public safety minister Vic Toews was in Toronto giving a luncheon speech on national security to the Economic Club of Canada and announced, “I can assure you that we are concerned about who is on that ship and why they might be coming to Canada.” He was referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, which has been banned in Canada as a terrorist organization. The previous year, when a rusty ship called the Ocean Lady carrying seventy-six Tamil men arrived off the coast of Vancouver Island, the government arrested the passengers and held them for months, alleging that a third of them were Tamil Tigers sent to infiltrate Canada and set up operations here. (No evidence was ever found to support that claim, and they’ve since been released. All are pursuing refugee claims.)

That the point person was Toews, and not Jason Kenney, the minister of citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism, was telling. It framed the Sun Sea situation as a potential danger to the public, and prompted a swift response. The passengers were put into detention (nearly sixty of them remain there, and in March two were ordered to be deported because of ties to the Tigers). The government also introduced Bill C-49, which would allow officials to detain smuggled migrants for one year, and bar them from applying for permanent residence and sponsoring family members for five years.

Read on...

This article draws on some work co-authored by Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies prof Ron Levi. Tom

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dutch "coffee shops" to ban foreigners

It will be interesting to see how this impacts the tourist numbers. A lot of people from all over Europe visit Amsterdam to get high so like it or not, those visitors do bring in cash. Maybe a lot of them are younger travelers who aren't spending a lot of money but it's not like a few stoners are going to be that rowdy. From what I have seen in Amsterdam since my first visit in the 1980s is that the harder drug business is widely available on the streets, with little reluctance to hide the business or the activity itself. The coffee shops seem to be the least of the problems of the drug business. Reuters:

The Dutch government on Friday said it would start banning tourists from buying cannabis from "coffee shops" and impose restrictions on Dutch customers by the end of the year.

Read on...

Right wing governments rolling stuff back everywhere. Tom

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Ayn Rand U? Rich Conservatives -- Not Just the Kochs -- Buying Up Professors and Influence on Campus

Conservative activists have a good-cop, bad-cop approach to the university. In either case, the same right-wing foundations pay the bill.

These days, rich conservatives want a lot more than their names on university buildings in exchange for big donations. The Koch brothers recently endowed two economics professorships at Florida State University in exchange for a say over faculty hires. Banker John Allison, long-time head of BB&T, has donated to 60 universities in exchange for their agreeing to teach Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged--some agreements even include the outrageous stipulation that the professor teaching the course “have a positive interest in and be well versed in Objectivism.”

The economic crisis has opened American universities to ever more brazen--and at times decidedly strange--attacks on the hallowed principle of academic freedom. Conservative efforts to shape hearts and minds on campus, however, are far from new. Like anything in a capitalist society, academia is a place where people with money fight for power, and take their advantage where they can. Indeed, the effort to mold higher education--which the Right has long caricatured as a hotbed of revolutionary agitation--in the image of the establishment has been central to the rise of modern conservatism.

“Conservatives have been funding such efforts for a while, but usually fairly quietly and without the rough touch of the Koch brothers,” says David Farber, a professor of history at Temple University and author of The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism.

Inside academia and out, the conservative movement has prioritized young people and intellectuals since the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater and the 1968 youth rebellion, endowing professorships alongside a plethora of on-message think tanks. (The arms manufacturer John Olin, 78, was particularly appalled by the 1969 occupation of the student union at his alma mater, Cornell, by armed black activists.)

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Walkom: Chain gangs and the Tories' search for scapegoats

Scapegoats are useful political fodder. Former Conservative premier Mike Harris won power by successfully scapegoating the poor. Tim Hudak, the current Ontario Tory leader, hopes to replicate that success by campaigning against prisoners.

How else to explain Hudak’s call for what in effect would be provincial chain gangs?

Let’s be clear. The idea of forcing every provincial inmate to clean up highways or scrub down graffiti is potentially a political winner.

Most people have little sympathy for convicted criminals. In hard times, those who work for a living doubly resent anyone who doesn’t or can’t do the same.

That’s why Harris’s attack on welfare recipients was so successful. He picked his fight with the poor during one of the worst economic slumps since the 1930s.

Hudak, in his announcement Thursday, pressed all the usual buttons. He scoffed at those apocryphal prisoners who spend their time in jail watching high-definition television and learning “Zen yoga.” He said anyone in prison should have to work “just like every hard-working family out there.”

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Michelle Alexander on California's 'Cruel and Unusual' Prisons

On May 23, the US Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision ordering California to release tens of thousands of inmates from its overcrowded prisons on the grounds that their living conditions—including lethally inadequate healthcare—were so intolerable as to be “cruel and unusual punishment.” For years, California has stored its prisoners like so many cans of soup; stacked in cells or bunk beds in squalid conditions that breed violence and disease. A 2008 NPR report on massive overcrowding at San Quentin State Prison found 360 men caged in what was once a gymnasium: “Most of these men spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in the gym,” NPR reported, describing it as “a giant game of survivor.” The day before the Supreme Court ruling, four prisoners were seriously injured at San Quentin when a riot broke out in a dining hall.

Prison numbers have dipped in recent years, but with nearly 2.4 million Americans behind bars, mass incarceration remains a national crisis. In California, home of a notorious “three strikes” law, parole violations represent more than half of all new prison admissions, and three of four prisoners are non-white. It’s an extreme example of what has happened across the country.

Michelle Alexander, a former ACLU lawyer in the Bay Area and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has pointed out that the rush to incarcerate has gotten so out of control that “if our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release four out of five people behind bars.” Arriving in California for a series of events just after the decision came down, Alexander spoke to me over the phone about the ruling and what it means.

Liliana Segura: What has the response been in California to this ruling?

Read on...

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DiManno: G20 policing black eye isn’t fading away

A photographer took this shot of Dorian Barton being dragged behind police lines by an officer at Queen's Park during the G20 Summit last June.

A photographer took this shot of Dorian Barton being dragged behind police lines by an officer at Queen's Park during the G20 Summit last June.

The one-year anniversary of the G20 Summit policing fiasco will shortly be upon us.

Yet none of the half dozen internal and external inquiries into what went so disastrously wrong last June has been tabled yet. A police board inquiry won’t even start its hearings until next week.

Only a narrow investigation by Ontario ombudsman André Marin that looked at the misapplication of an obscure security enhancement regulation under the Public Works Protection Act has seen the light of day.

And just one from among the many bullying, bushwhacking officers who assaulted peaceful protesters has been charged.

In cop lingo, the clearance rate is dismal.

Unless, of course, the intention was always to clear cops of wrongdoing by burying the G20 autopsies under a heap of paper-chase bureaucracy. But however much Premier Dalton McGuinty and Chief Bill Blair might wish it, this law-and-order shiner isn’t going to fade away.

On Thursday, the Special Investigations Unit announced it has reopened a probe — for the third time — into one specific complaint of alleged police brutality, the beating of Dorian Barton.

SIU director Ian Scott does not score big points for that.

Read on...

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

SIU reopens probe into G20 beating

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has reopened its investigation into the beating of Dorian Barton during the G20 summit, the police watchdog said this morning.

The decision came after the Toronto Police Service decided Wednesday that it would allow the SIU to interview a Toronto Police Service employee who identified a police officer in a photograph taken during the incident.

Last week, the SIU said it could not lay charges against any police officers, even though photographer Andrew Wallace provided a picture of an unnamed officer who he said he saw strike Barton.

The SIU asked 11 witnesses officers to identify the man seen standing over Barton in the photograph. None of the officers could identify him.

One of those officers was the subject officer’s roommate during the G20, SIU director Ian Scott told the Star. Two others were supervising officers.

Read on...

It seems the only reason these investigations are progressing is because of front page stories in The Star. And the Police Services Board only decided to allow someone to be interviewed last Wednesday? G20 was almost a year ago. Tom

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G20 Review Seeks Public Input Book your spot to speak at the hearing

The G20 Review is looking for input. Going forward, what lessons should shape policing policies for future major events? At public hearings across Toronto, you're invited to speak and share your ideas and recommendations.

On June 1st, 6th, and 13th, 2011, the Review will hold three hearings in Toronto. This is a rare and valuable opportunity to contribute to the governance of Toronto’s Police Service. This is the first and only set of hearings where the public’s input will be gathered and presented to the body that establishes policies for the effective management of the Toronto Police Service.

Formally, the hearings will provide individual members of the public, organizations, and other stakeholders with the opportunity to share their views and opinions on the role that civilian oversight should play concerning the policing of major events. Informally, it is extremely important that the public has a safe and actionable opportunity to voice its concerns and make suggestions, should any exist.

To guarantee one of the five minute speaking slots at any one of the three hearings, individuals must complete a simple application form: www.g20review.ca/submissions.php. The deadline for submissions has been extended to Tuesday May 31st. Submissions are being accepted on a first come basis. The hearings will be open to the public and all are welcome to attend to observe the presentations.

About the Review

The Independent Civilian Review into Matters Relating to the G20 Summit was launched on September 23, 2010 by the Toronto Police Services Board. The Review will examine issues concerning the role the Board played with respect to the policing of the G20 Summit that was held in Toronto on June 25-27, 2010. The Review will also examine the role played by the Toronto Police Service during the G20 Summit, with a view to determining whether the plans developed and implemented were adequate and effective for policing of the Summit. The Board appointed the Honourable John W. Morden, a former Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, to conduct the Review and provide a report and recommendations.

We encourage you to extend this invitation to your network of colleagues, academics, students, association members, and other potentially interested parties.

For more information visit www.g20review.ca. For regular updates see twitter.com/g20review.

Ryan Teschner
Review Counsel
Heenan Blaikie LLP
T 416 643.6890 / F 416 360.8425

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G20 lawsuit to name officers when arrested man sues police

The names of seven “John Doe” officers listed in Dorian Barton’s civil suit against the Toronto Police Services will soon be revealed, his lawyers say.

Barton, a 30-year-old cookie maker, suffered a broken right arm, black eye, swollen limbs and a bruised back when he was arrested near Queen’s Park during the G20 weekend.

The Special Investigations Unit has twice reviewed police actions in his arrest, and twice said it lacked evidence to lay charges — despite photo evidence and damning testimony from a civilian witness.

Now, Barton’s $250,000 civil suit against the Toronto Police Board and seven unidentified cops is his only remaining course of action.

“We’ll name the officers,” said Clayton Ruby, Barton’s lawyer, who expects to receive the information from either the SIU or the Toronto Police Services during pleadings in the civil case.

“They have to give answers, and they’ll give us the names of the officers.”

“It will pay off,” he said, confident in his client’s case. “But that doesn’t fix the problem of public justice.”

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Witness to G20 beating was suspect officer’s roommate, SIU says

One of the police officers who could not name a colleague accused of beating Dorian Barton during last June’s G20 summit was the suspect officer’s roommate, according to the head of the Special Investigations Unit.

Furthermore, two of the other so-called witness officers to Barton’s arrest were supervisors, Ian Scott told the Star.

“I’m not here to pass judgment,” said a clearly frustrated Scott. “I’m just telling you what happened.”

The SIU has been under fire after it concluded a week ago there was insufficient evidence to lay charges against any police officers, even though a photographer witnessed the takedown and identified an officer he said struck Barton. He provided a photo of the officer to the SIU.

The SIU asked 11 officers to identify the cop in the photograph. Eight of them were within the direct vicinity of the aggressive takedown near Queen’s Park, in which Barton, 30, suffered a broken right arm, black eye, swollen limbs and bruised back.

One of the witness officers was a G20 roommate of the officer in the photo, Scott said.

“I don’t know if they’re telling the truth or not,” he said. “I really don’t know.”

Read on...

What is the big deal? Everyone knows eyewitness testimony is sketchy. Tom

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Guelph Police identify local criminal street gang

Provincial Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Jim Bradley was at the Guelph Police station Friday,  to announce $113,000 in funding to help Guelph Police battle gang activity. Battling gangs Provincial Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Jim Bradley was at the Guelph Police station Friday, to announce $113,000 in funding to help Guelph Police battle gang activity.

Police Chief Rob Davis expects to hire an officer devoted to monitoring gun and gang crime with provincial funding announced Friday.

“We have, over the past couple of years, seen an increase in people coming into town wearing gang colours,” Davis said in an interview, adding they are seen by officers in the downtown at night wearing coloured bandanas and handkerchiefs in their pockets. “They certainly want to make a connection with the drug trade here. A lot of these gangs are looking for easy money.”

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Jim Bradley and Guelph MPP Liz Sandals were at the Guelph Police station Friday afternoon to announce $113,333 in funding for the Guelph Police Service.

The funds are part of a $15-million investment in the next two years to help Ontario police services fight gang activity, as part of the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy.

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Time for California to tackle prison overcrowding

With the U.S. Supreme Court upholding an order to reduce the state's inmate population, the Legislature should take a first step by creating a panel to revise sentencing guidelines.

Gov. Jerry Brown is a reluctant prison reformer; in his former job as attorney general, he fought hard to stave off a federal court order requiring the state to reduce its inmate population. But with Monday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding that order, Brown can't put off the big decisions anymore — and neither can the Legislature, which has been ignoring the prison problem for decades.

Perhaps because he understood the weakness of his own case, Brown seems to have been prepared for Monday's ruling in Brown vs. Plata, in which a 5-4 Supreme Court majority agreed that California's prison conditions were so bad that they violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Earlier this year he released a proposal for transferring thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails, and last month he signed a bill, AB 109, to accomplish that. But that may not suffice.

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U.S. Supreme Court orders massive inmate release to relieve California's crowded prisons

Justice Kennedy cites inhumane conditions, while dissenters fear a crime rampage. Gov. Jerry Brown seeks tax hike to fund transfers to county jails as prison officials hope to avoid freeing anyone.

Prison overcrowding

An undated photo from the California corrections department shows inmates in crowded conditions at the state prison in Lancaster. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must remove tens of thousands of inmates from its prison rolls in the next two years, and state officials vowed to comply, saying they hoped to do so without setting any criminals free.

Administration officials expressed confidence that their plan to shift low-level offenders to county jails and other facilities, already approved by lawmakers, would ease the persistent crowding that the high court said Monday had caused "needless suffering and death" and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

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Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts

The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.

In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

The news was not as positive in New York City, however. After leading a long decline in crime rates, the city saw increases in all four types of violent lawbreaking — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — including a nearly 14 percent rise in murders. But data from the past few months suggest the city’s upward trend may have slowed or stopped.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 17, 2011 — U of T Criminology student wins Trudeau Scholarship for research on women and violence

May 17, 2011
Jessica Lewis

May 17, 2011 — U of T Criminology student wins Trudeau Scholarship for research on women and violence

Alexandra Lysova

The prestigious Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship is being awarded to Alexandra Lysova, a PhD student in criminology at the University of Toronto, for her outstanding research on women’s attitudes in situations of recurring domestic violence.

The Trudeau Scholarships, which include an $180,000 award and the opportunity to be mentored by a leading scholar, is awarded to Canadian and foreign PhD social sciences and humanities students who examine Canadian concerns in fields such as environment, international affairs, citizenship and human rights. Fourteen students were named Trudeau Scholars this year.

Lysova’s research explores women’s involvement in intimate partner violence using information obtained in interviews with incarcerated women in Canada and the United States. Through this, Lysova hopes to assess the independent contributions of individual and relationship characteristics to the dynamics of women’s involvement in intimate partner violence.

“I am very much delighted and honoured to be awarded such a prestigious Canadian scholarship as the Trudeau Scholarship,” Lysova says. “It also validates the importance of studying the issue of female involvement in violence. I hope that the Trudeau Scholarship will assist me with the conditions and opportunities to reach my study objectives and career goals.”

The Foundation, established in 2001, is an independent and non-partisan Canadian charity. The newest Scholars will be introduced to the Trudeau community at the foundation's summer institute May 16 to 20 in Whistler, B.C.

“Trudeau Scholarships not only accelerate the careers of the doctoral students who receive them, but also enable recipients to make a constructive contribution to Canada and Canadians,” said Foundation President P.G. Forest. “The Trudeau Foundation rewards excellence and provides young researchers with the best conditions to ground their work in the real world.”

Congrats Sasha. Tom

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Outrage: Supreme Court Gives the Green Light for Cops to Raid Homes If They Smell Marijuana, Hear Suspicious Sounds

It all comes down to what the 4th amendment describes as "exigent circumstances."

The US Supreme Court Monday upheld the search of a Kentucky man's apartment after police broke in without a search warrant because they said they smelled burning marijuana and heard sounds suggesting he was trying to destroy the evidence. The decision in Kentucky v. King overturned a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in favor of the apartment resident, Hollis King, who was arrested after police entered his apartment and found drugs.

Fourth Amendment doctrine holds that police must obtain a search warrant to search a residence unless there are "exigent circumstances." In the current case, the exigent circumstance was that, after police knocked on the apartment door, they heard noises they said suggested evidence was being destroyed.

The Kentucky Supreme Court had held that police could not use the exigent circumstances exception because they themselves had created the exigent circumstance by knocking on the door. The US Supreme Court begged to differ.

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Comic Books as a Path to Prison Reform: An Interview With Activist Lois Ahrens

"Comic books place an individual's experience in a political context by describing how the prison system is built on racism, sexism, and economic inequality," Ahrens says.

Photo Credit: The Real Cost of Prisons Project

Lois Ahrens is the Founder/Director of The Real Cost of Prisons Project (RCPP) and has been an activist/organizer for more than 40 years. First started in 2001, RCPP brings together justice activists, artists, justice policy researchers and people directly experiencing the impact of mass incarceration to work together to end the U.S. prison nation. RCPP created workshops, a website that includes sections of writing and ‘comix’ by prisoners, a daily news blog focused on mass incarceration and three comic books that were first created in 2005: Prisoners Town: Paying the Price, by artist Kevin Pyle and writer Craig Gilmore; Prisoners of the War on Drugs, by artist Sabrina Jones and writers Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens; and Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children by artist Susan Willmarth and writers Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens.

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How frickin' typical. Rotten right-wing idea—prisons for profit—costs more

Privatization, whether of public transportation or public libraries, always comes with costs that the privatizers deny when they're lobbying to get the deed done. You know, little things like fewer routes and reduced schedules and smaller, lower-paid staffs accompanied by higher fares and fees. No surprise that the politicians in the pocket of the privatizers go along. But others, who should know better, frequently succumb as well to the siren call of we-can-take-this-expensive-burden-off-your-hands-and-it-will-end-your-budget-problems-forever. And then comes the screw job.

Nowhere except in the military is privatization a worse idea than in prisons. Abuse is rife and inhumane conditions, including overcrowding, are common. So are escapes. The corporations that build private prisons suck up development subsidies. And they go after small towns desperate for jobs.

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