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Showing posts from 2013

Our data, our laws

Over the past six months, the steady stream of disclosures from former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has revealed a massive surveillance infrastructure that seemingly touches all Internet and telephone communication across the globe.

While the issue has generated robust debates in many countries, the Canadian political response has been relatively quiet. In an effort to address the lack of oversight over Canadian surveillance activities, Liberal MP and former public safety minister Wayne Easter recently introduced Bill C-551, which would establish a National Security Committee of Parliamentarians.

The bill is a welcome move towards providing greater transparency and accountability for Canadian intelligence agencies, yet attention to oversight is not enough. We also need to address the legal framework under which these agencies operate, and the privacy protections granted to Canadians under the law.

Read on...

Monday morning massacre at L.A. Sheriff's Dept.

Any lingering doubt about whether there are deep-seated problems of abuse at Los Angeles County jails should be put to rest by Monday's arrests following the unsealing of formal charges against 18 current or former sheriff's deputies. Any inclination to pass off more than two years of news reports and official probes detailing inmate beatings as simply the result of a few rogue deputies should be shelved.

Some of the allegations are familiar, involving inmates suffering unwarranted abuse and beatings. One of the challenges in coming to grips with civil rights violations perpetrated against convicted criminals is that the victims receive little sympathy from most of the voters and taxpayers who put the sheriff in office and who pay his department's bills; after all, the thinking goes, criminals deserve punishment.
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This is an LA Times editorial.  Tom

From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses

When Teresa was 14 years old, her mother died. Feeling overwhelmed by the loss and estranged from her father who was grieving in his own way, she began sneaking out at night to be with a 20-year-old man she considered her boyfriend. Teresa’s father disciplined her harshly, which only made life at home even rockier. One morning, Teresa went to school and didn’t come back. Worried about his daughter, Teresa’s father called the police. When the officers found her, they took her to a respite shelter where she would be safe, but would also have some time away from home.  Almost immediately, a crisis counselor began working with Teresa and with her father, and after three days,Teresa was ready to go home and her father had some new ideas about how to talk to his daughter. The counselor also referred Teresa and her father to a therapist nearby who specializes in grief.  Teresa and her father live in Florida, where a statewide network of nonprofit organizations helps families in crisis. Flor…

Toronto police officer sentenced to 45 days prison for 2010 G20 assault of Adam Nobody

A Toronto police officer convicted of assaulting a protester during the G20 summit has been sentenced to 45 days in prison.

Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani was convicted in September of assault with a weapon for using excessive force during the arrest of protester Adam Nobody on June 26, 2010.

The Crown had called for a “short, sharp sentence of imprisonment” to send a message that those who abuse their positions of public trust and authority “will be dealt with severely.”

Andalib-Goortani’s lawyer, Harry Black, had asked for the officer to receive an absolute discharge.

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Delbert Tibbs, Who Left Death Row and Fought Against It, Dies at 74

It is not easy:
you stand waiting for a train or a bus that may never come no friend drives by to catch a ride cold, tired: call yourself a poet but work all day mopping floors and looking out for thieves. Those lines, describing the experience of an innocent man on death row, are from a poem by Delbert Tibbs, who in 1974 was convicted in Florida of a rape and a murder that he had nothing to do with, it was later found. He spent nearly three years in prison before the State Supreme Court reversed his convictions, vacated his death sentence and freed him. 
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Mark Kleiman, pot's go-to guy

Come New Year's Day, in Washington state and Colorado, marijuana will be legit, courtesy of two ballot initiatives. How do you create a legal business out of an illegal one? After 13 years of Prohibition, the country at least had an earlier legal liquor market to refer to. That's where Mark Kleiman comes in, the go-to expert on these matters. A UCLA professor of public policy and author and coauthor of books like "Marijuana Legalization," he's heard all the jokes about "hemperor" and "your serene high-ness." He was consulted by Washington state's liquor control board, which has to come up with the nuts and bolts for the new law and which asked him for, well, the straight dope.

What did Washington want to know?
They really wanted numbers from us: How big is the market? How do we allocate stores across the counties? What impurities should be tested for? What are the environmental impacts of cannabis production? If we limit the a…

Reorganizing Crime Mafia and Anti-Mafia in Post-Soviet Georgia

Looks at the phenomenon in Georgia of 'Thieves-in-law' (vory-v-zakone in Russian), career criminals belonging to a criminal fraternity originating in the 1930s from Soviet prison campsPoses questions surrounding criminal resilience to state attacks on organized crime and explores why the Georgian thieves-in-law had particularly weak resilienceBased on extensive fieldwork and utilizing unique access to primary sources of data such as police files, court cases, archives and expert interviews collected over a two year period Arising from Soviet prison camps in the 1930s, career criminals known as 'thieves-in-law' exist in one form or another throughout post-Soviet countries and have evolved into major transnational organized criminal networks since the dissolution of the USSR. Intriguingly, this criminal fraternity established a particular stronghold in the republic of Georgia where, by the 1990s, they had formed a mafia network of criminal associations that at…

Why William Bratton Is the Wrong Man to Lead the New York Police Department

The New York Timesis reporting that New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has chosen William Bratton to succeed Ray Kelly as commissioner of the New York Police Department. This will be Bratton’s second stint in charge of the NYPD; he also ran the department during the Giuliani administration, and received much credit for the substantial drop in the city’s crime rate during his tenure. Since then, Bratton has gone on to command the Los Angeles Police Department, work in private industry, serve as a criminal justice commentator on NBC, and, weirdly, be named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. (Bratton narrowly beat out de Blasio’s second choice for the job: Sir Archibald Whitworth of Sussex.)

Bratton will be expected to keep the city safe while simultaneously renewing New Yorkers’ confidence in a police department that has been sharply criticized in recent years, most often for its divisive stop-and-frisk policy. (De Blasio has promised to r…

Unarmed Man Charged With Assault Because Police Shot Bystanders When They Were Aiming For Him

The New York Police Department attracted yet more scrutiny in September, when police opened fire on an unarmed and seemingly unstable man who was weaving between cars in a busy Times Square intersection. Police missed their target, but shot two women nearby. Now, the city is blaming the officers’ botched shootings on the unarmed man, Glenn Broadnax, who has been charged with assault.

The indictment released on Wednesday accused Broadnax of being “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.” The two officers who actually pulled the trigger are still being investigated by the district attorney’s office. If he is convicted for the police shooting, Broadnax, 35, could be in prison for up to 25 years.

Broadnax’s attorney told the New York Times he cannot be held responsible for the officers’ actions, since he “never imagined his behavior would ever cause the police to shoot at him.” Indeed, at the time of the incident, many questioned if pulling a gun on…

Police Threaten Children Singing Outside House Republican Leaders’ Offices With Arrest

More than 40 youths with the immigration advocacy group Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) have been busy chasing down Congressional members in Washington, D.C. this week, but very few House members have been willing to meet with them. On Thursday, when activists between the ages of six to 15, marched to the Congressional offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), they were threatened with arrest by Capitol police officers for singing.
When activists filed into Cantor’s office, a Congressional aide called on police officers to remove more than a dozen youths who sang as a way to bring about immigration reform. In the video as children sang, “We want reform, we want it now,” an officer showed up to tell them to stop singing or to risk arrest if they did not leave the office.
OFFICER 1: Is anyone planning on getting arrested today or is this all peaceful demonstration? We have to ask you to leave … I appreciate what you…

Noam Chomsky: America Hates Its Poor

An article that recently came out in Rolling Stone, titled “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” by Matt Taibbi, asserts that the government is afraid to prosecute powerful bankers, such as those running HSBC. Taibbi says that there’s “an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.”  What is your view on the current state of class war in the U.S.?
Well, there’s always a class war going on. The United States, to an unusual extent, is a business-run society, more so than others. The business classes are very class-conscious—they’re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. Occasionally this is recognized.

We don’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.

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The Other Police State -- The Private Intel Industry Grows

On November 20th, the Center for Corporate Policy, a Washington, DC, good-government group, issued a revealing study, “ Spooky Business: A New Report on Corporate Espionage Against Non-profits.”  Written by Gary Ruskin, it confirms one’s worst suspicions about the ever-expanding two-headed U.S. security state

One “head” of this apparatus consists of the formal law-enforcement, security juggernaut.  It includes the vast network of federal, state and local entities that are duly, “legally,” constituted to maintain law and order.  It maintains state power.

The second “head” consists of a parallel “police” force, local and national corporate entities that use legal — and often questionable — practices to undermine democracy, most notably a citizen’s right to object to what s/he perceives as an unjust business practice.  It maintains corporate power.

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How the Supreme Court Is on the Verge of Delivering Even Greater Power to Corporations

The five right-wingers on the U.S. Supreme Court may soon recognize the “religious freedom” of corporations so that these artificial constructs can then dictate to female human citizens restrictions on the kinds of contraceptives that they can get through their work-place health insurance plans.

That may sound crazy but some court watchers  believe that the Right-Wing Five will follow the logic of their “corporations-are-people” theories to this next nutty conclusion. After all, if corporations have First Amendment rights of “free speech” when they are financing political propaganda to influence the outcome of U.S. elections, there is a consistency – albeit a bizarre one – to extending to corporations the First Amendment’s “religious freedom.”

Already unlimited corporate money in campaigns has drowned out regular human citizens in terms of who (or what) has the bigger say in the outcome of elections, so why shouldn’t the religious choices of corporations o…

How Texas’ Voter ID Law Could Lead To Six Hour Delays On Election Day

A provision of Texas’ new voter ID law could delay the amount of time required for hundreds of thousands of Texans to cast a ballot, forcing hours of delays at polling places across the state. Indeed, a ThinkProgress analysis of figures provided by the Dallas Morning News suggests that Texas voting precincts could require nearly six additional hours to process voters caught by this law in 2016.

In Dallas County, Texas, nearly 14,000 voters were delayed when attempting to cast a ballot, thanks to Texas’ new voter ID law. And that was in a low-turnout election last month where only six percent of the state’s registered voters turned out. In a presidential election year, nearly ten times as many voters are likely to turn out, likely resulting in ten times as many delays. In total, the voter ID law could force thousands of hours of delay spread across the many voting precincts in Texas.

The origin of this problem is a provision of Texas’ law that requires voters to sign an af…

Rochester Teens Arrested For Obstructing The Sidewalk While Waiting For School Bus

Three teen boys waiting for a school bus in Rochester, N.Y., were arrested Wednesday, after police claimed they obstructed pedestrian traffic by standing on the sidewalk.

The 16 and 17-year-old boys were charged with disorderly conduct, a catch-all that is often used to criminalize conduct of the homeless, or to punish those who are perceived as simply uncooperative, including school children.

A police report obtained by WROC in Rochester said the students were obstructing “pedestrian traffic while standing on a public sidewalk…preventing free passage of citizens walking by and attempting to enter and exit a store…Your complainant gave several lawful clear and concise orders for the group to disperse and leave the area without compliance.”

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Private Prison Company Allegedly Put 73-Year-Old Grandmother In Solitary Confinement For 34 Days

Carol Lester, a 73-year-old grandmother serving time in New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility in Grants, is suing Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the world, and Corizon, Inc, a private prison health care company, for denying her medical care and keeping her in solitary confinement for over a month.

Lester’s lawsuit, filed in late November, charges that the warden deliberately put her in solitary confinement because she complained to lawmakers and Department of Corrections officials that she and other women were being denied medical care.

Lester plead guilty to embezzling money from her employer to feed a gambling addiction in 2010. Soon after beginning her three-year sentence, the lawsuit charges that the privately run prison stopped giving her the prescribed medication she had been taking for thyroid cancer and gave her a new medication that made her sick. Lester started fainting on a regular basis, and medical sta…
New Juristat publication from Statistics Canada:  Co-offending in Canada: 2011
This Juristat article presents information on the nature and extent of co-offending in Canada. It addresses three key areas in relation to co-offending, including: the prevalence of co-offending, factors associated with co-offending and the seriousness of co-offending (i.e. whether incidents committed by two or more people are more or less serious than those committed by a lone accused). The article also examines other aspects related to co-offending, including street gangs, and clearance rates.
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A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Federal Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits

A new report by The Sentencing Project finds that the nation’s “war on drugs” posture of recent decades may have a devastating impact on the health and safety of women and children of color and their communities.  The report, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Federal Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits, concludes that a provision of the 1996 welfare reform legislation passed by Congress subjects an estimated 180,000 women in the 12 most impacted states to a lifetime ban on welfare benefits.
Highlights from the report: 12 states impose lifetime ban on welfare and food stamp benefits for all drug offenders; 25 others impose partial banRacial disparities in drug war produce adverse effect on communities of colorNo evidence that the ban prevents drug abuse or welfare fraud Read on...

Stemming the Tide:

The federal prison population has risen dramatically over the past few decades, as more people are sentenced to prison and for longer terms. The result? Dangerously overcrowded facilities and an increasing expense to taxpayers. In a new Urban Institute report, the authors project the population and cost savings impact of a variety of strategies designed to reduce the inmate population without compromising public safety. They find that the most effective approach is a combination of strategies, including early release for current prisoners and reducing the length of stay for future offenders, particularly those convicted of drug trafficking. Read on...

This is from the Urban Institute.  Tom

Cuts to Federal Funding Jeopardize Criminal Justice Initiatives Nationwide, Survey Finds

Vital federal funding that supports a variety of crime-prevention strategies, treatment programs, and innovative initiatives in our communities has decreased by 43 percent since 2010, according to a recent survey conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) and National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA). The survey examines the impact those cuts have on essential programs and staffing levels across the nation.

The second annual survey of state and local criminal justice practitioners was conducted to gain insight into the impact of these budget cuts, both those enacted as well as those still to come. The survey received more than 1,200 responses from all sectors of the criminal justice community, including law enforcement, the judicial system, corrections and community corrections, juvenile justice and prevention programs, victim assistance programs, and social services. It found that more than 75 percent of respondents reported funding cuts that led to workforce …

Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands

Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes. In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries—grounded in the principle of “normalization” whereby life in prison is to resemble as much as possible life in the community—also differ markedly from the U.S. In February 2013—as part of the European-American Prison Project funded by the California-based Prison Law Office and managed by Vera—delegations of corrections and justice system leaders from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania together visited Germany and the Netherlands to tour prison facilities, speak with corrections officials and researchers, and interact with inmates. Although variations in the definitions of crimes, specific punishments, and recidivism limit the availability of comparable justice statistics, this report describes the con…

RCMP Question Credibility Of 3 Tory Senators In Duffy Deal

RCMP documents filed in an Ottawa courthouse Wednesday reveal a level of skepticism the police have in the roles three Conservative senators played in the Mike Duffy expenses scandal.

The documents, filed as part of the RCMP's criminal investigation, make it clear the RCMP's lead investigator, Cpl. Greg Horton, does not fully believe information he has so far received from Senators Marjory LeBreton, Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk.

Through interviews with the three senators, as well as emails from various staffers in the Prime Minister's Office, the RCMP has attempted to piece together a picture of the role they may have had in the public relations game plan that was developed to explain why Duffy preemptively repaid his housing claims.

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Video Game Allows Players To Reenact Newtown Massacre

In an online video game, players follow shooter Adam Lanza’s footsteps the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary school mass shooting. Called “The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary School,” the widely condemned simulation takes players through the shootings of 26 children and adults before it shows their “score”:

Game creator Ryan Jake Lambourn claims it has a “gun safety” message, but activists against gun violence are baffled and disgusted by the game. The family of Victoria Soto, a murdered Newtown teacher, took their outrage to Twitter, telling Lambourn, “Please tell us how playing a game that recreates how Vicki died would be beneficial?” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told the Hartford Courant he hopes the “very disturbed person who could think of something like this sees the cruelty of what he’s done and stops it.” 

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How Conservatives Abandoned Judicial Restraint, Took Over The Courts And Radically Transformed America

Child labor laws hurt children. Social Security is an anchor dragging down economic growth, and Medicare should be abolished.

Those are the lessons I learn in a room full of conservative lawyers snacking on lamb sausage and Gorgonzola fondue — a room that’s absolutely packed with top practitioners, right-wing intellectuals and judges. I walked into the room alongside a Texas Supreme Court justice. When I reach to ladle some of the fondue onto a plate full of croutons, my hand accidentally brushes the arm of a federal court of appeals judge.

My sparring partner during much of this closing reception for the Federalist Society’s annual lawyer’s convention, is Ilya Somin, who is a law professor and writer for the Volokh Conspiracy, a popular legal blog that thousands of lawyers, law clerks and judges read every day. As Ilya lays out Social Security’s supposed vices, I wonder if his readers are aware of the breadth of his agenda. I also chide him that voters would have an easy ti…

Fixing our prisons: Answers are complex and will take time, money, and a public that cares

Ask an NDP or Liberal corrections critic how to improve the federal prison system and the answer will be short, and political.

Turf the Conservative government and its tough-on-prisoners agenda.

The federal Conservatives, of course, will say the tough-on-crime agenda is keeping everyone safer.
Various solutions rest between the political extremes.

Here's a snapshot of some of the ways federal and provincial governments could, and in some cases, are trying to handle the growing and changing populations behind bars, as well as the federal government's response to questions about safety in Canada's prison:

Federal and provincial reports and inquests have long recommended governments improve services for mentally ill and addicted offenders, and training in those areas for correctional officers.

There's been sporadic progress but it's going to be a long haul.

Read on....

Sentenced to a Slow Death

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense. 
As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving…

Prisoners Denied Medical Care, Told To Pray Instead

A year after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging grave medical neglect of prisoners by Arizona’s private prison health care providers, prisoners have continued to die or endure unnecessary suffering after lack of basic treatment. After asking for medical assistance, many prisoners were told to “be patient” or “pray,” according to a new report. In a particularly tragic case, a man with lung cancer, Ferdinand Dix, issued multiple requests for medical treatment. Instead of receiving proper attention, Dix was told to drink energy drinks. The cancer ultimately moved to the rest of his body, severely impacting his liver and lymph nodes, and resulting in Dix’s death.

The new report by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) issued this month found that medical neglect included “delays and denials of care, lack of timely emergency treatment, failure to provide medication and medical devices, low staffing levels, failure to provide care and p…

Cops Are Already Trying to Use Computers to Predict Crime -- It Ain't Gonna Work

Computers are predicting crimes for cops. What's next?

A small story popped up in the news this November -- "A unique collaboration between a University of California, Riverside sociologist and the Indio Police Department has produced a computer model that predicts, by census block group, where burglaries are likely to occur. ... The result is an 8 percent decline in thefts in the first nine months of 2013." The Indio police chief called the project the "wave of the future." 

And by all appearances, it does appear to be on the menu for Federal law enforcement. The National Security Agency and its digital dragnets like  PRISM -- one of the big Snowden leaks -- aren't just about immediate surveillance of criminal activity. That's only a limited use of the potential of a technology that creates profiles of a population, records all their significant behavior,

communications and who their friends are. A recent report from the FBI's Behavi…

Mike Tyson, Former Boxer and Convicted Rapist, Makes Charming Film With Spike Lee

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth affords Mike Tyson yet another big opportunity to open up. Spike Lee's new film (premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO) documents the controversial boxing legend's one-man Broadway show. Tyson—sharply dressed, sweaty, charismatic—commands the stage for an hour and a half, dishing on his public and private ups and downs. (The show was written by his wife, Kiki Tyson.)

"I came from the gutter," he says to the packed theater. He discusses (in full-on emotional vulnerability mode) his rough childhood and deaths in the family; his star-making fights and his history of substance abuse; his adrenaline rushes and his rude awakenings. He cracks a lot of cheap jokes, including one about Mitt Romney's whiteness and one about George Zimmerman.

This documentary and one-man show are the latest steps in his years-long effort to reinvent himself. Instead of a drug-addled, off-putting, ear-chomping fighter, he's now a sensitive, …

23 Petty Crimes That Have Landed People in Prison for Life Without Parole

As of last year, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 3,200 people were serving life in prison without parole for non-violent crimes. A close examination of these cases by the ACLU reveals just how petty some of these offenses are. People got life for, among other things...

Possessing a crack pipePossessing a bottle cap containing a trace amount of heroin (too minute to be weighed)Having traces of cocaine in clothes pockets that were invisible to the naked eye but detected in lab testsHaving a single crack rock at homePossessing 32 grams of marijuana (worth about $380 in California) with intent to distributePassing out several grams of LSD at a Grateful Dead showActing as a go-between in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana to an undercover copSelling a single crack rockRead on....

Unlearning Gun Violence

In 1995, an epidemiologist named Gary Slutkin returned to the United States from Africa where he had spent the previous decade helping Africans stem the spread of diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS and cholera. “I was exhausted,” he said in a TED Talk earlier this year. “I wanted to come home and take a break.”

Once back in Chicago, however, friends kept telling him about the epidemic of violence in inner-city neighborhoods. As he began to study the problem he came to the view that gun violence in poor neighborhoods did indeed resemble the epidemics he had treated in Africa. Maps that charted gun violence showed clustering — just like maps tracking infectious diseases. The greatest predictor of violence was a prior violent incident, which also mirrors epidemics. 
In 2000, he founded CeaseFire (now known as Cure Violence), a Chicago-based organization that treated violence in one such local cluster — in West Garfield, one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city — as a publi…

Jimmy Carter: Ban the Death Penalty

US Supreme Court should rule death penalty is 'cruel and unusual punishment,' said former presidentThe death penalty is a form of legalized "cruel and unusual punishment" and should be banned across the entirety of the U.S., former president Jimmy Carter urged in a Guardian interview published on Monday."It’s time for the Supreme Court to look at the totality of the death penalty once again,” said Carter. “My preference would be for the court to rule that it is cruel and unusual punishment, which would make it prohibitive under the U.S. constitution.” Carter's sentiment is shared by an increasing number of Americans. As recent polling has shown, support for the death penalty in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest rate in more than four decades. While a majority still approves of the measure, support has fallen from 80% in 1994 to roughly 60% today.
Currently, 32 U.S. states still allow the death penalty. However, as The Guardian notes, the majority o…

Why Do Brits Accept Surveillance?

Think of it as the ‘‘Skyfall’’ session. In a committee room of the House of Commons, the heads of the British secret services appeared on Thursday before a panel of M.P.’s in what might have been a re-enactment of that scene from the latest Bond movie — minus the shootout.

Even without gunfire, it was not short of drama. The mere sight of the heads of Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, along with the director of its listening post, G.C.H.Q., was spectacle enough. This was their first joint appearance in public, addressing a parliamentary intelligence and security committee whose hearings had, until now, always been held behind closed doors. (Indeed, little more than 20 years ago even the names of the intelligence chiefs were a state secret.) 
That fact alone guaranteed coverage on the evening news. Which meant a rare focus on the topic that provided the session’s most electrifying moments: the Edward Snowden affair. Rare because the dominant…

MafiaLeaks Website Lets Italians Anonymously Squeal on Organized Crime

Turns out that one episode of The Sopranos where the gang goes to Italy wasn’t exaggerating: the pasta-loving peninsula is still teeming with organized crime. And now, a new WikiLeaks-inspired website is hoping to put a dent in it.

Ten anonymous Italians created the site, according to the Daily Dot, in hopes of connecting police and journalists to people with inside knowledge about mob activity.

Read on...

Forecasting Rise In Inmate Population, Florida May Re-Open Nine Prison Facilities

Last year, Florida did what many other states did to save money in a tight budget. They closed prisons and other correctional facilities. But unlike other states that implemented “smart on crime” reforms, Florida didn’t change the laws that imprison most people in the first place.

So the closures didn’t stick. Now, with projected increases in its prison population over the next two years, the state’s Department of Corrections is seeking to re-open nine corrections facilities, including two prisons, two re-entry centers, and five work camps. Work camps are minimum to medium-security facilities where inmates are transferred to complete their sentences while performing work assignments for the prison or community.

Although Florida’s crime rate is at a 41-year low, the prison population continues to grow, with the largest increase coming from first-time drug offenders ensnared by undercover agents, according to a recent analysis by the state’s accountability office. Among those …

As Federal Prison Population Spiked 790 Percent, Average Drug Sentences Doubled

The federal prison population has ballooned 790 percent since 1980, and almost half of those now imprisoned are there for drugs. In the coming years, the Bureau of Prisons projects that prison overcrowding will get even worse. While federal prisons are now 35 to 40 percent over capacity capacity, they are expected by 2023 to reach 55 percent over capacity without a policy change, according to a new report by the Urban Institute.

The prison population explosion was not driven primarily by a spike in crime, but by a change in punishment. Over a 25-year period, average drug sentences doubled from 38.5 months in 1984 to 74 months in 2011. And over a similar period, the percentage of convicted federal offenders sentenced to prison spiked from 50 percent in 1986 to 90 percent in 2011. Before the passage of several draconian laws that impose mandated harsh sentences and remove judicial discretion, many offenders received probation or a fine for the same violations.

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Politics and the Canadian Language.  What would Orwell say about our curious brand of Newspeak?

The Senate expenses scandal, as the CBC now calls it, continues to grow, while the language used to describe it continues to shrink: we have fewer words to describe the scandal and those involved, and many of them are clichés like "bombshell" and "house of cards."

Without an extensive and nuanced vocabulary, our media provide a narrow and simplistic picture of events. Our own ability to think about those events is similarly narrowed.

Read on...
MPs cool to call for Access Act to cover their offices
Access to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has made repeated calls for Parliament to be covered by the Access to Information Act, but some MPs are raising privacy concerns.MPs on the House Access to Information Committee say that Parliamentary administration should be covered by the Access to Information Act, but some have concerns that extending the legislation to their own offices would infringe on their privacy and the privacy of their constituents.Read on...

Fifteen Tory motions to know about from the convention

Gathering in Calgary, Conservative delegates passed a series of motions aimed at carrying the party through the next election.

The policies were accepted or spiked on Saturday, the final of three days that the country's major players met in Calgary. The policies tackled a range of subjects, and could – or could not – ultimately steer the Conservative government. Here's a look at what passed – and one that didn't.
1. Sex-selective abortion In a motion by the riding association of pro-life B.C. MP Mark Warawa, delegates agreed to support a motion to condemn sex-selective abortion. The motion read: "The Conservative Party condemns discrimination against girls through gender selection."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said his government won't reopen the abortion debate, and Mr. Warawa said flatly "no" when asked if the motion did. "I'm very pleased that the Conservative Party of Canada has condemned the practice of…

Chess Grandmaster Takes On 10 Jail Inmates Blindfolded, And Wins

A chess grandmaster, ranked 3rd in the U.S., put his skill at playing blindfolded to the test Friday at the Cook County Jail, beating ten inmates in two hours, without ever seeing any of the chess boards.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports Timur Gareev visited the jail as part of a program aimed at helping inmates think things through, and be more thoughtful about their actions.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who started the program last year, said the goal is to direct inmates away from their predilection toward seeking out instant gratification, and urge them to think before they act. He said chess teaches people patience and strategy, and acting impulsively will be devastating.

Gareev played against 10 inmates on 10 different chess boards on Friday, with a black bandana covering his eyes. He visualized each game as moves were called out loud, letting him know each of his opponents move as they made them. Still, he couldn’t exactly keep track of every single piece on…

Enabling Justice to Be Seen to Be Done

We have reached a landmark moment for open justice and our legal system here in England and Wales. Starting today the ban on filming in the courts is lifted and broadcasters can film proceedings in the Court of Appeal.

New legislation has overturned a near-century long ban on filming in court. It follows a long campaign that I've been involved in with others across the broadcast industry. Before 1925 photographs were sometimes taken in court - for example in the case of Dr Crippen on trial for murder. Since then the public has not been able to see inside the court without being there in the public gallery.

The campaign to bring about the change has been a long process. Here in England we have watched the issue of cameras in court take off in many jurisdictions around the world. Regularly ITN - the news organisation I work for - shows footage in its news programmes from courts outside England and Wales - for example the case of Anders Breivik in Norway. Here we'…

Tasered senior files $1.1M lawsuit against Peel cops

MISSISSAUGA - An 80-year-old Mississauga woman with dementia and her daughter are suing three police officers and the Peel Regional Police Services Board for Tasering the elderly woman twice during an incident that left her with a broken hip.

Police found Iole Pasquale walking in the Thomas St. and Erin Mills Pkwy. area on Aug. 28 around 3:30 a.m. carrying a bread knife, according to the province's Special Investigations Unit. After attempts to get her to drop the knife failed, they used the Taser on her twice, causing Pasquale to fall and break her hip.

The senior is now suing for $1.1 million and her daughter, Angela, is seeking $250,000 in damages. Their lawyer, Clayton Ruby, filed the papers to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Thursday.

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Huffington Magazine This Week: Juvenile Injustice

In this week's issue, Chris Kirkham takes an in-depth look at a private prison empire based in Florida.

What he learns about the Youth Services International prison system is deeply disturbing -- the result of six months spent scouring thousands of pages of state audits, lawsuits, local police reports and probes by state and federal agencies, along with interviews with former employees and prisoners.
In Florida, YSI manages more than $100 million in contracts. And despite a record of abuse and mistreatment at its facilities, the company has continued to win business in several states.

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Can Theater Help Solve California's Prison Overcrowding Crisis?

Can theater help solve California's prison overcrowding crisis? The answer is yes.
The recent prison compromise between Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Senate presents California with a unique opportunity to provide a durable, transformative solution to its prison overcrowding problem by focusing on rehabilitation. One reason for the crowding crisis is California's highest-in-the-nation 63.7 percent recidivism rate. That means for every 1000 inmates that leave prison, 637 commit new crimes and land back in prison.

There is a better way -- and it saves taxpayer dollars.

Multiple studies show in-prison rehabilitation programs can significantly reduce the percentage of prisoners who re-offend. If California could reduce its recidivism rate by just 10 percent, that alone would solve the crowding problem. Any successful system of rehabilitation requires multiple components, ranging from mental health and drug treatment to education and skills training. One aspect th…

5 Things Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Has Done That Are Worse Than Smoking Crack

Yesterday, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair revealed that Mayor Rob Ford appears in a video smoking crack, confirming rumors that have been swirling for months. A close friend of the mayor was charged with extortion, apparently in connection with trying to recover the video.

But while the revelations rocked North America’s 4th largest city, it is hardly the first time Ford has brought disrepute to Toronto. While substance abuse may impact Ford personally and ultimately compromise his ability to perform his job well, here are five things Ford has done as an elected official that are arguably worse:

1. Voted against AIDS funding because “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably.” “‘These are the facts,’ he added when asked if he backed his earlier comments. According to the United Nations, the majority of those affected with AIDS are heterosexual, non-drug users.” [City News Toronto, 6/29/06]

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Urban Shield: 'The Epitome of State Repression' Coming to Town Near You

Meeting of SWAT teams and military contractors from around the world faces local opposition in Oakland, CASWAT teams, police forces, and military contractors from across the world will converge in Oakland, California this weekend—October 25-28—for a little-known 'Urban Shield' global training exercise and weapons technology expo that is bankrolled by millions of dollars from the Department of Homeland Security and arms manufacturers and is billed as a program to fight 'terrorism.' They will be met on Friday by protesters from over 30 Bay-Area community and peace and justice organizations who say this gathering, that stands at the nexus of global and domestic militarization, is not welcome in their city.

"What Urban Shield represents to us is the epitome of state repression that has been impacting communities of color and immigrant communities for decades," said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in an interview with Common Dream…

For-Profit Prisons Are Big Winners Of California's Overcrowding Crisis

When America's largest private prison company opened a 2,000-bed facility in a barren stretch of the Mojave Desert in southeastern California in 1997, there was no guarantee that any inmates would ever reside there.

California's exceptionally powerful prison guard union was waging a fierce campaign against private prison companies, telling voters that the facilities were poorly run and that the industry would take away union jobs. "Public safety should not be for profit," Don Novey, president of the prison guard union, told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.

Still, David Myers, the president of Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based giant of the for-profit prison industry, believed his company's decision to build a prison in that remote corner of the state would eventually pay off.

"If we build it, they will come," he predicted.

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Texas Judge Resigns After Allegedly Texting Advice To Prosecutor During Trial

Texas Judge Elizabeth Coker allegedly sent private texts to a prosecutor during a trial she was presiding over, in order to help that attorney obtain a guilty verdict. Although Judge Coker has not admitted to these allegations, she signed a “VOLUNTARY AGREEMENT TO RESIGN FROM JUDICIAL OFFICE IN LIEU OF DISCIPLINARY ACTION” on Monday rather than face further sanction.

According to Coker’s agreement to resign, she allegedly texted then-Assistant District Attorney Kaycee Jones during a trial “to suggest questions for the prosecutor to ask during the trial; to ensure that a witness was able to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony . . . and to discuss legal issues pertinent to the case.” Despite Judge Coker’s alleged breach of judicial impartiality, Jones was unsuccessful in obtaining a conviction.

This incident aside, Jones successfully defeated a longtime incumbent judge to join Judge Corker on the Texas bench. She was sworn into her new judicial role by Coker. Judg…

Outrage: "Cash for Kids": Firms Behind Juvenile Prison Bribes Reach $2.5 Million Settlement in Civil Suit

Two judges who were found guilty of bribing are in prison now.

We turn to the latest news in the so-called "kids-for-cash" scandal in Pennsylvania, in which judges took money in exchange for sending juvenile offenders to for-profit youth jails. In 2011, former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted of accepting bribes for putting juveniles into detention centers operated by the companies PA Child Care and a sister company, Western Pennsylvania Child Care. Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, are said to have received $2.6 million for their efforts. Now the private juvenile-detention companies at the heart of the kids-for-cash scandal in Pennsylvania have settled a civil lawsuit for $2.5 million. The state has also passed much-needed reforms aimed at improving its juvenile justice system and ensuring such abuses are not repeated. We are joined in Philadelphia by Marsha Levick, chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, which helped ex…

How a 1983 Murder Created America's Terrible Supermax-Prison Culture

On Oct. 22, 1983, inmates aligned with the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang murdered two corrections officers at the United States Penitentiary near Marion, Ill. The reverberations from those killings are still being felt in the American prison system. The murders sent Marion into lockdown for 23 years, ushered in the era of the modern Supermax prison, and normalized the chilling idea that the only rational way to deal with violent or notorious prisoners is to lock them up in small, isolated cells and throw away the key.

In 1983 Marion was the toughest penitentiary in the federal prison system. The maximum-security complex housed some of the country’s most violent inmates, and the worst of those were put in Marion’s “control unit.” Getting placed in the control unit was akin to being buried alive. Inmates were confined to their small cells for almost 23 hours a day. When they left their cells, they were shackled, guarded, and under constant surveillance. The conditions th…

Jim Crow II

A history of the fight for voting rights and the movement to restrict them once again.

In 1962, Bernard Lafayette Jr., a slim, erudite, 21-year-old civil rights activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was looking for a new assignment. He’d just finished exams at Nashville’s Fisk University, where he was one of a pioneering group of students who had desegregated Nashville’s lunch counters during the sit-ins and integrated interstate bus travel with the Freedom Rides. During the latter mission, Lafayette was beaten in Birmingham and arrested in Jackson, and he narrowly escaped death when his bus was attacked by white supremacists in Montgomery.

In the summer of 1962, Lafayette visited SNCC’s headquarters in Atlanta. SNCC executive secretary James Forman showed him a large map with tacks in places where the group was active. One place—Selma, Alabama—had a large X over it. SNCC had abandoned the city, Forman told Lafayette, because the organizing wo…

The Scholars Who Shill for Wall Street

Academics get paid by financial firms to testify against Dodd-Frank regulations. What’s wrong with this picture?

Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.”

Zywicki’s withering arguments against financial reform have earned him guest columns in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and on TheNew York Times’s website. Lobbyists repr…

Men on Domestic Violence: 'Society Empowers Men to Abuse ... I'm Sorry We Failed You'

Editor's Note: A nationwide, month-long letter-writing campaign called #31forMarissa has just finished its third week. The campaign encourages men to write about domestic violence, sharing stories that deal with the action, reaction and inaction of men in their family or community, and the legacy of that behavior. Every single day throughout October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, #31forMarissa will publish these letters of support to Marissa Alexander. The letters will then be sent to Alexander, a Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in jail after firing a warning shot at a wall near her abusive husband. She neither hit nor hurt anyone. Below is a compilation of excerpts from this past week’s letters. AlterNet will publish a weekly compilation of the letters. Click  here for more information on the campaign and to read the first full letter.

Join AlterNet as it engages in a conversation across generation, race and gender when it leads a Twitter chat…

Native-Born Americans More Likely To Commit Crimes Than Immigrants, Study Finds

A Pew Research Center report released last week found that second generation immigrants have “striking similarities” to their native-born, non-Hispanic white counterparts when it comes to committing crime. In fact, when it comes to crime rates, second-generation offenders are merely “catching up” to the native-born population.

Biance E. Bersani conducted the study using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, and found that criminality peaks at the age of 16 for 25 percent of the native-born population and a little less than 25 percent for second-generation immigrants. Meanwhile, 17 percent of 16 year old first-generation immigrants committed crime. Overall, first-generation immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than second-generation and native-born, non-Hispanic whites.

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Pot Legalization Effort Moves Eastward To Maine

Advocates of recreational marijuana use are looking to an upcoming vote in Maine as an indicator of whether the East Coast is ready to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legalizing cannabis.

Voters in Portland are being asked whether they want to make it legal for adults 21 and over to possess -- but not purchase or sell -- up to 2.5 ounces of pot. The Nov. 5 vote is being eyed nationally as momentum grows in favor of legalizing marijuana use.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports legalization, says it targeted Portland because it's Maine's largest city and because, unlike many other states and cities, it has an initiative process to get the referendum on the ballot. Organizers hope passage of the Portland initiative could spur similar results in other liberal Northeast cities.

"I think there's national implications, keeping the momentum that Washington and Colorado started last November in ending…

4 Police Brutality Victims’ Families Share their Stories Before National Day of Protest

While police brutality is gaining national attention, the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation will take place for its 17th year on Tuesday in nearly 50 cities across the country.

The protest was first organized in 1996, by a diverse coalition of groups and individuals who wanted to bring about resistance to police brutality on a national level.

Kathie Cheng, an organizer with the coalition, said that while national dialogue around police brutality declined after 9/11, there has since been a resurgence as more people are standing up and documentation has increased.

The coalition also works on the Stolen Lives Project, which monitors killings by law enforcement agents.

Cheng said the October 22 rally is important in reminding people that police are supposed to serve the people, not behave in a brutal fashion.

She said, “If there isn’t a very visible alternative to how people see police brutality,…

Bouncers Beat Patrons, and Cops Look the Other Way

The night of the beating, the beach bar pulsed with drunken euphoria. It was well past midnight on that cool December evening last year, a moment for celebration for two Canadians who ambled inside Dirty Blondes. One of the men, Erik Kormos, a yacht captain, had just gotten engaged to marry, so he and his friend Ernesto Palij, a chef, barhopped through this throbbing row of bars along A1A near its intersection with Las Olas Boulevard. Now, nestled into chairs around the bar, they ordered what would be the first of many drinks.

One hour melted into the next. Then, around 4 a.m., the two friends heard screaming and stepped outside to investigate. There, in an alley, two women — short skirts, messy hair, bloodied — thrashed at each other with nails and knuckled fists.

"Yo, man, do your job!" the 42-year-old Palij remembers yelling at a nearby bouncer standing at the melee's edge. "They're going to kill each other! Do something!"

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6 Reasons Privatization Often Ends in Disaster

Private systems are focused on making profits for a few well-positioned people. Public systems, when sufficiently supported by taxes, work for everyone in a generally equitable manner.
The following are six specific reasons why privatization simply doesn't work.

The Profit Motive Moves Most of the Money to the Top
The federal Medicare Administrator made  $170,000 in 2010. The president of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas made over  ten times as much in 2012. Stephen J. Hemsley, the CEO of United Health Group, made almost  300 timesas much in one year, $48 million, most of it from company stock.

In part because of such inequities in compensation, our private health care system is the most expensive system in the developed world. The  price of common surgeries is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany. Two of the  documented examples: an $8,000  special stress test for which Medicare would have paid $554; and a $…

Were Brutalist Buildings on College Campuses Really Designed to Thwart Student Riots?

Chances are good that if you went to college in the United States after, say, 1975, your campus featured at least one imposing, bunker-like concrete building in the architectural style known as “Brutalism.” Colorfully translated from Le Corbusier’s purely descriptive term béton brut (or “raw concrete”), Brutalist architecture—as it was developed and practiced during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s by architects like Alison and Peter Smithson in the U.K. and Paul Rudolph in America—favored heavy, solid shapes cast in intricately textured reinforced concrete , sharp angles, and a general sense of what architecture historians describe as “heroism” or “monumentalism.” Along with the contrastingly sleek vocabulary of glass and steel articulated by Mies Van Der Rohe, Brutalism is what probably comes to mind when people are presented with the term “High Modernism” in the context of architecture.

During its heyday, Brutalism was both big and big, especially at universities eager to demo…

Victim’s House Burned Down After She Accuses Football Star Of Rape

The Steubenville rape case attracted national attention last year because of how extraordinary — and terrible — that story was: A young girl was victimized first by her teenaged rapists, and then by the town itself, which engaged in the worst kind of victim-blaming and rushed to the defense of her attackers, who were athletes for the town’s pride and glory, the high school football team.

But in the months since that case first came to light, national attention has turned to more and more cases like Steubenville’s. Just this weekend, another, eerily similar story emerged — this time in the town of Marryville, Missouri.

The Kansas City Star published on Sunday their remarkable, seven-month investigation into an eerily similar story that unfolded last year in the small, northwestern Missouri town of Maryville. In this case, though, the rape victim never got to see her horror story go to trial — and the family’s terror hasn’t ended; they’ve even had their house burned down…

Chronicle of a Death Retold

It will be an anniversary draped in black crêpe and ribboned with old newsreels, a day of somber re-appraisals by the usual bores and lurid speculations by the usual loons. But beneath the cacophony, not all of it generated by Chris Matthews’s yap, will rest the severed feeling of irretrievable, inexplicable loss. Fifty years ago, on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated riding in a motorcade cruising through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, the top of his head torn off by a rifle shot fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, his brain matter spilling into the lap of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, whose pink suit and pillbox hat colorize our memories of a noir nightmare unfolding under a noonday sun. Like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in 1941, and the destruction of the Twin Towers, in 2001, J.F.K.’s assassination was one of those unifying, defining moments when everyone alive remembers where they were when the news struck, shattering …

Supreme Court will tackle affirmative action once again

An affirmative action backlash that began in California and migrated to Michigan has now reached the Supreme Court, with university admissions and more potentially on the line.

In one of the new term’s highest-profile cases, the court on Tuesday will consider a Michigan ballot measure that bans the use of race in public university admissions. Inspired by a similar measure in California, the Michigan policy has divided other states, while giving court conservatives their latest chance to roll back race-based preferences.

“This measure was so polarizing that it created a racial divide,” Mark Rosenbaum, the chief counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said Thursday. “Instead of healing the nation’s wounds, it actually opens those wounds.”

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