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Showing posts from April, 2013

Photos: Doing Time on a Southern Prison Farm

In the summer of 1964, Bruce Jackson—then a junior fellow at Harvard—arrived in Texas to record work songs on several state prison farms. He was researching the music and folk culture of incarcerated men, a project that had earlier steered him to Indiana State Prison and Missouri Penitentiary. Landing in Texas was essentially dumb luck; Jackson had family there, and knew that the Lone Star State claimed many of the country's harshest prison farms.

Besides audio equipment, he also brought a 35mm Nikon with which he intended to create a visual diary of the inmates he met. Fifteen years and thousands of photos later, the diary had become more like an encyclopedia—portions of which you can now read.

In his new book, Inside the Wire: Photographs From Texas and Arkansas Prisons, Jackson documents a society and economy whose roots were entwined with the antebellum South. Many prison farms were converted slave plantations that still bore the family name of long-buried land…

The Neoliberal Assault on Academia

The neoliberal sacking of the universities runs much deeper than tuition hikes and budget cuts, notes Barkawi.

TheNew York Times, Slate and Al Jazeera have recently drawn attention to the adjunctification of the professoriate in the US. Only  24 per cent of university and college faculty are now tenured or tenure-track.

Much of the coverage has focused on the  sub-poverty wages of adjunct faculty, their lack of job security and the  growing legions of unemployed and under-employed PhDs. Elsewhere, the focus has been on web-based learning and the massive open online courses ( MOOCs), with some commentators celebrating and others lamenting their arrival.

The two developments are not unrelated. Harvard recently asked its alumni to volunteer their time as "online mentors" and "discussion group managers" for an online course. Fewer professors and fewer qualified - or even paid - teaching assistants will be required in higher education's New Order.

Lost amid …

Schoolchildren May Soon Wear Bulletproof Military-Style Vests

Post-Newtown, sales for bulletproof backpacks and whiteboards have soared as parents and school districts seek to take children’s safety into their own hands. The reaction is along the lines of what the National Rifle Association has promoted for months: that armed guards, and not gun regulation, is the answer to school shootings. Congress responded to parents’ concern by caving to pressure from the NRA and blocking the only serious federal attempt to pass gun safety legislation earlier this month.
But if armed educators, bulletproof school supplies, and metal protectors weren’t enough, a company that offers ballistic safety equipment is marketing military-style vests for schoolchildren:

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TV, gym, DVDs (and no 18-plus films)... prisoners will have to 'earn privileges' in jails as Government cracks down on lax regime

Prisoners will no longer have the automatic right to a television in their cell and could be barred from going to the gym, wearing their own clothes and watching DVDs unless they are prepared to work, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will announce today.

As part of a part of a package of measures to appease right-wing complaints that prisons are too lax inmates will be made to “earn privileges” that are currently automatic.

This will include an expectation that inmates will no longer be able to turn down prison work without consequences while perks such as pay TV will end altogether.

However prison reformers criticised the plans as “punishing people for an idleness that prisons encourage” and said it was “bizarre” to be introducing new layers of red tape which would add to the cost of prison and demands on staff time.

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Obama's Judicial Nominees Blocked On All Sides By Senate Republicans

- It's bad enough that there are 82 vacant federal judge slots around the country, a level so high that manyobservers have deemed it a crisis situation.

But perhaps even more startling is the fact that of those 82 vacant slots, 61 of them don't even have a nominee.

On its face, the absence of nominees would appear to be a sign that President Barack Obama is slacking. After all, he is responsible for nominating judges, and he did put forward fewer nominees at the end of his first term than his two predecessors. But a closer look at data on judicial nominees, and conversations with people involved in the nomination process, reveals the bigger problem is Republican senators quietly refusing to recommend potential judges in the first place.

The process for moving judicial nominees is simple enough. A president takes the lead on circuit court nominees, while, per longstanding tradition, a senator kickstarts the process for district court nominees, which make up the bu…

Police Raid Home of Medicinal Marijuana Multiple Sclerosis Patient, Throw Her Kids in Foster Care

Three prominent advocates for medical marijuana in Idaho had their children taken away last week after the police investigated them on charges relating to marijuana trafficking. Their sons were considered to be in “imminent danger” by law enforcement, and they were all taken away and put in foster case, local news outlet KTVB reports.

The activists are Lindsey and Josh Rinehart and Sarah Caldwell. All three of them are leaders in the group Compassionate Idaho, which advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana in Idaho. The activists were on a trip, but when they got back to the Rinehart residence, their sons were gone. While Caldwell’s two sons are back with her, the Rineharts’ sons remain in foster care. 
“They took my children. Due to cannabis being present in the house,” said Lindsey Rinehart, the executive director of Compassionate Idaho. “They say their goal is to return our children to our home once it is deemed safe. They say our children will be in foster…

Cover Of NAACP’s Official Magazine Features Justice Scalia With Confederate Bandanna

Scalia’ comment, and the NAACP’s commentary upon it, highlights one of the many pitfalls facing the Republican Party as it attempts to rebrand itself as a party that can potentially appeal to voters of color. Just a few weeks after Scalia’s “racial entitlement” comment, the Republican National Committee released an “autopsy” of it’s 2012 election losses claiming that “the Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round” and that “[i]t is imperative that the RNC changes how it engages with Hispanic communities to welcome in new members of our Party.”

Meanwhile, while Scalia’s four fellow Republican justices do not share his penchant for offensive rhetoric, they appear poised to join Scalia strike down a key prong of the Voting Rights Act that likely did more than any other law to bury Jim Crow. Similarly, on the same day that the RNC released its autopsy, three top Republicans responded to President Ob…

A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them. 
On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count. 
Read on...
This is from a NYTimes op-ed. Tom

Mass Violence, Gun Control and the American Culture of Death

Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon took the lives of three people and injured at least 175, some critically. The blasts also threaten to take another casualty, postponing, if not entirely derailing, the Senate debate on gun control as right-wing opponents of firearm safety legislation rush to argue the folly of trying to stop violence with any type of legislative reform. 

The questions for progressives thus arise: Should we urge the Senate to proceed with the debate? Or should we condemn both chambers of Congress and the president for doing too little, too late to deal with the problem of mass violence, whatever its origin, and what some have termed the nation’s culture of death?
The answer is both, with an urgent emphasis on the latter. 

Let’s start by looking at the bright side. On April 11, by a margin of 68-31, the Senate voted to begin consideration of gun legislation, turning back a Republican filibuster threat and paving the way for the most significant congression…

The Dred Scott award for revealing Supreme Court Justice statements

And the winner is .... Uncle Nino:

Justice Antonin Scalia this week escalated his criticism of the Voting Rights Act ahead of a Supreme Court decision expected within the next two months — raising the likelihood that he and perhaps a majority of justices will overturn the landmark law.

Speaking on Monday night at the University of California’s Washington Center, in D.C, Scalia described a centerpiece of the 1965 law as an “embedded” form of “racial preferment,” in remarks captured by the Wall Street Journal. He reportedly warned that the law would be reauthorized into perpetuity unless the courts invalidate it.
During oral arguments in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, in late February, Scalia said that portion of the law — and its repeated renewal by Congress — reflects a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” The other conservatives justices were also deeply skeptical that Section 5 of the law remains valid given the changing times. "Racial preferment", &q…

Toronto tracks homeless in $120G survey

There should be an updated tally of Toronto's homeless population by early July.
Around 500 volunteers were out Wednesday night to count the city's homeless as part of the third street needs assessment.

The last survey -- a point-in- time census of the homeless-- was done in 2009.

This year's survey will cost about $120,000.

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Sentencing Commission Nominee Supported Handcuffing Prisoners To Hitching Posts Under Hot Sun

Handcuffing a prisoner to a hitching post for seven hours, denying him water, and then taunting him about his thirst as the summer sun beat down upon him was a “a cost-effective, safe and relatively pain-free way to impel inmates to work,” according to the Alabama Department of Corrections, and a brief filed by former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (R) in 2002 called upon the Supreme Court to defer to this determination. Thanks to President George W. Bush, Pryor is now a federal appellate judge. And, if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gets his way, he will soon have even more control over what kinds of punishments are doled out to federal defendants.

The powerful United States Sentencing Commission sets the federal sentencing guidelines which form the basis of most criminal sentencing handed down by federal judges. Although there are some constitutional limits on the extent to which the Commission can increase federal sentences by altering the Guidelin…

Michael Glawogger's "Whores' Glory"

Michael Glawogger does for documentary film what Ryszard Kapuściński did for journalism: He reinvents it as something immersive, meditative, and poetic. His films condense themes of staggering complexity—economics, labor, sex—into meticulous vignettes of everyday life. Although he has occasionally been derided for aestheticizing poverty, there's little doubt that his audacious style is compelling. Nobody who has seen Megacities, his 1998 film about globalization, can forget those feverish New York City scenes of a hustler shooting dope and robbing his john at knifepoint, just as nobody who has watched Workingman's Death (2005), his portrait of contemporary physical labor, can shake its images of a Nigerian slaughterhouse awash in blood. Read on...

Still too many prisoners in California

Gov. Jerry Brown is fighting the courts, but he should be trying harder to curb inmate overcrowding. Federal judges rejected Gov. Brown's request that they return control of California's still-overcrowded prison system to the state. Above: Inmates are seen at California State Prison-Lancaster in 2010. (Los Angeles Times / June 10, 20)
It may come as a disappointment to Gov. Jerry Brown — but it certainly should not come as a surprise — that a panel of federal judges rejected his request that they return control of California's still-overcrowded prison system to the state. The network of 33 state prisons continues to hold more than 9,000 inmates beyond the court's mandated cap, and Brown's administration has not presented a realistic plan to eliminate that excess, even though the court has extended the deadline for compliance from June 30 to the end of the year.

Brown is vowing to appeal to the U.S. Supreme…

New Research Confirms Gun Rampages Are Rising—and Armed Civilians Don't Stop Them

By the time the nation confronted the unthinkable school massacre in Connecticut last December, Mother Jones' groundbreakinginvestigation of mass shootings, launched the prior summer, had shown that mass gun violence in America was on the rise. The trend appeared to be no coincidence in light of the proliferation of guns and looser gun laws nationwide. One leading criminologist took issue with our criteria, arguing that mass shootings had not become more common. But now, research from an expert on criminal justice at Texas State University further shows that gun rampages in the United States have escalated.
The research, to be published in a book in July, further confirms that:
Public shooting rampages have spiked in particular over the last few yearsMany of the attackers were heavily armedNone of the shootings was stopped by an ordinary citizen using a gun The author of the study, Pete Blair, advises law enforcement officials and has conducted extensive research on gun ram…

At Least 4 People Were Accidentally Shot By Toddlers Since Last Weekend

All week, official Washington is fixated on the question of whether the 14 senators who’ve promised to filibuster any gun safety legislation will succeed in their efforts to maintain the status quo. Meanwhile, gun violence continues unabated in the rest of the nation. In a particularly tragic chapter in our nation’s struggle with such violence, at least four people — including two children — were seriously injured or killed since last weekend in accidental shootings where toddlers obtained loaded weapons:
A Tennessee woman was shot in the stomach by her 2-year-old child on Sunday. Rekia Kid was sleeping with the toddler and her three-week-old baby when the toddler discovered a Glock 9 mm stored underneath her pillow and discharged the weapon. Kid managed to get out of the house and crawl to a neighbor’s porch where she was found by the neighbor, who told local news “[s]he just kept screaming that she didn’t think she was going to make it, she didn’t think she was going to m…

Top Enron Fraudster Will Spend Less Time In Prison Than A Father Who Sold His Own Pain Pills

John Horner had no record of drug-dealing when he was sentenced to a 25-year mandatory minimum prison term for selling some of his own pain pills to an undercover informant who befriended him and told him he could not afford both his rent and his prescription medication. Horner, a fast-food restaurant worker and a father, had been prescribed the pain medication because of an injury in which he lost an eye, according to a BBC report.

If, as expected, he serves all 25 years, Horner will be 72 when he is released, and he will have spent more time in prison than the former Enron CEO who was convicted in one of the largest corporate fraud schemes in modern history. Last week, the Department of Justice said it is considering a deal to shorten Jeffrey Skilling’s sentence. But even if he serves every year, Skilling will still have fared better than Horner with a sentence of 24 years.

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Still searching for G20 answers

Almost three years later, we still don’t know.

Who gave the ridiculous order that Sunday morning of the infamous G20 weekend to arrest anyone wearing a bandana? Smarting from the embarrassing disaster of the previous day’s Black Bloc riot, did someone in “upper command” actually instruct officers that it was now open season on innocent Toronto residents daring to wear a scarf downtown?

Did this come from an angry and frustrated Chief Bill Blair? Or from some other senior police officer from another agency? And why would the agency tasked to review such police matters refuse to investigate further?

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White House Budget Would Fund Drug Punishment Over Treatment

The Obama administration budget released Wednesday emphasizes drug abuse punishment and interdiction over treatment and prevention, despite recent rhetoric from the Office of National Drug Control Policy on a "21st century" approach.

The White House budget proposal for fiscal 2014 devotes 58 percent of drug-control spending to punishment and interdiction, compared with 42 percent to treatment and prevention. The drug control spending ratio in this year's budget is even more lopsided, 62 percent to 38 percent.

"The administration deserves some credit for moving this ratio slightly in the right direction over the years, but a drug control budget that increases funding for the DEA and the Bureau of Prisons is simply not the kind of strategy we need in the 21st century," said Marijuana Majority spokesman Tom Angell. "At a time when a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and states are moving to end prohibition, this president should…

Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot

Executive Summary Children with disabilities are three times more likely than children without them to be victims of sexual abuse, and the likelihood is even higher for children with certain types of disabilities, such as intellectual or mental health disabilities. 1 However, sexual abuse of children with disabilities has not garnered the attention of policymakers, practitioners, advocates, or community members.These children are also less likely to receive victim services and supports that are more readily available to other victims because of a variety of factors including barriers to reporting and a lack of responses tailored to meet their unique needs. Without receiving support, these children suffer serious long-term aftereffects, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, as well as an increased risk of victimization in adulthood Read on...
This is from the Vera Institute. Tom

The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration

In the first decade of the 21st century the United States began to experience a shift in the 30 - year buildup to a world record prison system. Although the decade ended with an increased number of people in prison, the rate of growth overall was considerably below that of previous decades and since 2008 the overall number of people in state prisons has declined slightly each year.

Scholars are beginning to analyze the relative contributions of changes in crime rates, criminal justice policies, economics, and demographics to the slowing growth rate of the prison system, but one area that has gone largely unexplored is the impact of such changes on racial disparities in imprisonment. As is well known black/white disparities in the use of incarceration have been profound for quite some time. Since the 1980s a series of analyses have documented these trends at the national level as well as examining variation in disparity among the states. 1 As prison populations fluctuate, though, th…

Ohio Is Illegally Throwing Poor People in Jail For Owing Money

A new report shines a light on a harrowing “debtors’ prison” system in Ohio — one that violates both the United States’ and the Ohio constitution.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union on Friday revealed that courts in Ohio are illegally throwing poor people in jail for being unable to pay off a debt.

In a report titled, “ The Outskirts of Hope,” (PDF) the ACLU shines a light on a harrowing “debtors’ prison” system in Ohio — one that violates both the United States’ and the Ohio constitution. Ohioans are being jailed for “as small as a few hundred dollars,” despite the constitutional violation, and the economic evidence that it costs the state more to pay for their jail sentence than the amount of the debt.

In its report, the ACLU details the stories of several people sent to debtors’ prison. Jack Dawley owed $1,500 in “fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court,” and was behind on child support payments, leading the Ohio courts to send him to prison in Wisconsin for 3 …

Crime legislation: Focus on facts, not fear

Knee-jerk reactions often lead to flawed criminal justice laws. Calm deliberation would be better. California already had what were arguably the nation's toughest sex offender laws in 2006 when voters, spurred on nightly by fear-mongering television hosts such as Nancy Grace and Bill O'Reilly, adopted this state's version of Jessica's Law. Proposition 83 required all convicted sex felons, whether violent or not, whether still on parole or not, and whether at high or low risk of reoffending, to wear electronic monitoring devices for the rest of their lives. Drafters ignored the fact that there was virtually no evidence that global positioning satellite tracking reduces the number or severity of sex crimes, and they didn't consider whether to allocate the high costs of perpetual monitoring to the state or to county governments. They didn't think through how to penalize parolees and post-parole registrants who cut off or disabled their ankle monitors.

A …

The 1922 Straw Hat Riot Was One of the Weirdest Crime Sprees in American History

A straw boater hat lays on the grass on the first day of the Henley Royal Regatta at Henley-on-Thames on June 28, 2006 in Oxfordshire, England.
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Though I’ve covered a lot in my time at the helm of Slate’s crime blog, I haven’t yet delved into crimes against fashion. I’m not talking about wearing white tube socks with a business suit, although people who do that certainly merit the harshest punishments imaginable. No, I’m here to discuss those times when violent gangs of hoodlums take to the streets in great numbers, viciously attacking all those whose apparel is out of season. I’m talking about the Straw Hat Riot of 1922.

There’s nothing particularly old-fashioned about violent youth gangs tearing through city streets, assaulting hapless passerby—it happened just last weekend in Chicago. But it has been a very long time since those gangs were motivated by an intense dislike of the straw boater hats favored by garden part…

NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly 'wanted to instil fear' in black and Latino men

At stop-and-frisk trial, New York state senator and former police captain Eric Adams testifies about 2010 conversation with Kelly

Demonstrators protest the NYPD's stop-and-frisk police outside of Manhattan federal court last month. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters The commissioner of the New York City police department views the controversial practice of stop, question and frisk as a means to instil fear in young African American and Latino men, a New York state senator testified in a federal court on Monday.

State senator Eric Adams, who retired from the NYPD after rising to the rank of captain during a 22-year career, said commissioner Ray Kelly described his views on stop and frisk during a July 2010 meeting in the office of then-governor David Patterson.

Adams had traveled to Albany for a meeting on 10 July 2010 with the governor to give his support for a bill that would prohibit the NYPD from maintaining a database that would include the personal information of…

Georgia Town Passes Mandatory Gun Bill

Late Monday, Nelson, Georgia passed a law called the “Family Protection Ordinance” that requires every adult in the 1,300-person town to own a gun “for purposes of emergency management and general safety of the city.”

The town’s Police Chief, Heath Mitchell, told the AP that he hopes “having a gun would help residents take their protection into their own hands,” since the town has an understaffed police department and slow response time to 911 calls.

One councilman even used the National Rifle Association’s call for arming all Americans to defend the law, saying “I really felt like this ordinance was a security sign for our city. Basically it was a deterrent ordinance to tell potential criminals they might want to go on down the road a little bit.” Overall, the measure signals that government officials believe residents, not police departments, should be responsible for their own protection and rejects state and federal governments’ efforts to reduce gun violence throug…

Rate Of Mental Illness Exceeds Gang Membership In Texas’ Juvenile Detention

In Texas juvenile detention facilities, the rate of mental illness now exceeds the rates of those affiliated with a gang, according to an Associated Press analysis. Substance abuse and dependency are particularly rampant, affecting almost 1,100 of the current 1,411 inmates. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s director said last month that the percentage of mentally ill incarcerated youths spiked from 39 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2013, demonstrating that the problem of criminalizing mental health problems is not isolated to adult jails and prisons.

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STUDY: States With Loose Gun Laws Have Higher Rates Of Gun Violence

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies in Congress frequently claim that gun violence is highest in places with the toughest crime laws. But a new study from the Center for American Progress (CAP) suggests something closer to the opposite is true — the states with laxer gun laws tend to be the ones contributing the highest shares of national gun deaths and injuries.

The authors of the report, called “America Under The Gun,” developed a list of ten indices of gun violence, ranging from gun homicide levels to firearm assaults to crime gun export rate (the number of guns sold in that state used in crimes around the country), and ranked each state from 1-50 along each index. They then took the average of each state’s ranking to determine its overall level of gun violence relative to other states. Lousiana was the highest, with an average of fifth-worst across all ten indices, while Hawaii’s 45.4 ranking was the best.

A statistical regression comparing these ranki…

Taibbi: Politicians and Law Enforcement Have Trapped Too Many People in Jail for Life with Extreme Three Strikes Laws

A parade of politicians and law enforcement officials has created a Pandora’s box that’s trapped countless low-income offenders.
California’s colossal calamity known as the Three Strikes sentencing law was made less  strident by voters last fall. But according to a  profile by Matt Taibbi in  Rolling Stone, the wreckage from 16 years of putting people away for life continues to extract an absurd toll in which thousands of petty criminals and mentally ill people are jailed for no good reason.  

California passed its law after the brutal kidnapping and murder of a 12-year-old  girl in a small northern California town in 1993. But as Taibbi chronicles, a parade of Democratic and Republican politicians, law enforcement officials and get-tough-on-crime activists has created a Pandora’s box that’s trapped more low-rent offenders than anyone else, ruining lives and costing taxpayers multiple millions.

The law imposing life for anyone convicted of a third felony took effect on March…