Thursday, February 19, 2009

Law and Disorder in America: the true story of judicial corruption

Few things before the main story.

First, you should be aware that each business/special interest, from gun producers to foreign countries, have lobbies in the USofA. Lobbyists' job is to funnel favors and/or moneys and promises of future favors/moneys for voting how a lobby wants - or rather, the people who pay the lobbyist want.

That is why after "retirement", our public "servants" (snort!) somehow become "consultants" or sit on boards of directors, and wind up getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars annually while... doing nothing (many times not being required to do anything, or even show up).

Lobbying is, in the simplest definition, legalized corruption.

(That is why I am always very amused when the USofA lectures other countries on their levels of corruption - that is almost as funny as USofA giving pointers to other countries on how to run a democracy).

Since imprisoning people is a private business in America, it goes without saying that the prison industry has its own lobby and hard working lobbyists.

As an example, lets take a look at Top Private Prison Lobbyists in Texas - how much they made in 2007.

Going to the main site - texasprisonbidness.org - we happen on the following quote:

What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.


So, think about this in the simplest way, common sense logic.

The prison lobby lobbies for more prisons to be built, for more prisoners to be locked up.

How do they do that?

Exactly how do they lobby for more jails and more prisoners?

Think - common sense, easiest to understand, Occam's razor.

Of course - they lobby for tougher laws, for keeping marijuana illegal, for jailing people for committing the most trifling of an offense.

Unfortunately, the original Washington Post article is gone, but a great primer is on the trishwilson blog, which uses said article's quotes (while at it, take a look at that woman's blog - it is a hoot :-).

With 2.2 million people engaged in catching criminals and putting and keeping them behind bars, "corrections" has become one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy, employing more people than the combined workforces of General Motors, Ford and Wal-Mart, the three biggest corporate employers in the country. Correctional officers have developed powerful labor unions. And most politicians, whether at the local, state or national level, remain acutely aware that allowing themselves to be portrayed as "soft on crime" is the quickest route to electoral defeat.


Got that?

"Corrections" - the prison industry - is bigger than GM, Ford and Walmart - combined.

Trish picks up the narrative:
A paragraph at the end of the article caught my attention: "Last year Robert Presley, secretary of California's correctional agency, noted that after several years of decline, crime rates were rising again and his state's prison population had resumed its growth. Maximum-security inmates made up the fastest-growing segment. Despite the building boom of the previous 20 years, prisons were at an average of 191 percent of capacity. This hardly sounds like a recipe for a falling prison population."

The reason California's prison population has resumed its growth is not because of an increase in crime rates. It is due to restructuring of laws that permit more people to land in jail. One example is California's "Three Strikes" law. Washington state, Georgia, and Michigan have similar laws. The disparity between crime trends and incarceration rates reminded me of bogus statistics about the alleged rise in juvenile crime, delinquency, and drug use that has supposedly been on the rise due to the increase in single and divorced mother homes. In fact, those criminal trends have been dropping.


The prison lobby fights hard for tougher laws, for putting you in jail for smoking a joint, for tying the hands of judges with the "three strikes and you're out" laws - which means that if you get caught three times doing something inane.

Example?

Here you go:
Gregory Taylor, for instance, was a homeless man who used to hang around outside St Joseph's church in Los Angeles and would often ask the priest for food. The priest was usually able to find him something over the nine or so years he knew him. Shortly after 4am one morning in 1997, Taylor decided he could not wait for the friendly priest and pried open the church's kitchen door. A security guard spotted him and the police were called. He is now serving 25 years to life because the break-in was his third felony.


Multiply this case by a few thousand, tens of thousands, and you have an idea of the scale of the problem that is the prison lobby in the USofA.

So where does an inhumane, tragically comic system lead to?

The logical progression: the end of the path

MSNBC: Pa. judges accused of jailing kids for cash .
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.


Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC.


The two judges in this case, Ciavarella and Conahan, are under investigation.

In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.

One of the contracts — a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million — was later canceled by the county as exorbitant.

The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006.


Did you catch that?

The judge, Conahan, helped to shut down the government run juvenile prison, and helped open up two private run ones.

He had contracts, and was being paid by the private juvenile prisons, and his pay was dependent on how many children he will send to the children's prison - an American gulag.

Did you catch how much money the two judges took from the private prisons? $2.6 million in payoffs, in fact.

Lets name some more names, shall we?
In addition to the judges, the plaintiffs are suing two individuals who allegedly paid the kickbacks: attorney Robert Powell, who co-owned PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care LLC until last June; and Robert Mericle, who owns one of the largest commercial construction firms in northeastern Pennsylvania and built the detention centers.


What a lovely bunch of people down there in ole Pennsylvania.

What were the kids guilty of, then?

Lets take an example, from the NPR web page:
The lead plaintiff is Florence Wallace, whose 14-year-old daughter Bernadine was charged with terroristic threats after getting into an argument on MySpace. The lawsuit said the teenager was not advised of her right to an attorney and was pressured to plead guilty. She was taken from Ciavarella's courtroom in shackles and spent time in PA Child Care and at a youth wilderness camp.

As a result of the judges' corruption, parents were forced to pay for the "wrongful incarceration" of their children, the suit said. Some parents had their wages garnished, public assistance benefits taken and social security benefits seized.


Why, terrorism, of course!

What else?

Jurist.law.pitt.edu:
But the worst part was not the obvious dishonesty and greed that motivated these judges to sell their robes, or even that they profited by incarcerated people who did not belong there. The worst part was that these were detention centers for juveniles. Ciavarella and Conahan filled these prisons with children. They made money by taking kids guilty of minor crimes – setting up an online satire of an assistant principal, stealing a $4 bottle of nutmeg, getting into a fight with another kid –and putting them into these juvenile prisons.


Stealing a $4 bottle, or having a satirical web page of an assistant principal (satire is protected speech in this country, by the by), or getting into a fight with another kid - why, they these criminals must be put away - for a long time.

This is the logical conclusion, the inevitable result of the prison lobby.

Harsher sentences.

No rehabilitation.

Prison for stealing bread because your family is hungry.

Prison for writing a satire about your school's assistant pricipal...

MSNBC again:
Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day.


What a splendid system that is; oh my, I do not see how it leaves room for any abuse (snark!).

Bonus Material: What is really going on in these youth camps?
The answer - who the fuck knows?

This is the official version - from insidebayarea.com:
SAN MATEO — Single file, 13 teen girls walked into the gym and searched for their names in front of yoga mats centered in the room.

Unsmiling, they sat down and tucked their legs underneath them on Monday morning, paying close attention to their breath and movements.

All are serving a minimum of four months at the Margaret J. Kemp Camp for Girls, a juvenile justice facility in San Mateo.

Four days a week, the teens spend one to two hours with the women of the Art of Yoga Project.


Wow, yoga.

Sounds awesome.

Now here is the reality, from deseretnews (the wilderness camp):
Woodson is suing Utah County doctor Keith R. Hooker, the now-defunct camp Alternative Youth Adventures and its New Jersey-based parent corporation, Community Education Centers Inc. — all of which had been entrusted with her son's health while he attended a court-ordered, 60-day wilderness camp in Colorado.


Woodson's 50-page lawsuit, filed Jan. 13 in West Jordan's 3rd District Court, seeks at least $45 million in total compensatory and punitive damages for the agonizing death of her son.

Caleb was not the first Utah child to have died in wilderness camps for wayward teenagers. Since 1999, three other children have died in such camps in Utah.

Christopher Greeder, spokesman for Community Education Centers, calls Caleb's death "a terrible tragedy," but he insists "there was no wrongdoing on the part of the company or staff.


No wrong doing.

Lets continue with the article:

Twenty-six days after the state dropped Caleb off at a rugged southwest Colorado plateau, he developed blisters on his foot, became sick and wrote in his journal on April 24 that he was "burning up, vomiting and having trouble hiking."

Court and medical documents describe his next — and final — week alive as one replete with ignored complaints by staff accustomed to downplaying their adolescent clients' distress.

Despite observable infection symptoms, scratches, blisters and a swollen knee, staffers took no vital signs during periodic health checks, the boy's autopsy report stated.

On April 25, Caleb lost control of his bodily functions and repeatedly soiled himself.

He was given Ibruprofin and an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine and eventually was told to wear a diaper, according to an indictment against the camp and its medical team (...)


No, nothing wrong here.

As you can see, the reality is that people who are not qualified, nor trained in any way, are in positions of authority, lording it over the kids in their charge and having the power trip of a lifetime.

The indictment said students complained to staffers that Caleb was "going really crazy" and talking to nonexistent people.

"Several students approached the counselors regarding Caleb's health and were told to worry about themselves," according to the autopsy report.


Finally, I leave you with this last quote:
It wasn't the first time the camp's license had been held in jeopardy. In 2002, the Utah Department of Human Services placed Alternative Youth Adventure on corrective action when it was operating in Utah for failing to provide proper and timely treatment to a child in its custody.


Money in America trumps everything.

Welcome to the world of the prison lobby - hope you, as a child or an adult, never have the misfortune to experience the power of this system if you get in trouble with the law for the most inane thing (say, while talking back - hell, assaulting, a police officer at a "safety" checkpoint.

Feel free to pray to your god if you get caught three times doing anything (taking $1 by mistake, or stealing bread for example) - then you are going to jail for a long time due to the insane "three strikes" law.

America - the land of the prison lobby.

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

this really is an excellent piece. excellent research and organization of information.

"marvin"

Anonymous said...

What else would you expect in a county that's run by a coalition of a weak-kneed Democrat (Maryanne Petrilla) and Republican thug (Steve Urban).

Harold Fowler said...

Finally, someone comes along and calls it like it is! Well done!

RT
www.anonymity.eu.tc

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate your story - really, I can. The prison lobby and the politicians in their pocket are about as crooked as it gets. but this:

"Feel free to pray to your god if you get caught three times doing anything (taking $1 by mistake, or stealing bread for example) - then you are going to jail for a long time due to the insane "three strikes" law."

is silly.

It's not that the sentiment is misguided - it's that you're just plain wrong....or are there 3 strikes laws that will land you 25 to life for 3 misdemeanors? Or are these crimes actually felonies somewhere? It makes me wonder which of the other parts in this piece are over-exaggerated, too.

That's my opinion, anyway...

Anonymous said...

in California 3 misdemeanors will give you a felony so 9 misdemeanors could get you 25 to life. my roomate is on number 2 Drunk driving and Drunk in public. 1 more and they would get a felony. Yeah DD is bad and should have serious consequences but DiP is nothing, and it is ludicrous that it can lead to a felony.

yea corrections might be a huge industry but it also cost tax payers ridiculous amounts and purposefully trying to increase jail populations with stricter laws/ and longer jail sentences is just wrong.

Trish Wilson said...

Hey, thanks for the link. I'm Trish Wilson, The Countess. I posted information on my blog a few years ago about prison "reform" and how youth are now being charged as adults, which partially explains why incarceration rates are up while crime rates are down. Thank you for an excellent article. It was well-researched and very informative.

Thanks for directing your readers to my blog. I am a sex blogger now, and I've enjoyed it immensely. I'm proud of my political blogging, but the sex blogging has been a blast as well. :)

Anonymous said...

This is so fucked. Locking up little kids for profit is worse than child molestation. And with all those children in "detention" centers and the adults running them I am sure there are countless incidents of abuses of power. As a perons who believes in freedom I think people should be extremely pissed about this and do something. This wrong, it is corrupt, and if we don't stop now it's going to get worse and worse.
When you put this issue nest to healthcare it makes America look like a 3rd world country.

Anonymous said...

One can only imagine the sexual abuse that occurs at these camps from "corrections officers" who are given physical custody (and the ability to plant contraband on) 13-16 year old girls.

There is no telling how they are abused out there in the "wilderness" with no cameras around.

Im sorry, Im rather cynical concerning human nature. If youve committed a crime against society, your "punishment" should not be a wilderness hiking trip anyway.

Anonymous said...

This is horrifying - absolutely great article.

I hate to say it, but America deserves a major, game-changing crisis to get this crap out of its system.

Michael Santos said...

As a long time prisoner, Michael has seen these abuses first hand. Incarcerated for over 20 years, Michael has been interned in a number of prisons and he is currently in Taft prison camp. He writes about his experiences and sends his posts to his wife who then enters them in his blog. The prisons are not happy about his speaking out and blogging when you have no access to the internet is not easy, but he thinks it is important.

Anonymous said...

True, this is a very informative article. However, you just now get the picture of how corrupt this judicial system is? Why now? Because its happening in north- eastern Pennsylvania to likely caucasian kids? You should all be ashamed of yourselves claiming citizenship and to being "Americans"! You never care about these travesties until it happens to your kind!
It is said, " if you want to know where white American culture will be in ten years, look at the Black culture of today!"
Basically minorities have always been and likely will continue to be the test "rats" for most atrocities plaguing Americans.
TALK IS CHEAP!!! Do something to help the people that built this country and keep it running damn- near for free!!! Stop snivelling you peasants!

cyprusibc said...

I am wondering what would be the implications of their actions. What are the basis of different representatives and senators that favors private prisons?