PrisonWatchTM vs. Timesizing®

Prison stories - Jan-Dec/2000
[Commentary] ©2000 Philip Hyde, The Timesizing Wire, Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080

[Oh look. Look and see. See what fun these inmates are having -]
12/16/2000  For inmates, a Christmas escape - Women of tough Indiana prison find good will to help orphans, by Kathleen Schuckel, Boston Globe, front page.
[The caption on the lead photo of a smiling black woman inmate reads -]
An inmate at Indiana Women's Prison displaying a doll, which will be sent to orphans in Honduras.
INDIANAPOLIS - Behind these maximum-security walls wrapped with barbed wire, convicted murderers become elves.... In a small recreation room...a half-dozen women work elbow-to-elbow [making] gingerbread men, Barbie clothes, and one-of-a-kind rag dolls fitted with dresses and small wooden heart necklaces. It looks like an upscale arts-and-crafts fair....
[The headlines on the page A14 continuation of the article shift the mood subtly -]
Good will escapes a women's prison - 'There are women here who never even ran a stoplight before they shot their husbands.' Jan Chinn, project leader.

12/15/2000  Prison chaplain says inmates beaten, AP via Boston Globe, B2.
Prison guards at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Shirley abused more than two-dozen inmates during a lockdown in October, kicking and beating some after stripping them to their underwear, according to a prison chaplain [Paul Poyser]....

12/12/2000  Society's compassion, letter to editor by Burt Shachter of Pomona NY, NYT, A30.
In "Concern rising over use of juvenile prison to 'warehouse' the mentally ill" (news article, Dec. 5), we learn that we are increasingly cutting back on mental health services to vulnerable children and dumping them in juvenile justice facilities at enormous psychological cost to the children as well as to our society in anticipated future criminal activity.
We often pride ourselves on being a society of compassion. Do we deserve to see ourselves this way? Our governing officials often lecture the world on human rights abuses abroad. Is not our grossly inappropriate incarceration of mentally troubled children a human rights abuse?
It has been said that the humanity of a society can be measured by the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens. Can we not do better? If we don't, what will become of us?

12/09/2000  [en arkhé én ho logos = literally, "in beginning was the word" (John 1:1)]
At county jail, study of [ancient] Greek enjoying a revival - 'Learning Greek is like opening a new book for the first time' - Wesley Adams, inmate, by Michael Paulson, Boston Globe, B2.
[He ain't kiddin!]
MIDDLETON, [Mass.] - ...A handful of inmates at the Essex County House of Correction have taken up the study of Koine Greek, the no-longer-spoken form in which the New Testament was written.
[And hey, they can also read the Old Testament in the famed Septuagint translation, one step from the original Hebrew (and Aramaic), the Torah part of which was translated by a group of seventy (Latin: "septuaginta," symbol LXX) scholars around 250 BC! Or even better, the weighty Hexapla version that Origen put together around 250 AD, which had 6 side-by-side columns containing the then-agreed-upon version of the original Hebrew in its usual Aramaic script in column one, the Hebrew in Greek script in column two, and then four Greek translations (by Aquila, Symmachus, the LXX, & Theodotion).]
...Drawn by the novelty, the challenge, or the connection to Jesus, these inmates are spending hours learning their alphas and omegas.
"I never thought about Greek in my life," said Jose L. Cruz...of Springfield, who has been incarcerated for a combination of gun and drug crimes. "People on my [cell] block make fun of me - what am I going to use it for? - but it just makes me a little better and smarter, and it's fun." Cruz, like others in the class, cites religion as one of the factors driving him to take up the study of Biblical Greek. The grandson of a Pentecostal preacher, he drifted away from the church, but has take up Bible study in jail....
The class was started at the urging of Gary Meyers...of Hamilton, who was hoping to put his record of violence behind him and enter the ministry before he got into a fight with a neighbor and wound up in jail. [Now he] hopes upon his release to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton [Mass.] which has a strong emphasis on Biblical languages....
...The Rev. Aram Marashlian, an American Baptist minister and Gordon-Conwell teaching the biblical Greek class twice a week. Eleven inmates enrolled in the first class - some have since been released - and Marashlian is about to offer a second class. "Many of these students didn't have a junior high education, let alone high school, but...they wanted to take the course [because it] was...going to teach them...the Bible.... They have been putting their heart and soul into memorization and study."
[Hey, this guy must be a pretty good teacher!]
...Robert M. Pike...of New Bedford...a tatoo artist with a heroin addiction who was jailed for robbing a jewelry store \has\ a desire to read [Biblical] text without the filter of translators.... Wesley Adams...of Worcester has a mother of Greek ancestry and dreams of traveling to Greece one day. He even persuaded his cellmate, Earl "Frosty" Frost...of Seabrook NH to enroll and now they use Greek words in their cell....
[Hey, a secret language. Now everybody else gets to say, "It's all Greek to me." And if these guys really get into it, they can be throwing around words like "Septuagint" and "Hexapla" like high-powered Biblical scholars - who may have a low-profile, but they control the foundational languages of our culture. Throw in a little Latin on the later side and a little Babylonian cuneiform on the earlier side and nobody can throw you a curve ball in Biblical interpretation. Phil Hyde still remembers how satisfying it was to go home from first-year Hebrew class and shake the faith of his Biblical-literalist mother - King James translation only, of course - with the news that Joseph's coat of many colors was a mistranslation for "long robe with sleeves" (kethoneth passiym in Gen. 37:3ff.). Quick, somebody break the news to Donny Osmond and Andrew Lloyd Webber!]

11/30/2000  Ask the Globe, Meier & Jobe, Boston Globe, C20.
Q. What kind of courses are offered to inmates at the Plymouth County House of Corrections? How much do they cost and what are the criteria for these courses?  J.I., Winthrop
A....The facility \which\ houses inmates from county, state and federal institutions...offers [such courses as] adult literacy, ESL, fathers to children, industrial cleaning, computer literacy, offset printing, culinary arts, horticulture, painting, forestry, parenting, domestic violence prevention, one-on-one counseling, creative writing, great books and films, and religious studies, including Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, and Jehovah's Witnesses. The programs...are offered at no cost to inmates. However...all programs are subject to space availability \and\ there are strict and detailed eligibility criteria. ...Contact Roy 508-830-6297.

11/26/2000  some rare good news -

11/24/2000  Ask Beth - Being picked on..., by 'Tough guy Chris,' Boston Globe, E11.
... Dear Beth: This is for anyone like "Nerdy Geek" who wants to be "popular" or "the man":
Dear Nerd:
I am that tough guy, you know, that popular guy, the one who gets the girls, fights and wins all the time, and drives that fancy car - the one who wasn't called the nerd. I bet you never thought you'd get a letter from me. You'd think why would I bother with you.
Well, I wish I had bothered with you. I wish I'd been you.
Why? Most of the tough guys, the popular guys who did the drugs and had the parties, are all now wishing they were you. That's right, you, Mr. Nerd. I envy you because I - being the one that always picked on nerds - am sitting in state prison and all I have now are memories while you have it all - your freedom, family, work, money, and my respect.
So the next time any of you nerds feel left out and wish you were some other person, think twice about it! Just be yourself and be happy about it. Don't seek to please others, just be happy you're that nerd.

11/04/2000  Prison guards charged in attacks on inmates, AP via NYT, A32.
FLORENCE, Colo...- Seven federal prison guards, including [six who] still work as guards in the federal prison system \and\ five said to belong to a [sadistic] group called The Cowboys, have been charged with choking hand-cuffed inmates [one until his eyes bulged], mixing waste into their food and threatening other guards.... Another guard who criticized the abuses was told that his co-workers might not help him ifi an inmate attacked him. Altogether, the indictment listed 52 incidents against at least 20 inmates at the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Florence.... If convicted, the seven guards would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
[That would be a switch. Then they'd be liable to get 'a dose of their own medicine.']

10/29/2000  2 weekend prison stories -
[Basically our "justice" system has gotten so rotten that we keep people arrested for trivia in solitary confinement for months without trial, and we've made prison so prestigious and probation such a drag that hardened criminals are choosing prison over probation - and it's costing us all $25-30,000 per inmate per year. "Military conversion" has become a sick joke - we've merely converted the military-industrial complex into the prison-industrial complex. We're seeing the mechanisms of how "the first shall become last" unfold before our eyes, while our "two-guy-owned" media (Turner and Murdoch) carry on&on&on about our hollow and narrowly focused "economic boom" -]

  1. Solitary ordeal - Foes say the practice is unjust and may lead to mental injury for some detainees, by Ralph Ranalli, Boston Globe, B1.
    ...In a system where defendants are supposed to be considered innocent until provin guilty, \there is\ a disturbing national trend: the growing use of solitary lockdown for detainees awaiting trial in county, state and federal lockups..\..
    After two stir-crazy months in which his pleas to be taken out of solitary confinement were ignored, drug suspect Daniel Griffin decided to take matters into his own hands. ...He covered the window in the door to his cell with a sheet of paper, tied a bed sheet around his neck, looped it over a fixture in his cell in the Plymouth County House of Correction, and threw himself forward off his bunk. By the time jail guards found the 37-year-old Queens, NY man, he was unresponsive and apparently unconscious. Emergency room doctors...had to insert a tube down his damaged windpipe to keep him breathing. "He had been completely depressed. It was horrible," Griffin's lawyer, Karen Swenson, said last week during a break from his trial on drug charges..\..
    At first, you're always tired and yet can't sleep. You become disoriented, unable to concentrate. Your moods start to swing radically. In time, you become deeply depressed, anxious, even paranoid. You start to obsess, and the slightest provocation triggers intense anger. Eventually, you may even start to see and hear things that aren't there, slipping into psychotic delirium. At some point your brain could suffer permanent damage (based on the research of Dr. Stuart Grassian).....

  2. Home, sweet home - Given a choice, many convicts are now opting for jail instead of probation. Why?, by Richard Moran, Boston Globe, E1.
    [So our society is getting permeated with the smell of prison. Zero tolerance, minimum sentencing, criminalization of everything and general overreaction have created some too-obvious-to-notice 'unintended consequences' that celebrate the downside and spread like wildfire. We are destabilizing our nation faster than if we were doing it on purpose and faster than many foreign enemies could do it. Why don't we just share the vanishing skills and employment as technology takes them over, instead of wasting time arguing that it isn't happening and there's no need to share? Why don't we just use technology for timesizing, not downsizing?]
10/27/2000  NAACP registers 11,000 in jails, AP via Boston Globe, A40.
BIRMINGHAM Ala. - Alarming some sheriffs, the NAACP has signed up more than 11,000 new voters in county jails across the Southeast this year. The civil rights group described its campaign yesterday as a historic attempt to preserve the electoral rights of prisoners.
["Prisoner power!" This is a temporary Good Thing until we get rid of mandatory sentencing, decriminalize drugs (in exchange for taxing them for their costs), and make it much easier for everyone to support themselves, via sharing the vanishing work (aka timesizing).]

10/24/2000  [This would be a good downsizing -]
N.Y. studies downsizing its prisons, by Joel Stashenko, Boston Globe, A7.
...The state prison system will cost taxpayers $2.3B this fiscal year, or about as much as...their public universities. It costs $29,700 to incarcerate an inmate each year..\.. The downturn in New York's prison population may be a statistical aberration, or it could be a long-range trend.... Either way, prison officials say they are going to start downsizing by removing as many as 2,400 out of 7,000 bunks currently in place. As guards retire, resign, or transfer out of the 14 prisons in coming months, inmates will be removed from the top bunks and the populations in the...prisons will be reduced.... The projections this plan is based on [are] that the state had 71,400 inmates behind bars on 4/01/2000 [after growing from] 55,200 in 1992..\..and will have 69,000 on 3/31/2001....
Inmate reductions are the result of -

10/12/2000  Death penalty victims - The Texas prison staff also suffers, op ed by Bob Herbert, NYT, A31.
[A companion article appears in the Arts section under Radio Review: "Straight from the mouths of a state's executioners," by Julie Salamon, NYT, B1.]
...Not much attention has been given to the emotional price paid by the men and women who participate in - or witness - the fearful business of executing their fellow human beings.... Fred Allen was a guard whose job was to help strap prisoners to the gurneys on which they would be killed. He participated in 130 executions and then had a breakdown.... "There were so many," he said, his voice halting and at times trembling. "A lot of this stuff I just want to try to forget...." Killing them is not easy. "It's kind of hard to explain what you actually feel when you talk to a man, and you kind of get to know that person," says Kenneth Dean, a major in the Huntsville correction unit. "And then you walk him out of a cell and you take him in there to the chamber and tie him down and then a few minutes later he's gone."
Jim Brazzil, a chaplain in the unit, recalls a prisoner who..."started singing 'Silent Night.' And he got to the point, 'Round yon virgin, mother and child,' and just as he got 'child' out, was the last word." ...The Rev. Carroll Pickett, a chaplain who was present for 95 executions in Huntsville before he retired in 1995 [said] it had affected him..."I think it was a contributing factor to a triple bypass I had about 18 months later. Just all of the stress, you know? I have to say that when I retired I probably had had as much as I could take."
..\..Leighanne Gideon [as] a reporter for The Huntsville Item..."walked out of the death chamber [after 'covering' executions] numb and my legs feeling like rubber sometimes, my head not really feeling like it's attached to my shoulders.... Fred Allen, who suffered the breakdown...changed..\..his views on the death penalty.... "Yes," he said. Then after a long pause, he said, "There's nothing wrong with an individual spending the rest of his life in prison."
[Well, George W. would say it costs the taxpayer $25-30K/year. We have a compromise. In each cell on lifers' row, there should be a little niche in the wall containing a Kevorkian kit. If they want to "cheat" the lifetime of imprisonment and save us a fortune for medical research or something else positive instead of just neutral, why are we stopping them? And remember that guy who wanted to be shot and we denied him his last request? That was small of us. Hey, if it isn't too bizarre, let them have what they want. The real point, as Bucky Fuller used to say, is not to "inflict punishment" but simply to DESIGN OUT the possibility of recurrence. And making suicide a crime has always been one of the stupidest exercises in time&money-wasting government meddling we've ever heard of.]

10/06/2000  Prisons and crime, letter to editor by Vincent Schiraldi, Pres. of Justice Policy Institute in D.C., NYT, A30.
Re "Effect of prison building on crime is weighed" (news article, Sept. 28): The divergent paths taken by New York and Texas in the 1990's illustrate the futility of overreliance on prisons as a cure-all for crime. Texas added more people to prisons in the 1990's (98,081) than New York's entire prison population (73,233).
[Duh, tankyou George Dubya.]
If prisons are a cure for crime, Texas should have mightily outperformed New York, from a crime-control standpoint. But from 1990 to 1998, the decline in New York's crime ratee exceeded the decline in Texas's crime rate by 26%.
As we plot our crime-control course for the new century, it is important to remember that the goal of the criminal justice system should be to have fewer victims, not just more prisoners.
{And we hold that the most effective thing we can do toward this end is to make earning an honest living a lot easier than earning a dishonest one - which clearly is not the case today for many many people, especially those lacking marketable skills. So this is another powerful reason (besides constantly updating software) for continuous training, integrated right into the workplace and the job market. The three problems we need to solve here are -

  1. lack of marketable skills in a fast-changing skill marketplace (just mentioned)
  2. stress, much of it due to increasing pressure to work "optional" overtime and increasing blatant "mandatory overtime" (i.e., the poor and outdated design of our current workweek cap legislation in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938) and the resulting overloading of our workforce - all totally and utterly unnecessary in an age of wave and wave of miracles in technological sophistication and efficiency
  3. lack of free time - for family (especially children - the neglected children of the early 1970s and 80s are now entering our prisons), errands, vacation, unpressured creative mental connections, and how about plain old SLEEP.
The Timesizing program takes care of all three.]

[Some good prison news for a change -]
10/03/2000  No bar to employment - With jobless rate low, companies look to prison for new workers, by Ellen Barry, Boston Globe, front page.
...With 80 inmates and some 20 recruiters, yesterday's prison job fair [at the Plymouth Correctional Facility] was the largest ever in Massachusetts, and represents a vein of progressive thinking among corrections administrators, whose mission once ended at the prison gates..\..
Said [Donny] Heenan, director of operational services for Midas [Mufflers when he found a 39-year-old mechanic due for release in April]..\.."I will talk to his mother. I will talk to his parole officer personally. I will talk to anyone in my power.... When this kid gets out, I will be here to pick him up."
[Lord God above, what wonderful news for this prison inmate! Timesizing would have had this situation revving high 15 years ago. The photo caption reads -]
Bradd Hilston of Sears, Roebuck and Co. interviewing inmate Robert Young at Plymouth Correctional Facility....
[Back to the text -]
But what recruiters were talking about yesterday in the prison gymnasium was the state's 2.6% unemployment rate. At a time when mechanics and sales clerks alike can be lured to new jobs by the whisper of a counteroffer, hiring managers are looking for commitment wherever they can find it....
[But this is exactly the situation we want. Only when official "unemployment" gets down below 2% as it was during World War II, do we really engage market forces to deconcentrate wealth out of huge stock bubbles back into employees' pay envelopes and consumer markets. When consumer markets pick up based on wages, not consumer debt, then we solidify our huge hollow stock bubble and avoid cascading into undeniable depression. See also yesterday's story (10/01) on the recent surge in hiring the handicapped, "Internet economy boosting disabled."]

[Prisons up, police down.]
9/25/2000  Effect of prison building on crime is weighed - Tallying the crucial factors that have helped lower crime, by Fox Butterfield, NYT, A16.
The first studies to look at the link between the enormous growth of incarceration and the significant drop in crime in the 1990's show that the nation's prison-building boom has accounted for [only] 5-25% of the 8-yr decline. In light of those findings, some of the researchers questioned whether the benefits from the growth of incarceration were worth the cost to taxpayers....
The most comprehensive of the new studies [is] a book, "The Crime Drop in America," to be published next month by Cambridge University Press. \It includes findings\ by Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis \which found that\ to avert one killing in the 1990's...required locking up an additional 670 prisoners at a cost of $13.4m a year.
\In general\ the studies found that the number of inmates in jails and prisons quadrupled over the past two decades, to two million, and now cost about $40B a year....
The explanation..\..of the crime decline...appears to lie with a number of factors [such as]

  • the growth in incarceration...
  • the ebbing of the crack epidemic
  • innovative efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals
  • new police tactics
  • an improved job market...
  • a cultural change in which people have become less tolerant of certain forms of violence, particularly domestic violence, which has helped account for a decline in killings by adults every year since 1980.... A similar cultural change beginning in the late Middle Ages in Western Europe, with the spread of courts of law and better manners, helped reduce crime so that homicide rates there today are only about one-tenth of what they were in the 14th century [1300s], other scholars found....
    [At the same time, we get -]
    Facing drop in applicants, police relax requirements... For the first time in memory, a Police Academy class is short of recruits..\.. Rules on age and education are eased, by C.J. Chivers, NYT, A27.
    [Well if people are living longer and getting laid off just before their pensions vest, we d*mn well better cut agism in hiring.]

    9/25/2000  New York jails pose biggest test for health firm with mixed past, by Eric Lipton, NYT, front page.
    ...Prison Health Services is the central component of a $400m-a-year corporation, one that delivers everything from dental work to cardiac care to 175,000 inmates in 27 states and Washington, DC. Now the company that one executive calls the "HMO Behind Bars" is moving to take on its greatest challenge: a contract of nearly $100m a year to care for 13,000 prisoners on Rikers Island and in other New York City jails.... The Tennessee-based company has grown enormously in recent years as it aggressively pursued a share of the nation's estimated $4.5B-a-year inmate health care market.... But along the way..., it has been dogged at times by allegations of severe staffing problems, poor or unstable management and substandard care....

    9/23/2000  Attica's forgotten victims - The hostages and their families are still waiting for real compensation, by Tom Wicker, NYT, A31.
    After 29 years of deceit, coverup and injustice, the State of New York has agreed to pay $8m in damages to inmates who were beaten and abused in reprisals during the recapture of the Attica Correctional Facility in 1971.
    But what about the families of the inmates' hostages who were slain that day by indiscriminate state police gunfire? What about surviving hostages? All the hostages were doing their duty when they were killed, injured or endangered by their employer, New York State.... So far, New York has done nothing remotely adequate to compensate these forgotten victims for what one investigatory commission called "the bloodiest encounter between Americans since the Civil War"....

    9/16/2000  Federal report denounces conditions at County jail - Explanations for not disciplining guards are called 'pretexts for inaction', by Charlie LeDuff, NYT, A13.
    MINEOLA, N.Y...- There were the elevator rides that troublesome inmates took: a prisoner, handcuffed to an inner railing, would be beaten senseless by a half-dozen guards as the car ascended and descended.
    There was the medical wing, staffed not by physicians, but by guards, who acted as doctors and dispensed psychiatric medicines..\..
    There was the housing tier that the inmates called the Terror Dome, because correction officers meted out particularly brutal discipline there....
    These and many more facets of life in the Nassau County jail were detailed in a scathing 23-page report released to county officials after a 14-month federal the Dept. of Justice [which] was provoked by the death of an inmate who was bludgeoned by correction officers on Jan. 8, 1999, because he would not stop begging for methadone....

    9/9/2000  2 prison stories, one good, one bad -

    1. [Good -]
      South Africa: Freedom for 11,000, by Henri Cauvin, NYT, A6.
      In a move to reduce crowding in the country's prisons, the ministry of corrections plans to release about 11,000 people accused of petty crimes who have been unable to make bail while awaiting trial.
      [But note that a big prison release, like a big demobilization of armed forces such as Russia's today, can have the same negative effect on the economy as a big downsizing.]
      The prison system, which has been plagued by escapes and mismanagement, has a capacity of about 100,000 inmates but has been holding as many as 170,000 in recent months.
      [South Africa is yet another place that needs to make it a lot easier to earn an honest living than a dishonest one - by automatically spreading around the market-demanded skills and employment = Timesizing.]

    2. [Bad -]
      Spain: Basque crackdown planned, by Benjamin Jones, NYT, A6.
      ...on separatist violence in the Basque region. Under the proposed laws...youths engaged in separatist street violence would be tried as adults and subject to longer sentences....
      [Sounds tough for short-term satisfaction, but putting young people with older people could just hasten the transfer of attitudes and skills, and cost more in the long term. Behind all this, why is it so important to clutch onto the Basque region. Call their bluff. Give them a referendum and let them go if they want. Nothing cures people so fast as getting what they want. Same for Quebec. If independence is the only way to feel like a first-class citizen in their own land, LET THEM TRY IT. The Basques have an interesting non-IndoEuropean language and therefore a unique cultural potential, if not actuality. The Spanish should be big enough to give this uniqueness to the world, without suffocation. King Carlos, you're a good guy - step in and LET THESE PEOPLE GO.]
    9/08/2000  Overhaul of [Louisiana's] juvenile jails [including the one in Tallulah], pointer summary (to A12), NYT, A2.
    Louisiana agreed in federal court to [sweeping changes in] the way it runs juvenile prisons, pledging, for example, to protect inmates from abusive guards [and promises to provide medical, dental and mental health care].
    [How about just firing the abusive guards?! And hey, what's the use of gittin' yo butt locked up if there's no healthcare?! Isn't Louisiana the state that has Angola Prison where they brought back chain gangs recently? - or was that in 'Missus Sip'? The actual article pointed to is -]
    Louisiana settles suit, abandoning private youth prisons [where the worst abuses had occurred], by Fox Butterfield, NYT, A12.
    [Oh, that could cause problems - farming out prison contracts to private businesses who want to minimize costs, including wages, and maximize profits. Guess the state of La. is stuck running its own youth prisons now.]
    ...Complaints about conditions at the juvenile prison in Jena...had led [to] the federal lawsuits.
    [= foto caption - we're doing everything we can here to avoid reading the actual article - as usual. OK, here we go, end of 2nd paragraph -]
    ...One [lawsuit] by the US Dept. of Justice...charged that teenage inmates were being deprived of food, clothing and medical care...
    [oh that would save costs all right!]
    ...and were routinely beaten by guards.
    [Guess if you hire sadists as prison guards, they'll work for lower wages. Oh here we go, Wackenhut was involved -]
    ...Louisiana was prohibited from placing any more young inmates in a prison at Jena, which had been run by the Wackenhut Corrections Corp...the world's largest operator of for-profit prisons.
    [Hey what do expect from a company whose name indicates they think prisons are Whacking Huts? We got another story on them below on 3/31/2000, also by Fox Butterfield, who used to cover Japan for the NYT and had a tryst with our Harvard linguistics pal, Marilyn Roberts, way back in the early 70s. Good luck to her now, wherever she is.]
    ...The state had also agreed to prohibit a company operated by friends of former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, which owned a juvenile prison at Tallulah, from managing the prison. The state took control of the Tallulah prison in 1999.
    [The plot thickens. Enter a slimy governor and his "old boys' network." Ah, seamy details of bribery to get the prison contract. Actress Tallulah Bankhead would not like this associated with her unusual name - she's getting a tribute these days in the form of a play in Boston named "Tallulah" starring Kathleen Turner. And while we're on the subject of fascinating edge-of-memory 1930s actresses, let's surface Judy Canova, the original Long Sam. Tallulah/Canova. Quite different but stored close together in RAM. But let's get back and cut to the chase on this story, leaving the rest to our not-as-bad-as-it-really-is imagination -]
    ...Investigators hired by the Justice Dept. found that the teenage inmates [at Jena] had been deprived of underwear, sweaters, blankets and food...
    [Now, that's cost cutting! Are you getting the feeling that Wackenhut is sort of an extreme symbol of what many big American and multinational corporations have become? This is "free market" economics here. This is the kind of deterioration that competition leads you to, in the absence of ground rules.]
    ...and that a 17-year-old boy had been forced to lie face down on the concrete floor, with a guard's knee in his back, even though he had recently undergone stomach surgery for a gunshot wound and was wearing a colostomy bag....
    [As ex-Gov. Edwards might say, "Sadists will be sadists." And they seem to swarm in our prison system.]

    [good news for a change -]
    9/05/2000  Inmates battling West's fires help states and themselves, by Douglas Jehl, NYT, front page.
    YELLOW PINE, Idaho...- Back in Utah, they are inmates at Bluffdale State Prison. But out here in the fire zone, they strut proudly in black T-shirts proclaiming themselves members of the Flame 'N' Go Hotshots. "Being in this program makes all the difference," Bart Clark...a six-time felon who has spent 11 of the last 15 years in prison, said this morning before shouldering his backpack on a hill acrid with smoke. "Now I can tell my 4-year-old son that his dad isn't in prison, he's out fighting fires. Almost every day since mid-May, Mr. Clark - convicted most recently of kidnapping - and the rest of his 20-man crew have been outside the wire, battling blazes across the West.... In this devastating fire season, one in six of the crew members fighting fires by hand is a convict.... At wages that average $1 an hour, the use of inmates is a bargain, one that might ease the taxpayers' burden in a year in which federal fire-fighting costs will exceed $1B....
    [So they're getting $1/hr plus room, board, & health insurance? What's that come out to? Minimum wage, we hope, considering many of them are in prison for what the future will consider frivolous reasons, like "drug" possession, "drug" being defined with the most bizantine arbitrariness to include marijuana yet exclude killers like alcohol and nicotine. And we taxpayers get soaked $25-30k/yr/inmate for this colossal imbecility. At any rate -]
    "Most of my life, I took things from other people, and now it's time to give something back," Tommy Phong said....

    9/02/2000  The missing voters,
    letter to editor by Prof. John Humbach of Pace University Law Dept., NYT, A26.
    In discussing the effects that non-voters have on elections, you note in passing that felons are among the millions of adults who cannot legally vote (Week in Review, Aug. 27). Today, in fact, there are 2 million Americans in prisons and jails...
    [Are we sure all 2m are American citizens?]
    ...and an even larger number who have finished serving their time for felonies but who are still unable to vote.
    [Why the delay?]
    The exclusion of these people - largely members of Democratic-leaning minority groups - may have a pronounced impact on election results. For example, if today's levels of felony disenfranchisement existed durign the very close Nixon-Kennedy race in 1960, Richard Nixon may well have been elected. Conversely, the Republicans' Congressional election triumph in 1994 might have been impossible were it not for the fact that felony disqualification kept so much of the opposition's traditional voting base from going to the polls.
    [So here's an example of the dysfunctionality and destructiveness of the both major parties, and indeed of the confrontational two-party system itself. The Democrats pour immigrants into the country, regardless of assimilation-integration-training or lack thereof, and regardless of the resulting downward pressure on the wages of people already here. The Republicans stay awake nights dreaming up ways of burying more and more of them for longer and longer periods in prison (regardless of taxpayer expense), so they can't vote Democratic. Each of the only two major parties prioritizes getting and holding power before the long-term well-being of the nation - or even its short-term well-being. Godspeed to Nader, Hagelin, Buchanan and Brown.]

    8/10/2000  2 jail items today -

    1. Number in prison grows despite crime reduction - Stricter parole and sentencing laws cited - The growth rate slows, but the inmate population passes two million, by Fox Butterfield, NYT, A10.
      [Well, we expected to pass this milestone in mid-February. The real question now is, have we beaten Russia for the title of world's biggest percentage of incarcerated people?]
      ...The Justice Dept. reported yesterday...that the total number of Americans in all jails and prisons surpassed two million for the first time, reaching 2,026,596 at the end of 1999....
      [So we were actually there already by the New Year, never mind waiting for mid-February.]
      There are 690 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents [0.69% incarcerated], according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit prison research and advocacy organization in Washington. That rate is six times that of Canada and Australia, which are both around 110 prisoners per 100,000 residents, the Project said, and five times that of any country in the European Union....
      [Looks like they're not going to get to the "beef" and compare us to Russia. So 'The Land of the Free' has locked up one in every 145 of its own citizens, mostly for possessing an extremely inconsistent list of substances (marijuana, cocaine, etc. TABU, while alcohol, nicotine, prozac, etc. OK). We're starting to sound like a byzantine/scifi nightmare.]

    2. ['Compassionate conservatism' in action?]
      Man said to be retarded is 1 of 2 killers executed, AP via NYT, A17.
      HUNTSVILLE, Tex....- Two condemned killers, one of them [Oliver David Cruz] a man whose...IQ tested as low as 63 \and\ whose lawyers said...he should not be put to death, were executed [last] night....
      [The other was Brian Keith Roberson.]

    8/05/2000  Illness behind bars, editorial, Boston Globe, A14.
    The nation's jails and prisons have become home for many mentally ill people, and about one in six inmates suffers from serious problems associated with the disease. Massachusetts deserves credit for developing treatment programs for these prisoners.... Marylou Sudders, the state's mental health commissioner...says that only 8% of those who were involved in treatment have been rearrested for crimes compared with rearrest rates of up to 50% among all freed prisoners..\..
    But the state should reexamine its use of punishment - imprisonment - as a form of treatment....

    6/08/00  Race analysis cites disparity in sentencing for narcotics, by Steven Holmes, NYT, A16.
    Nearly twice as many black men and women are being imprisoned for drug offenses than are whites, even though studies show that there are five times as many white drug users than black ones, an international human rights organization said [yester]day. The report by Human Rights Watch joins a growing body of evidence compiled by liberal advocacy groups showing racial disparities in the country's soaring prison population. That population has quadrupled since 1980 and is expected to surpass two million next year....
    [We thought it passed 2m in mid-February - or does this figure include only federal prisons but not county and city jails?]
    The report said 62.7% of drug offenders sent to prison in 1996, the last year for which complete statistics were available, were African-American, while 36.7% were white. The Census Bureau estimates that blacks currently make up about 12.8% of the population and that whites, including Hispanic whites, are about 82.3%.... Drug abuse among African-Americans tends to be more chronic and involve harder drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin....
    [Is this our Third-Millennium makework campaign for minority Americans? What a vision for America's future.]

    6/01/00  Federal crime data show a high conviction rate, AP via NYT, A21.
    WASHINGTON - ...87% of defendants charged with federal crimes were convicted in fiscal year 1998, and 71% of those who were convicted were sentenced to prison...up from 60% of those convicted in 1990..\..the Justice Dept. reported today. Nearly half of the 106,139 federal arrests during the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, 1998, involved drug or immigration violations, according to the first comprehensive study of federal arrest data by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Drug violations accounted for 29% of the arrests, and immigration offenses for 20%....

    5-6/00  Corporation gets labor, environmental questions - Starbucks: Bad for Davis Square, by Basav Sen, Somerville Community News, front page.
    ...Prison employment has grown 213% between 1991 and 1998, according to the Correctional Industries Assoc., an industry trade group ( This tripling of prison labor reduces the number of jobs available to jobseekers outside prison, since prison labor is so much cheaper for employers..\..
    Prison labor is forced labor.... Physical coercion has been used in instances to force prisoners to work, [e.g.,] in California. In the fall 1995 Covert Action Quarterly, journalist Reese Ehrlich writes, "If prisoners refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges. Most importantly, they lose 'good time' credit[s] that reduce...their sentence. Prisoners are paid below minimum wage, and the costs of incarceration and other charges are deducted from their wages, so what they finally receive is a pittance. Wages as low as $0.75 an hour are not unheard of, according to the Milwaukee-based A Job is a Right Campaign..\..
    [Questioning through to a sustainable social design here, for rule-breakers to be supported by taxpayers is to penalize the victims, so it's desirable for prisoners to work enough to support themselves on an-ongoing basis. It's also desirable for them to work enough to have a transition cushion to rely on when they get out. How to prevent prison labor from undermining outside labor? Substitute maximum workweek for minimum wage - share the vanishing work, and apply the Timesizing feature of overtime-to-training conversion as well, inside prison as well as outside. Employment is only scarce and poorly paid as long as we lack a work-sharing system. Once we implement that, we can move on to the subtler questions of in-prison coercion, labor pricing, and the vote.

    Along with other well-known companies such as Microsoft, Starbucks uses prison labor to package their products, according to The Celling of America: An inside look at the US prison industry, edited by Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens, and Paul Wright....

    5/27/00  Jail guards get prison terms, by Michael Cooper, NYT, A11.
    Two Nassau County jail guards who fatally beat an unarmed inmate were sentenced yesterday to 11 years in federal prison, and a jail supervisor who tried to cover up for them received nearly 6 years.
    [Inside, outside - hey, what's the diff? You're still spending the best hours of your life in a very unattractive environment.]
    The guards, Patrick Regnier and Edward Velasquez...admitted beating..\..Thomas Pizzuto...who was serving a 90-day sentence in the Nassau County jail for a traffic infraction and was being treated for heroin addiction. [They said] they wanted to quiet his screams for methadone. Five days after the assault, Mr. Pizzuto died of a ruptured spleen. His death focused widespread attention on [NY's] Nassau County jail, prompting a criminal investigation, governmental hearings, a change in management and a federal investigation into whether a pattern of abuse and misconduct exists at the jail....

    5/26/2000  One piece of good news pierces the relentless sadness of US prisons, like a chioscuro -

    4/24/2000  some rare good news - 4/20/2000  U.S. prison population grows at slower rate, AP via NYT, A15.
    [Whew! It was tough but the Times managed to get a positive spin on this!]
    WASHINGTON - The number of imprisoned American adults grew at a slower rate last year but still hit a record high of 1.86 million, the Justice Dept. said [yester]day.
    [This figure includes inmates in federal prisons, and those in state, county and municipal jails, but as noted later in the article, it is almost a year out of date.]
    With the latest increase of nearly 60,000 prisoners, the United States may have matched or even surpassed Russia as the country with the highest rate of incarceration.
    [There it is. Now all we need is some up-to-date figures on our own and on Russia's incarcerated to lock in the incarceration "crown." The NYT should have had this on the front page. At any rate, we're winning! We're outstripping Russia as the nation with the most incarcerated! Whoopee for us. What a utopia. America the beautiful. America the free. Bill Gates must be proud of what his values have wrought. And there are still plenty of people who'll say, "But I don't begrudge Bill Gates his bucks." How close do we have to get to concentrating 99% of our wealth in 1% of our population before these people start to "begrudge"?]
    As of June 1999, prisons and jails held 1,860,520 people, the Burueau of Justice Statistics reported. In 1985, the figure was less than 800,000.
    [That's up 233% in 14 years, mostly due to our ineffectual 1990s version of 1920s Prohibition, the "war on drugs." Compared to our more effective non-criminalized campaigns against nicotine and handguns, our criminalization of "drugs" (excluding nicotine, alcohol, and a crazy quilt of other arbitrary exceptions) has turned entire American towns into snitchcats, and rivalled the Salem witch trials for its admission of "spectral evidence." Along with our zero-tolerance law enforcement which strips judges of discretion, and our maximum sentencing, it's one of the stupidest, most embarrassing, disgraceful, shameful, wasteful and costly social experiments America has ever demonstrated to the world, and it's costing us taxpayers $30,000 per inmate per year.]
    Last year's total included more than 1.1 million state prisoners, about 606,000 men and women in local jails, and about 118,000 federal inmates. The rate of state and federal prison growth was 4.4% [presumably from 1998 to 1999], the lowest since 1979.
    [Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen!]
    While the growth rate for state and local prisons declined, federal prisons continued to hold more people, adding more than 11,000 inmates.
    [We are realizing the dreams (or nightmares) of George Orwell nicely.]

    3/31/2000  Justice Dept. sues to alter conditions at a prison, by Fox Butterfield, NYT, A14.
    The Justice Dept. filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Wackenhut Corrections Corp. and the State of Louisiana charging the conditions at a private for-profit juvenile prison [in Jena] in central Louisiana run by Wackenhut are "dangerous and life threatening" and asking a federal judge to take emergency action to protect the inmates. The lawsuit asked Judge Frank J. Polozola of Federal District Court in Baton Rouge to intervene to stop guards at the Wackenhut prison from...failing to provide the inmates with adequate mental health care and education \and\ beating the young boys, throwing gas grenades into their barracks [and] holding them for long periods in isolation....
    A group of experts hired by the Justice Dept. who toured the prison...reported that many of the 276 boys incarcerated there had no shoes or blankets and were constantly short of food. The experts also reported that many boys had tried to commit suicide or had deliberately injured themselves to get into the infirmary as a way to escape physical abuse by the guards. A New Orleans juvenile court judge, Mark Doherty, found conditions at Jena so bad he released six boys he had sent there after visiting the prison earlier this month. Judge Doherty, a Republican and former prosecutor, said Wackenhut had treated the boys no better than animals "on all fours."
    In response to the...lawsuit, Wackenhut released a written statement saying that the company "is providing a constitutionally sound, safe and secure facility" and believed the Justice Dept. had been misled by "exaggerations and misstatements of facts" by inmates they had interviewed.... Wackenhut, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is the 2nd largest private prison company in the U.S. and the largest internationally. It operates 30,308 beds in 56 institutions in 13 states and 7 foreign countries, and its shares trade on the NYSE....

    2/24/2000 Calif. inmate dies as guards put down riot, LA Times via Boston Globe, A11.
    SACRAMENTO... - Guards opened fire on [unarmed] warring inmates in an exercise yard at Pelican Bay State Prison yesterday. One prisoner was killed and 12 were wounded.... The dead inmate, identified only as a Latino male, was the first to be shot to death by guards in nearly two years. No guards were injured.
    Since it opened in 1989, billed as a triumph of high-tech prison architecture, the facility has been at the center of controversy. In 1995, a federal judge ordered a series of reforms after testimony in a class-action civil-rights lawsuit over brutality in the prison. At the time, guards had shot and killed [unarmed] prisoners engaged in fistfights....
    " a riot [then] you can certainly fire. It's a matter of saving life," \said\ the state director of correction, Cal Terhune....
    [Firing lethal rounds into a crowd of unarmed people and killing some as "a matter of saving life"?? The "cure" is worse than the disease.]

    For earlier prison stories, click on the desired date -

  • Oct-Dec/99.
  • Sept/99 and before.

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