The screws are driving the pandemic in prisons

Prisons and jails have hosted some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S., with some facilities approaching 4,000 cases. In the U.S., which has some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world, 9 in 100 people have had the virus; in U.S. prisons, the rate is 34 out of 100

Using data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, we discovered the infection rate among correctional officers drove the infection rate among incarcerated individuals. We also found a three-way relationship between the infection rate of officers, incarcerated individuals and the communities around prisons…

Public health experts have encouraged prisons to think about the role of correctional officers in infection spread for years and more recently have warned that correctional officers are a weak link for COVID-19 infections in prisons.

Even though prisons have policies for disease control, many of which include guidelines for correctional officers, prisons are at a disadvantage in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Current prison conditions – including poor ventilation, overcrowding and a lack of space for social distancing and isolation – make respiratory diseases like COVID-19 very difficult to control.

We found the relationship between COVID-19 infections among correctional staff and incarcerated individuals is also shaped by the incidence of COVID-19 in the community surrounding the prison. Because correctional officers move between the prison and the community at the beginning and end of each shift, they can carry COVID-19 between these two spaces.

No surprises here. Just thought we’d point out something some of us know from the front and back of living in America.

Trump’s commitment to private prisons looks like a reward to campaign donors

❝ In the barrage of news surrounding President Donald Trump, one of the things his administration quietly did over the past few months was reopen the federal prison system to private prison companies.

Some members of Congress, however, have noticed — and they want the Trump administration to explain itself.

❝ Today, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Cory Booker (D-NJ)…sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking that the Justice Department explain why it reversed the Obama administration’s decision to stop contracting with some private prison operators…

❝ In 2016, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General concluded, “in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable Bureau Of Prisons institutions.” In another example, a 2012 Justice Department investigation found that in the City of Walnut Grove, Mississippi, a private prison that held youth offenders, did not provide “constitutionally adequate care” and that staff routinely engaged in “systematic, egregious, and dangerous practices.” In fact the investigation concluded that the Walnut Grove private prison was “among the worst […] in any facility anywhere in the nation.”

❝ They also argued that the Trump administration’s decision “lends the appearance of rewarding campaign donors.”

“Corporations that manage private prisons — Civic Corp, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation — reportedly donated over $750,000 to super PACs that supported the President,” the senators wrote. “One private prison corporation donated $100,000 to pro-Trump PACS the day after former Attorney General Yates announced that the Bureau of Prisons would no longer renew their contracts with private prisons.”

Read the whole article. Useful details, even more convincing evidence that Trump cares nothing about the civil rights of prisoners and – more important – regardless of the crime, doing time is governed by the profit structure of his campaign bankroll.

Homeland InSecurity shares details on border wall specifications

The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have released additional specifications for the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Federal officials have supplemented the original notice posted late last month with details that prescribe 30-foot-tall sections of concrete with anti-climbing and anti-damage features…

The agency’s notice, posted online, also indicated that before the wall’s construction would begin, the winning bidder or bidders would build prototypes for evaluation. If and when the wall is built, construction is likely to begin in the West, near El Paso, TX, Tucson, AZ, and El Centro, CA…

Presumably there will be sufficient notice to encourage demonstrations of our own.

U.S. Customs’ preliminary notice about bidding procedures for the project drew more than 200 interested parties, although upon media investigation, many of those inquiries were determined to be less than serious inquiries from non-construction-related businesses…

There are still no details about how the government will pay for the wall, although an early Department of Homeland Security report gauged the cost of the three-year project at $22 billion.

Good thing we haven’t any other projects that could use that kind of geedus – maybe with a higher priority. Like schools.

The Dutch have a prison crisis — they’re running out of prisoners

❝ While the UK and much of the world struggles with overcrowded prisons, the Netherlands has the opposite problem. It is actually short of people to lock up. In the past few years 19 prisons have closed down and more are slated for closure next year. How has this happened – and why do some people think it’s a problem?…

…Learning to cook is just one of the ways the prison helps offenders to get back on track after their release…”In the Dutch service we look at the individual”…says Jan Roelof van der Spoel, deputy governor of Norgerhaven, a high-security prison in the north-east of the Netherlands.

“If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. So we try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”…

He adds that some persistent offenders – known in the trade as “revolving-door criminals” – are eventually given two-year sentences and tailor-made rehabilitation programmes. Fewer than 10% then return to prison after their release. In England and Wales, and in the United States, roughly half of those serving short sentences reoffend within two years, and the figure is often higher for young adults…

❝ A decade ago the Netherlands had one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe, but it now claims one of the lowest – 57 people per 100,000 of the population, compared with 148 in England and Wales.

But better rehabilitation is not the only reason for the sharp decline in the Dutch prison population – from 14,468 in 2005 to 8,245 last year – a drop of 43%.

❝ The peak in 2005 was partly due to improved screening at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, which resulted in an explosion in the numbers of drug mules caught carrying cocaine.

Today the police have new priorities, according to Pauline Schuyt, a criminal law professor from the southern city of Leiden. “They have shifted their focus away from drugs and now concentrate on fighting human trafficking and terrorism,” she says.

In addition, Dutch judges often use alternatives to prison such as community service orders, fines and electronic tagging of offenders…”Sometimes it is better for people to stay in their jobs, stay with their families and do the punishment in another way,” says Angeline van Dijk, director of the prison service…

“We have shorter prison sentences and a decreasing crime rate here in the Netherlands so that is leading to empty cells.”

The desire to protect prison service jobs has sparked another surprising solution – the import of foreign inmates from Norway and Belgium.

In a thoughtful society, one considering useful employment to be available for all, the question of prison closures is significant. One of the bright spots on that front – is importing prisoners from other countries. In the Netherlands, prisoners from Belgium and Norway are taking up residence in cells empty of local prisoners.

RTFA. Lots of anecdotal discussion. It surely would be nice in many Western nations to have a “problem” like this one.

Justice Department will stop using private prisons


Steve McAlister/Getty

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”…

While experts said the directive is significant, privately run federal prisons house only a fraction of the overall population of inmates. The vast majority of the incarcerated in America are housed in state prisons — rather than federal ones — and Yates’ memo does not apply to any of those…even so, it’s the federal government setting a standard. Politicians who know privatization of prisons is a bad deal for everyone but investors now have backbone added to efforts at the state and local level to end the practice. The DOJ Inspector General’s report should play a significant role.

❝ “This is a huge deal. It is historic and groundbreaking,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “For the last 35 years, the use of private prisons in this country has crept ever upward, and this is a startling and major reversal of that trend, and one that we hope will be followed by others.”

Overdue.

Which states lead the way in mass incarceration

Following the start of the war on drugs in the 1970s, America’s prison population skyrocketed as the country locked up even the lowest-level drug offenders in hopes of tamping down on drug use and the crime wave of the 1960s through 1980s.

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While incarceration can help bring down crime to some degree, criminal justice experts generally agree US imprisonment has become an ineffective deterrent to crime as it’s extended far beyond the point of diminishing returns. Federal and state data shows there is no correlation between decreases in the prison population and rises in crime. And an analysis by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project found the 10 states that shrunk incarceration rates the most over the past five years saw bigger drops in crime than the 10 states where incarceration rates most grew…

So far, there has been a small reversal. The overall imprisonment rate dropped, particularly in California, in the past few years. And the US corrections population — the number of people in jail, prison, parole, and probation — in 2013 dropped to its lowest point since 2003, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But the reversal hasn’t been enough to keep up with the rapid decline of violent crime across the country. Federal statistics show that the incarceration rate fell by roughly 1 percent between 2000 and 2013, even as violent crime fell by about 27 percent in the same time period.

Which begs the usual question: Are Americans stupid or ignorant?

We know what our politicians are. Cowards, opportunists, careerists. Simple public opinion, the pressure of national sentiment is rarely sufficient to overcome so-called lobbying from those who profit from a useless status quo. Whether that lobbying come from the Koch Bros or the [NRA] gun manufacturers lobby is irrelevant. Corporate special interests overrule the needs and wants of the American people – unless those people seriously stand up and raise a glorious noise. Dissent and demonstration catches the attention of even the least competent politician.

There is a corporate prison lobby that ties in nicely with Tea Party Republicans, police benevolent associations, leftovers from the Confederacy – reactionary dunderheads all. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens get to fund these storehouses for the inopportune, pick up the tab for backwards political decisions.

Nixon’s War on Drugs still marches down the highway to Nowhere.

Jailed, some mentally ill inmates are in permanent lockdown

Day or night, the lights inside cell 135C of central New Mexico’s Valencia County Detention Center were always on.

Locked inside, alone, for months, Jan Green – a 52-year-old computer technician with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – rocked on a bench for hours, confiding in an imaginary companion…

Though isolated, Green was, in a sense, far from alone. In jails around the country, inmates with serious mental illnesses are kept isolated in small cells for 23 hours a day or more, often with minimal treatment or human interaction.

Some states have moved to curb long-term “solitary confinement” in prisons, where research shows it can drive those with mental illnesses further over the edge. But there has been little attention to the use of isolation in the country’s 3,300 local jails, the biggest mental health facilities in many communities.

Unlike prisons, jails hold those awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences, limiting time in lockdown. But inmates with serious mental illnesses are more likely to break rules and stay jailed longer, increasing the chances of weeks or months in isolation that risks inflicting additional psychological damage.

A report obtained by The Associated Press found mentally ill inmates in New York City’s jails were disproportionately put in lockdown, some for thousands of days. Inmates who spent time in isolation were far more likely to harm themselves, according to a second report by staff of the city’s health department…

Jails use isolation to punish inmates, but also to separate those with serious mental illnesses because they may be victimized by fellow inmates or are considered dangerous. Many end up in lockdown because of behavior linked to mental illnesses, experts say.

“If they can’t follow the rules outside the facility, how in the world do you expect a mentally ill person to be able to function as an inmate?” says Mitch Lucas, assistant sheriff of Charleston County, South Carolina, and president-elect of the American Jail Association. “So you end up having to deal with whatever tools you have at hand and, in many jails, the tool is restrictive housing and that’s it.”

The number of inmates with mental illnesses has been rising since the 1970s, when states began closing psychiatric hospitals without creating and sustaining comprehensive community treatment programs…

That’s putting it politely. Between Republicans and conservative Democrats, not only state psychiatric hospitals were closed, Reagan tried to end the very existence of the US Public Health Service including their system of Public Health hospitals. Often the sole chance for healthcare for the poor, survival for the mentally ill – Reagan created the avalanche of homeless that swept our nation in following years. Most especially among VietNam era vets who he also ordered blocked from collecting unemployment insurance if they decided against re-enlisting in the US military.

Drone choppers used to try to smuggle contraband into jails

…Four people have been arrested after a remote-controlled helicopter was allegedly used to fly tobacco into Calhoun state prison, Georgia…

Prison guards at the Calhoun state jail spotted a drone hovering over the prison yard and alerted police who began a search of the local area.

Inside a nearby car they found a six-rotor remote-controlled helicopter, between 1lb and 2lb of tobacco and several mobile phones.

Four people were arrested and could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison.

“It is a surprise. I’ve never seen a helicopter,” Sheriff Josh Hilton told reporters.

It follows a similar attempt at the weekend in a prison in Canada.

A drone was spotted flying over the Gatineau jail in Quebec on Sunday. Guards there failed to find either the device, its payload or those flying it.

Remote-controlled flying devices are becoming the tool of choice for those determined to smuggle in contraband, Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec’s correctional officers’ union, told the Ottawa Sun.

“Usually the drones are carrying small packages of drugs or other illicit substances,” he said…”Now that drones are relatively cheap to buy, they’ve become the best way to smuggle drugs inside,” he added.

Makes sense to me. Once again, our military demonstrated new and useful technology to civilian society. Why expect the criminal portion of our nations to avoid technological progress.

IRS lets businesses avoid corporate regulation, call themselves real estate trusts – stop paying taxes!


Look like rental property to you?

A small but growing number of American corporations, operating in businesses as diverse as private prisons, billboards and casinos, are making an aggressive move to reduce — or even eliminate — their federal tax bills.

They are declaring that they are not ordinary corporations at all. Instead, they say, they are something else: special trusts that are typically exempt from paying federal taxes.

The trust structure has been around for years but, until recently, it was generally used only by funds holding real estate. Now, the likes of the Corrections Corporation of America, which owns and operates 44 prisons and detention centers across the nation, have quietly received permission from the Internal Revenue Service to put on new corporate clothes and, as a result, save many millions on taxes.

The Corrections Corporation, which is making the switch, expects to save $70 million in 2013. Penn National Gaming, which operates 22 casinos, including the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas, recently won approval to change its tax designation, too.

Changing from a standard corporation to a real estate investment trust, or REIT — a designation signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower — has suddenly become a hot corporate trend. One Wall Street analyst has characterized the label as a “golden ticket” for corporations…

At a time when deficits and taxes loom large in Washington, some question whether the new real estate investment trusts deserve their privileged position.

As an example of bending over to kiss corporate butt:

…The Corrections Corporation and the Geo Group successfully argued that the money they collect from governments for holding prisoners is essentially rent. Companies that operate cellphone towers have said that the towers themselves are real estate.

Hogwash!

Majority of Mexican prisons run by the gangs on the inside

Six in 10 of Mexican prisons ‘self governed’ by gangs…Prisons are also plagued by overcrowding, a shortage of guards and corrupt employees who sometimes help with breakouts, according to Mexico’s human rights commission.

Representative Andres Aguirre said 60 percent of the country’s 430 prisons or jails are controlled by criminal elements.

He added that the escape of 521 inmates over 14 incidents since 2010 – often with the help of corrupt prison officials – constitutes a grave problem for the country.

Earlier this month, more than 130 inmates escaped from a prison near the U.S. border in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, one of numerous mass breakouts tied to organized crime in the past few years.

Initial reports indicated the Piedras Negras inmates escaped through a 23-foot-long underground tunnel, but it was later revealed that they had merely walked out the facility’s front door with the help of prison guards…

The commission’s findings are a reminder of the challenges that await Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s incoming president, who has pledged to reduce crime in the country after six years of increased gang-related violence under President Felipe Calderon.

Same as it ever was. Anyone who believes decades of political corruption can be wiped away by one term of a reformist president is deluded. But, then, that isn’t just true of Mexico – is it?