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Archive for April 5th, 2018

Inside a Private Prison: Blood, Suicide and Poorly Paid Guards

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Timothy Williams describes the situation inside American prisons, which are being turned over to private companies to run for profit:

On the witness stand and under pressure, Frank Shaw, the warden of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, could not guarantee that the prison was capable of performing its most basic function.

Asked if the guards were supposed to keep inmates in their cells, he said, wearily, “They do their best.”

According to evidence and testimony at a federal civil rights trial, far worse things were happening at the prison than inmates strolling around during a lockdown: A mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, gang members were allowed to beat other prisoners, and those whose cries for medical attention were ignored resorted to setting fires in their cells.

So many shackled men have recounted instances of extraordinary violence and neglect in the prison that the judge has complained of exhaustion.

The case, which has received little attention beyond the local news media, provides a rare glimpse into the cloistered world of privately operated prisons, at a time when the number of state inmates in private facilities is increasing and the Trump administration has indicated that it will expand their use.

The use of private prisons has long been contentious. A 2016 Justice Department report found that they were more violent than government-run institutions for inmates and guards alike, and the Obama administration sought to phase out their use on the federal level. Early last year, President Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, reversed the ban.

Several states, including Michigan and Utah, have stopped using private prisons in recent years because of security problems.

But more than two dozen other states, including Mississippi, contract with privately managed prison companies as a way to reduce costs. Prisons are usually among the most expensive budget items for states.

Since 2000, the number of people housed in privately operated prisons in the nation has increased by 45 percent, while the total number of prisoners has risen by only about 10 percent, according to an analysisby the Sentencing Project.

The genesis of the problems at East Mississippi, according to prisoner advocates, is that the state requires private prisons to operate at 10 percent lower cost than state-run facilities. Even at its state-run institutions, Mississippi spends significantly less on prisoners than most states, a fact that state officials once boasted about.

The federal civil rights lawsuit, filed against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center after years of complaints from inmates, seeks to force wholesale changes at the prison.

Testimony has described dangerous conditions, confused lines of oversight and difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified staff.

Security staff at East Mississippi earn even less than the $12-an-hour starting wage made by their public service counterparts, and private prison guards receive only three weeks of training — less than half the training time required of state prison guards.

The state’s contract with Management & Training Corporation is particularly economical. Mississippi pays the company just $26 a day — or about $9,500 a year — for each minimum-security inmate. That is far less than the $15,000 a year neighboring Alabama spends per inmate, and only 13 percent of what New York, which spends more than any other state, pays per inmate.

Called as an expert witness for the Mississippi inmates, Eldon Vail, the former state prisons chief in Washington State, told the court that the focus on cutting costs had sent East Mississippi into a downward spiral.

“There are not a sufficient number of correctional officers, and most of their problems stem from that issue,” he said.

Mr. Vail said that with too few guards to maintain order, inmates felt compelled to protect themselves with crudely made knives and other weapons, prompting a chain of retaliatory violence. And having too few doctors and nurses meant that inmates with mental illnesses were also more likely to act out violently.

Lawyers for the state and representatives of Management & Training say prisons are meant to be tough environments, and that East Mississippi is no worse than most others.

“We can say — unequivocally — that the facility is safe, secure, clean, and well run,” Issa Arnita, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement released during the trial. “From the warden on down, our staff are trained to treat the men in our care with dignity and respect. Our mission is to help these men make choices in prison and after they’re released that will lead to a new and successful life in society.”

Trial testimony has presented a radically different picture.

Mr. Shaw, the warden — who works for Management & Training, not for the state — receives incentives for staying within budget, but is not penalized when inmates die under questionable circumstances or when fires damage the prison. Four prisoners have died this year.

The warden said that he had been unaware of cases in which inmates had been so badly beaten that they required hospitalization, and that he had not disciplined guards who failed to ensure that inmates were unable to jam door locks and leave their cells.

When Mr. Shaw was asked about the variety of homemade objects used to commit assaults at the prison, he was dismissive. “Inmates have weapons,” he said. “It’s a fact of life.”

Mr. Shaw had previously been warden at an Arizona prison operated by Management & Training, where there was a riot in 2015. A scathing state report determined the riot was sparked by Management & Training’s “culture of disorganization, disengagement and disregard” of “policies and fundamental inmate management and security principles.”

At East Mississippi, the prison designated by the state to hold mentally ill inmates, there was a glaring lack of oversight of inmate care, according to testimony. Four out of five inmates in the prison receive psychiatric medication, but the facility has not had a psychiatrist since November.

The state prison mental health director is not a medical doctor, but a marriage and family therapist. And Gloria Perry, who became the prison system’s chief medical officer in 2008, said that she had never been to the East Mississippi prison.

Pelicia E. Hall, the commissioner of the state prison system, testified that she may have been unaware of many problems at the facility because she did not read weekly performance reports from the state’s own monitor.

In the courtroom, the reports were delivered in person: An inmate testified in tears that a female guard had mocked him when he tried to report being raped in a cell in January. The guard never informed her superiors about the rape.

In an unrelated assault, surveillance video showed an inmate being beaten by other prisoners for 14 minutes before guards arrived. . .

Continue reading.

Of course private corporations will cut corners to increase profits. That’s what they do. Who would expect otherwise? And in some states private prison corporations (and correctional guard unions) push for mandatory minimum sentences, 3-strikes laws, and more felonies that require sentences of prison time: anything to keep prisons full of prisoners, for without prisoners, where would the profits be?

The US is seriously on the decline.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2018 at 4:02 pm

In defence of proper usage

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2018 at 11:29 am

Four Ways to Fix Facebook

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Julia Angwin reports in ProPublica:

Gathered in a Washington, D.C., ballroom last Thursday for their annual “tech prom,” hundreds of tech industry lobbyists and policy makers applauded politely as announcers read out the names of the event’s sponsors. But the room fell silent when “Facebook” was proclaimed — and the silence was punctuated by scattered boos and groans.

These days, it seems the only bipartisan agreement in Washington is to hate Facebook. Democrats blame the social network for costing them the presidential election. Republicans loathe Silicon Valley billionaires like Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for their liberal leanings. Even many tech executives, boosters and acolytes can’t hide their disappointment and recriminations.

The tipping point appears to have been the recent revelation that a voter-profiling outfit working with the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had obtained data on 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent. News of the breach came after a difficult year in which, among other things, Facebook admitted that it allowed Russians to buy political ads, advertisers to discriminate by race and age, hate groups to spread vile epithets, and hucksters to promote fake news on its platform.

Over the years, Congress and federal regulators have largely left Facebook to police itself. Now, lawmakers around the world are calling for it to be regulated. Congress is gearing up to grill Zuckerberg. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated its 2011 settlement agreement with the agency. Zuckerberg himself suggested, in a CNN interview, that perhaps Facebook should be regulated by the government.

The regulatory fever is so strong that even Peter Swire, a privacy law professor at Georgia Institute of Technology who testified last year in an Irish court on behalf of Facebook, recently laid out the legal case for why Google and Facebook might be regulated as public utilities. Both companies, he argued, satisfy the traditional criteria for utility regulation: They have large market share, are natural monopolies, and are difficult for customers to do without.

While the political momentum may not be strong enough right now for something as drastic as that, many in Washington are trying to envision what regulating Facebook would look like. After all, the solutions are not obvious. The world has never tried to rein in a global network with 2 billion users that is built on fast-moving technology and evolving data practices.

I talked to numerous experts about the ideas bubbling up in Washington. They identified four concrete, practical reforms that could address some of Facebook’s main problems. None are specific to Facebook
alone; potentially, they could be applied to all social media and the tech industry.

1. Impose Fines for Data Breaches

The Cambridge Analytica data loss was the result of a breach of contract, rather than a technical breach in which a company gets hacked. But either way, it’s far too common for institutions to lose customers’ data — and they rarely suffer significant financial consequences for the loss. In the United States, companies are only required to notify people if their data has been breached in certain states and under certain circumstances — and regulators rarely have the authority to penalize companies that lose personal data.

Consider the Federal Trade Commission, which is the primary agency that regulates internet companies these days. The FTC doesn’t have the authority to demand civil penalties for most data breaches. (There are exceptions for violations of children’s privacy and a few other offenses.) Typically, the FTC can only impose penalties if a company has violated a previous agreement with the agency.

That means Facebook may well face a fine for the Cambridge Analytica breach, assuming the FTC can show that the social network violated a 2011 settlement with the agency. In that settlement, the FTC charged Facebook with eight counts of unfair and deceptive behavior, including allowing outside apps to access data that they didn’t need — which is what Cambridge Analytica reportedly did years later. The settlement carried no financial penalties but included a clause stating that Facebook could face fines of $16,000 per violation per day.

David Vladeck, former FTC director of consumer protection, who crafted the 2011 settlement with Facebook, said he believes Facebook’s actions in the Cambridge Analytica episode violated the agreement on multiple counts. “I predict that if the FTC concludes that Facebook violated the consent decree, there will be a heavy civil penalty that could well be in the amount of $1 billion or more,” he said.

Facebook maintains it has abided by the agreement. “Facebook rejects any suggestion that it violated the consent decree,” spokesman Andy Stone said. “We respected the privacy settings that people had in place.”

If a fine had been levied at the time of the settlement, it might well have served as a stronger deterrent against any future breaches. Daniel J. Weitzner, who served in the White House as the deputy chief technology officer at the time of the Facebook settlement, says that technology should be policed by something similar to the Department of Justice’s environmental crimes unit. The unit has levied hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. Under previous administrations, it filed felony charges against people for such crimes as dumping raw sewage or killing a bald eagle. Some ended up sentenced to prison.

“We know how to do serious law enforcement when we think there’s a real priority and we haven’t gotten there yet when it comes to privacy,” Weitzner said.

2. Police Political Advertising

Last year, Facebook disclosed that it had inadvertently accepted thousands of advertisements that were placed by a Russian disinformation operation — in possible violation of laws that restrict foreign involvement in U.S. elections. FBI special prosecutor Robert Mueller has charged 13 Russians who worked for an internet disinformation organization with conspiring to defraud the United States, but it seems unlikely that Russia will compel them to face trial in the U.S.

Facebook has said it will introduce a new regime of advertising transparency later this year, which will require political advertisers to submit a government-issued ID and to have an authentic mailing address. It said political advertisers will also have to disclose which candidate or organization they represent and that all election ads will be displayed in a public archive.

But Ann Ravel, a former commissioner at the Federal Election Commission, says that more could be done. While she was at the commission, she urged it to consider what it could do to make internet advertising contain as much disclosure as broadcast and print ads. “Do we want Vladimir Putin or drug cartels to be influencing American elections?” she presciently asked at a 2015 commission meeting.

However, the election commission — which is often deadlocked between its evenly split Democratic and Republican commissioners — has not yet ruled on new disclosure rules for internet advertising. Even if it does pass such a rule, the commission’s definition of election advertising is so narrow that many of the ads placed by the Russians may not have qualified for scrutiny. It’s limited to ads that mention a federal candidate and appear within 60 days prior to a general election or 30 days prior to a primary.

This definition, Ravel said, is not going to catch new forms of election interference, such as ads placed months before an election, or the practice of paying individuals or bots to spread a message that doesn’t identify a candidate and looks like authentic communications rather than ads.

To combat this type of interference, Ravel said, the current definition of election advertising needs to be broadened. The FEC, she suggested, should establish “a multi-faceted test” to determine whether certain communications should count as election advertisements. For instance, communications could be examined for their intent, and whether they were paid for in a nontraditional way — such as through an automated bot network.

And to help the tech companies find suspect communications, she suggested setting up an enforcement arm similar to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN. FinCEN combats money laundering by investigating suspicious account transactions reported by financial institutions. Ravel said that a similar enforcement arm that would work with tech companies would help the FEC.

“The platforms could turn over lots of communications and the investigative agency could then examine them to determine if they are from prohibited sources,” she said.

3. Make Tech Companies Liable for Objectionable Content

Last year, ProPublica found that Facebook was allowing advertisers to buy discriminatory ads, including ads targeting people who identified themselves as “Jew-haters,” and ads for housing and employment that excluded audiences based on raceage and other protected characteristics under civil rights laws.

Facebook has claimed that it has immunity against liability for such discrimination under section 230 of the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act, which protects online publishers from liability for third-party content.

“Advertisers, not Facebook, are responsible for both the content of their ads and what targeting criteria to use, if any,” Facebook stated in legal filings in a federal case in California challenging Facebook’s use of racial exclusions in ad targeting.

But sentiment is growing in Washington to interpret the law more narrowly. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill that carves out an exemption in the law, making websites liable if they aid and abet sex trafficking. Despite fierce opposition by many tech advocates, a version of the bill has already passed the Senate.

And many staunch defenders of the tech industry have started to suggest that more exceptions to section 230 may be needed. In November, Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain wrote an article rethinking his previous supportfor the law and declared it has become, in effect, “a subsidy” for the tech giants, who don’t bear the costs of ensuring the content they publish is accurate and fair.

“Any honest account must acknowledge the collateral damage it has permitted to be visited upon real people whose reputations, privacy, and dignity have been hurt in ways that defy redress,” Zittrain wrote.

In a December 2017 paper titled “The Internet Will Not Break: Denying Bad Samaritans 230 Immunity,” University of Maryland law professors Danielle Citron and Benjamin Wittes argue that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2018 at 11:10 am

Stubble Trubble Up & Adam with Paul Sebastian aftershave

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Stubble Trubble Up & Adam makes an extremely nice lather and pretty much by itself puts paid to the notion that a soap must contain tallow to make a fine lather. I do like the espresso-vanilla fragrance, too. It’s an easy soap to lather, and the Fine Classic did the job easily. RazoRock’s Old Type remains a favorite for its efficiency, its comfort, and its handle, though the handle shown seems have been used only on the first release.

Because of Paul Sebastian’s tonka bean fragrance—vanilla, in effect—I always think of it in connection with Up & Adam.

I’m still thinking about the lather: really excellent.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2018 at 10:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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