Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

An example of how continuous surveillance can work

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Very interesting video showing how “Google Earth with TiVo” can work.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2016 at 1:17 pm

Why the U.S. must move away from private for-profit prisons

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Clint Smith writes in the New Yorker:

People who have spent time in prison say that it is difficult to adequately convey what it means to have someone else in full control of your movements—when you eat, when you sleep, where you go, and how you get there. But when control is combined with a profit-making business model, it takes on a different character.

The absurdity of privatizing prisons, institutions whose purpose is to rehabilitate, so that their economic motivations no longer match up with their social missions, has for years been at the forefront of conversations regarding criminal-justice reform. During the Democratic Presidential primaries, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders promised to end the use of private prisons if elected. Then, last week, the Justice Department announced its plans to phase out their use in the federal system. The government had concluded, as Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in a memo to federal officials, that these prisons, contrary to the private-prison industry’s claims, “do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”

The Justice Department’s decision will directly affect only thirteen federal facilities, which, taken together, house approximately twenty-two thousand of the country’s hundred and ninety-three thousand federal prisoners. But those numbers do not fully reflect the influence that private prisons have had on the broader criminal-justice system. After the private sector first entered the world of incarceration, in 1983, a handful of companies quickly began to exert a disproportionate amount of power in shaping the American prison landscape. Private-prison companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators in state capitals and in Washington, D.C. As Adam Gopnik reported in this magazine, in 2012, Corrections Corporations of America (C.C.A.), the largest for-profit prison company in the United States, has said explicitly that changes to drug laws and sentencing, as well as immigration reform, would hurt its business. A 2005 annual report from C.C.A. states:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

The distorted incentives of the for-profit prison industry have even managed to find bright sides to undisputed social problems like unemployment. In 2008, one industry executive wrote a letter to shareholders saying that he believed the demand for prison beds would increase because people being released at the time would have a more difficult time finding jobs as a result of the recession, thus increasing their likelihood of ending up back in prison. The higher the recidivism rates, the more beds that are filled, and the more beds that are filled, the better for a for-profit prison. That said, not all private prisons have to worry about recidivism rates: some of their contracts at the state level guarantee them a certain number of prisoners. Four years ago, Harley Lappin, the chief corrections officer of C.C.A. and the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, offered states a deal: the company would buy state prisons (the money could help plug state budgets) in exchange for twenty-year contracts and guaranteed ninety-per-cent occupancy. A 2013 analysis by the privatization watchdog In the Public Interest found that two-thirds of private-prison contracts in the country include occupancy guarantees and stipulations that taxpayers cover the cost of any empty beds.

The U.S. prison system, over all, disproportionately affects black and brown people, but people of color are overrepresented to a greater degree in private prisons. Chris Petrella, a doctoral candidate in African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, has written that this overrepresentation can be directly attributed to contractual provisions that “implicitly exempt private prison companies from housing certain types of individuals whose health care and staffing costs disproportionately attenuate profit margins. Health and therefore age tends to serve as a proxy for race without any explicit reference to it.” For example, black males between the ages of eighteen and nineteen are ten times more likely to be in state or federal prison than white males of the same age, and, because these young people tend to be healthier than their older counterparts, they are more likely to be incarcerated in a for-profit prison. Older prisoners are more expensive for prisons to house because they tend to require more health care over time. According to Petrella, private prisons attempt to keep older and sicker prisoners out, because the more they have to spend on an elderly prisoner’s health care, the more it cuts into their profit margin per inmate.
For-profit institutions also tend to be more violent and to provide fewer opportunities to prisoners for education and rehabilitative treatment. For years, activists have been asking a basic question: If getting an education while incarcerated has been proved to reduce recidivism rates, then what incentive does an institution that makes its money keeping people in prison have to provide any sort of educational programming? The private-prison company’s ultimate responsibility is not to the imprisoned, or even to the non-imprisoned—it is to the shareholder.
Of course, even in government-run prisons, private companies operate in a number of capacities. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2016 at 12:34 pm

US prisons are poorly run and do not even give inmates sufficient drinking water

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Alice Speri reports in The Intercept:

In the summer months, 84 inmates at the Price Daniel Unit, a medium-security prison four hours west of Dallas, share a 10-gallon cooler of water that’s kept locked in a common area. An inmate there can expect to receive one 8 oz. cup every four hours, according to Benny Hernandez, a man serving a 10-year sentence at the prison. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults drink about twice that amount under normal conditions and even more in hot climates. According to Hernandez, in the summer the temperature in his prison’s housing areas can reach an astonishing 140 degrees.

The prison provides ice for the cooler twice a day, but the ice has long melted before the hottest part of the day, he wrote in a post on Prison Writers, a website where inmates share their experiences behind bars. “Prisoners look upon the summer months in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) with dread and trepidation,” he wrote. “For one is acutely aware that one may not survive another summer. Many do not.”

The TDCJ, which runs Texas prisons and houses more than 146,000 inmates, is currently in the middle of litigation over what inmates and advocates have said is deadly heat in its facilities. But Texas is not the only state facing such lawsuits. Louisiana is defending its refusal to install air conditioning on death row, while prisons and jails across the country have been ordered by courts to address their sweltering temperatures and extend protections to inmates, particularly the ill and elderly.

A spokesperson for TDCJ wrote in a statement to The Intercept that “the well-being of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat.” He said that only 30 of the state’s 109 prisons have air conditioning in all inmate housing areas, because many were built before that became a common feature and retrofitting them would be “extremely expensive.” Instead, he said, the agency has taken measures like offering water and ice, restricting inmate activities, and training staff to recognize heat-related illness. The spokesperson said that inmates have “the ability to access water throughout the day” and that ice and water coolers are refilled continuously — contradicting the accounts of inmates who said that ice rations are often reduced and sometimes outright denied, that in some facilities they are given no ice or cold water for days at a time, that ice is so scarce that inmates will buy it off each other, and that inmates residing in a given cell block are given ice water to pass down the row of cells, which often leads to violence and hoarding of the vital resource.

Hernandez, the Price Daniel Unit inmate, acknowledged that prison officials there took some “precautionary measures,” like the water cooler and placing fans in common areas of the prison, but said that was hardly enough. Inmates have fans in their cells only if they can afford to buy them from the prison commissary, and “once the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the fans simply circulate hot air,” he wrote.

“It routinely feels as if one’s sitting in a convection oven being slowly cooked alive.”

In a 2014 report documenting the “deadly heat” inside Texas prisons, researchers with the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic found that since 2007, at least 14 inmates had died from extreme heat exposure in prisons across the state. The report documented at length the . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. There’s a lot more and it’s disgusting, describing callous (and even criminal) neglect of human rights and the health of prisoners. Texas, of course, is a particular example of a state government that fails to address the needs of its citizens, but other states also fail to meet minimal human-rights standards.

Later in the article:

. . . “Part of the reason why you see this kind of irrational behavior — spending far more to fight the lawsuit than it would cost to just air-condition the prison — is because AC is seen as a luxury and prison officials don’t want to be seen as running luxurious prisons,” said Fathi. “Climate control is not a matter of comfort and luxury — it’s a matter of life or death.”

So far, the ACLU and other rights groups have been making that case one facility at a time. In Wisconsin, they won a court order to air-condition a prison where temperatures were reaching “potentially lethal levels.” In Mississippi, they won an order to provide fans, iced water, and daily showers when the heat index exceeds 90 degrees. They also secured protections for inmates more susceptible to heat-related injury at the Baltimore City Jail. In the Maricopa County jail in Arizona, run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the ACLU won an order that inmates on certain kinds of medication that make them more vulnerable to heat be housed in temperatures of 85 degrees or below.

“Unfortunately, because we have this very decentralized criminal justice system, you have to fight it out state by state and facility by facility” said Fathi. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2016 at 11:02 am

Another step down the path to a police state: Continuous surveillance of civilian population—with face recognition

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Just read it. This is beyond what Soviet Russia did (because they didn’t have the technology—naturally they would have done it if they had the technology. And we do have the technology. So that means we do it? Just like the Soviet Union except different national languages?

Isn’t there something wrong with that picture?

Update: See this brief video of the system in action.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 August 2016 at 5:06 pm

What went on in Turkey would make a terrific science-fiction novel translated to the galactic scale

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The report by Tolga Tanis in The Intercept reminds me of some of the Van Vogt space opera (the Null-A series, for example):

Nearly 20 years ago, while Turkey was in the midst of a military coup, I was asked to interview a member of a secretive religious organization whose membership — and even its aims — was little understood.

I was a young reporter for a television news program, Teke Tek, and Mr. X, as we referred to him, was a member of a group led by Fethullah Gülen, known to his followers as Hocaefendi.

We spent days together, starting in the morning and sometimes talking until midnight. What he said was astonishing. Mr. X, a shy, well-behaved young man, told me about the movement’s clandestine methods to sneak into the military schools.

First, we determine the talented, brilliant, but at the same time loyal 11- to 12-year-old students to prepare them for the military school examinations. Then we separate them from the others. And we start to meet with them secretly. We never talk in public area. We don’t want to be seen with them. Because if the military knows that these students are taught by us, they don’t have a chance to get in. And once they’ve been elected, we keep communicating again carefully. Precaution is essential for us. This is Hocaefendi’s order. And if we suspect that the relationship might be uncovered, we cease to see the student. Sometimes this non-communication takes years. But one day, we remind the student ourselves. And he always responds positively. That is why we pick the most loyal ones. And that is why they obey their hierarchal level. Everyone talks to his own big brother. No one can break the hierarchy.

According to Mr. X, the mostly highly prized of the recruits were the military pilots, and particularly pilots who could fly the American-made F-16 fighters. “Without exception, Hocaefendi wants to see every F-16 pilot by himself to bless him, even though it is very rare to see him if you are not a high-level imam,” Mr. X said (senior leaders in the organization are called “imams”). Mr. X said he was tired of the secrecy and was leaving the movement and wanted people to know about its operations.

At the time, I was shocked by this description of a massive organization. The Gülenists were, according to Mr. X, recruiting in the police, the judicial system, and other government agencies. Gülen’s followers were creating a playbook for religious adherents to survive in a government dominated by a rigid secular ideology promulgated by the Kemalists.

But after the February 28 military coup of 1997 and the resignation of the Islamist prime minister, circumstances changed. Fethullah Gülen left Turkey for the U.S. in 1999. Three years later, AKP, an Islamist political party, came to power in Turkey with the support of Gülenists, and being religious was no longer a reason to be excluded from the government.

I didn’t see Mr. X again. I had finished my interview with him and gave the notes to the anchorman, who was planning to write a book. Nothing was ever published or broadcast, however. Mr. X was never exposed, and he started a new life after leaving the movement.

Much has changed in the intervening years, most notably a break between Gülen and the AKP’s charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president of Turkey. Clashes between the two fronts erupted in 2012, and Erdogan accused the Gülen movement of creating a “parallel structure” within the state. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 August 2016 at 12:56 pm

Kafkaesque: A homeless woman’s long war to prove the feds owe her $100,000.

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Petula Dvorack has a very interesting report in the Washington Post. From the report:

. . . “She had all the paperwork there, neatly organized, in order. She was right all along. They did owe her all that money,” marveled Turner, 56.

Witter should be getting her check from Social Security for $99,999 in the next few days, said her new attorney, Daniela de la Piedra, who specializes in Social Security disputes. That’s the largest amount that the Social Security Administration can cut to get her the money fast. She might be owed even more, which would be paid out later, once all the paperwork is done.

It will be the end of a long quest. Witter wandered the streets of the District for about 16 years, calling Social Security’s toll-free number, sending letters and trying to get someone to listen to her predicament. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2016 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Government, Law

A Congressman Campaigns to “Stop the Madness” of U.S. Support for Saudi Bombing in Yemen

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Ben Norton reports in The Intercept:

For months, a California congressman has been trying to get Obama administration officials to reconsider U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. And for months, he has been given the runaround.

Ted Lieu, a Democrat representing Los Angeles County, served in the Air Force and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. The brutal bombing of civilian areas with U.S.-supplied planes and weapons has led him to act when most of his colleagues have stayed silent.

“I taught the law of war when I was on active duty,” he told The Intercept. “You can’t kill children, newlyweds, doctors and patients — those are exempt targets under the law of war, and the coalition has been repeatedly striking civilians,” he said. “So it is very disturbing to me. It is even worse that the U.S. is aiding this coalition.”

But he and a very few other lawmakers who have tried to take bipartisan action to stop U.S. support for the campaign are a lonely bunch. “Many in Congress have been hesitant to criticize the Saudis’ operational conduct in Yemen,” Lieu said. He didn’t say more about that.

The matter has gotten ever more urgent since August 7, when the Saudi-led coalition relaunched an aggressive campaign of attacks after Houthi rebels in Yemen rejected a one-sided peace deal.

More than 60 Yemeni civilians have been killed in at least five attacks on civilian areas since the new bombing campaign began. On August 13, the coalition bombed a school in Haydan, Yemen, killing at least 10 children and injuring 28 more.

Lieu released a statement two days later, harshly condemning the attack. “The indiscriminate civilian killings by Saudi Arabia look like war crimes to me. In this case, children as young as 8 were killed by Saudi Arabian air strikes,” he wrote.

“By assisting Saudi Arabia, the United States is aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes in Yemen,” Lieu added. “The administration must stop enabling this madness now.”

Then, mere minutes after his office sent out the statement about the August 13 attack, another tragedy started making headlines: The . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2016 at 11:04 am

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