Why the US locks up prisoners for life


By Kate DaileyBBC News Magazine

Man behind bars

Last week, an English court handed a whole-life sentence to Dale Cregan for murdering four people, including two policewomen.

That penalty means he will never be eligible for release, and it puts him in rare company, making him one of about 50 people in the UK serving such a sentence.

Had he been in the US, he would have been less of an anomaly.

In the US, at least 40,000 people are imprisoned without hope for parole, including 2,500 under the age of 18.

That is just a fraction of those who have been given a life sentence but yet may one day win release. The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation that studies sentencing and criminal justice in America, estimated in 2009 that at least 140,000 prisoners in the US now serve a life sentence.

This does not include convicts given extremely long sentences with a fixed term, like the Alabama man sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.

Most of them will have the opportunity for parole – though Sentencing Project Director Marc Mauer says few will receive it.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

Criminals are always less popular than victims”

Franklin ZimringUniversity of California, Berkeley

David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, says several factors underlie the high number of American convicts imprisoned for life.

“In large part it reflects the overly punitive nature of the American criminal justice system,” says Mauer.

“Not only do we use life sentences much more extensively than other industrial nations, but even in the lower level of event severity, the average burglar or car thief will do more time than they will in Canada or Wales.”

The harsh sentences reveal a type of “sentencing inflation” that began in the 1980s and 1990s.

“It was almost a competition among legislatures of both parties to show how tough they could be on crime,” says Mauer.

At the same time, the sentence is thought to send a message.

“In states like Michigan where they don’t have a death penalty, this is what they have as its moral equivalent,” says Franklin Zimring, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

In states that do have the death penalty, long sentences underscore distaste for crimes that do not meet the threshold for capital punishment.

Inmates at Chino State Prison, which houses 5500 inmates, crowd around double and triple bunk beds in a gymnasium that was modified to house 213 prisonersCalifornia’s overcrowded prisons have prisoners sleeping in stacked bedding in the gymnasium

“This is a way of putting a denunciatory exclamation point in the punishment,” he says.

Politicians and other state officials are loathe to be seen as soft on crime, let alone to release an offender on parole only to have him commit another crime.

The 1993 death of Polly Klaas, a young girl killed by a recently paroled man with a long criminal history, led California to pass a “three strikes” rule mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for anyone found guilty of three felonies.

Continue reading the main story

Life in jail: Safer streets?

Does locking away criminals for life make society safer for everyone else?

“At some level the answer is obviously yes,” says Dan Bernhardt. “There’s no threat to safety if the prisoner is not at risk of re-offending, and a clear benefit if he is.”

But Bernhardt’s research shows that long prison sentences may impede rehabilitation.

“It can be grossly counterproductive,” he says. “It can discourage someone from trying to rehabilitate themselves.”

In the UK, “it is rare but not unheard of for someone on a life license to commit serious offenses,” says David Wilson, who says checks are in place to keep tabs on those who are released.

California lawmakers cite the three strikes policy as the reason for the state’s declining crime rate. But University of California, Riverside sociologist Robert Nash Parker says other factors are responsible, like the national decline in alcohol consumption.

“The drop in crime occurred all over the country, in every state. It dropped at the same time, magnitude, direction,” he says. “It can’t possibly be due to a policy in just one state.”

But now, in both the US and the UK the sentence of life without parole is coming into question.

In England, these sentences arecurrently being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, after a lawsuit brought by three men serving whole life sentences – “a double murderer, a man who wiped out his entire family to inherit money, and a serial killer,” says Wilson.

These men, at least one of whom proclaims his innocence, argue that the denial of a parole option does not allow them to claim they have changed. They further argue that the assignment of these sentences is arbitrary – some convicted killers get them, others do not.

In the US, budget cuts have forced states to reconsider whether the practice of locking criminals up for long periods of time is cost-effective.

“Lawmakers in Illinois have made the decision to shut down a few prisons and let people out early in order to save money,” says Dan Bernhardt, professor of economics at the University of Illinois.

“There’s nothing like state budget problems to get people to see what the costs are.”

In 2012, the US Supreme Court also established that for minors, a sentence of life without parole violates the Constitution’s safeguardsagainst “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The court also ruled that prison overcrowding in California – due in part to severe sentencing and the three strikes programme – violates the same safeguards. It ordered the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners.

But action after these verdicts has been slow, as state officials continue to fight in court.

In the US, once someone has been sent to prison on a life sentence, it’s hard for him or her to get out.

 

Visions of a Nuclear Free World-Ending Atomic Power One Plant at a Time


English: Anti nuclear power movement's Smiling...

 

 

 

by KARL GROSSMAN

 

Southern California Edison’s announcement last week that it will close its troubled twin-reactor San Onofre nuclear power plant—along with other recent setbacks for atomic energy in the United States—marks a downward spiral for nuclear power.

And it could—and should—mean a great advance for the implementation of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies. “We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, after the announcement Friday. “The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with safe and clean energy provided by the sun and wind.”

S. David Freeman, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and other utilities, at a joint news conference with Pica Friday, said it was a “step in the right direction and another move toward the renewable revolution that’s underway in California.”

Also this week, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy scrapped plans to build nuclear plants in Iowa. Last month, Dominion Resources announced it was shutting down its Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin. Also last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that a partnership between Toshiba and NRG Energy to build two nuclear plants in Texas violated a U.S. law barring foreign control of nuclear plants. Further last month, Duke Energy announced it was scuttling plans to build two nuclear plants in North Carolina. This came after Duke’s earlier announcement that it would close its troubled Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida.

From 104, the U.S. in short order has gone to 100 operating nuclear plants—and most of these are also plagued with safety and financial problems. Many also face strong opposition and

demands they be shut down.

“This industry is on its final trajectory downward,” said Pica Friday. He said that with these events, the NRC should be renamed the Nuclear Retirement Commission.

At the news conference, Freeman said that having a nuclear power-free and greenhouse gas-free world are the two most needed things to be done to “sustain life…on Earth.”

That nuclear power is a threat to life is not a new issue—it’s been central to the battle against nuclear power even before the first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., the Shippingport plant in Pennsylvania, opened in 1957.

But new in recent decades have been the great advances in safe, clean, renewable energy technologies led by solar and wind, rendering nuclear power unnecessary.  Germany has become a global model in jettisoning nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and is committed to a goal of 100% of its energy coming from clean, renewable sources.

A few hundred miles from the San Onofre plant, in San Francisco last month, a conference—“Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy”—was held serving as an international organizing and strategy event. It was hosted by the Renewables 100 Policy Institute of San Francisco. Experts in energy and finance, political leaders and renewable energy activists spoke on the feasibility of 100% renewable energy.

Study after study have now determined that renewable technologies can provide all the power the world needs.The Renewables 100 Policy Institute presents many on its website (www.go100percent.org) including “A Plan to Power 100% of the Planet With Renewables,” a 2009 cover story ofScientific American, a conservative and most careful publication.

The challenge has been converting this understanding to action, particularly considerng how special interests pushing their energy products—nuclear, oil, gas and coal—have a hold on so many governments around the world. At the conference, a “global alliance” was formed to “build political will among a critical mass of decision makers and set a required goal of 100% renewable energies.”

Also a big problem has been the ignorance in much of mainstream media about energy issues—especially concerning nuclear power. For example, at the news conference Friday, Matthew Wald, who covers nuclear power for The New York Times, demanded most defensively of Pica how he squared eliminating “2,400 megawatts of carbon-free energy” that would be generated by the San Onofre nuclear plant. Wald either doesn’t want to acknowledge or doesn’t know that the “nuclear cycle”—the mining, milling, fuel enrichment and other components of nuclear power—emit greenhouse gases and contribute substantially to global warming, and thus the energy from San Onofre was never “carbon-free.”

The San Onofre plant, built along an earthquake fault, has been an obvious threat to anyone traveling along Interstate 5, the major highway linking San Diego and Los Angeles. Its twin domes sit right next to Interstate 5.

“We are now left with one of the largest, most concentrated nuclear waste piles on the planet,” said Ace Hoffman of Carlsbad, California, who has written extensively about the serious safety problems at San Onofre. “This will be an eternal problem, but thankfully it is no longer a growing problem…It will take millions of years—not just days—to be safe, but at least we are headed in the right direction.” As to the employees of San Onofre, said Hoffman Friday: “I hope they all will find jobs in the solar and wind technology energy sectors.”

Two nuclear reactors amid millions of people will now be shut down permanently. The electricity they would have generated can be replaced, said utility veteran Freeman, an engineer, through energy efficiency and with solar and wind power made available on-demand with a variety of energy storage systems.

And, as Damon Moglen, climate and energy director of Friends of the Earth, said at the conference, with San Onofre’s closing “we will see California move even more decisively” on renewable energy and become “one of the largest non-nuclear economies on our planet .”

That’s a big step in the vision of a nuclear power-free world using energy that people can live with—safe, clean renewable energy.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

 

San Onofre is Dead and So Is Nuclear Power


The sun sets on San Onofre. (Photo: dolanh/cc/flickr)From his California beach house at San Clemente, Richard Nixon once watched three reactors rise at nearby San Onofre. As of June 7, 2013, all three are permanently shut.

It’s a monumental victory for grassroots activism. it marks an epic transition in how we get our energy.

In the thick of the 1970s Arab oil embargo, Nixon said there’d be 1000 such reactors in the US by the year 2000.

As of today, there are 100.

Four have shut here this year. Citizen activism has put the “nuclear renaissance” into full retreat.

Just two of 54 reactors now operate in Japan, where Fukushima has joined Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in permanently scarring us all.

Germany is shutting its entire fleet and switching to renewables. France, once the poster child for the global reactor industry, is following suit. South Korea has just shut three due to fraudulent safety procedures. Massive demonstrations rage against reactors being built in India. Only the Koreans, Chinese and Russians remain at all serious about pushing ahead with this tragic technology.

Cheap gas has undercut the short-term market for expensive electricity generated by obsolete coal and nuke burners. But the vision of Solartopia—a totally green-powered Earth—is now our tangible long-term reality.

With falling prices and soaring efficiency, every moving electron our species consumes will be generated by a solar panel, wind turbine, bio-fueled or geothermal generator, wave machine and their green siblings.

As of early this year, Southern California Edison’s path to a re-start at San Onofre seemed as clear as any to be expected by a traditional atomic tyrannosaur.

But with help from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator-to-be Ed Markey (D-MA), a powerful citizen uprising stopped it dead.

So did the terrifying incompetence and greed that has defined the nuclear industry from the days of Nixon and before.

San Onofre Unit One shut in the 1990s due largely to steam generator problems.

In the early 2000s, Units 2 & 3 needed new steam generators of their own. In the usual grasp for more profits, Edison chose untested, unlicensed new designs.

But they failed. And the whole world was watching. In the wake of Fukushima, two more leaky tsunami-zone reactors surrounded by earthquake faults were massively unwelcome.

So a well-organized non-violent core of local, state and national activists and organizations rose up to stop the madness.

At Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, Seabrook, Davis-Besse and dozens of other reactors around the US and world, parallel opposition is escalating.

Make no mistake—this double victory at San Onofre is a falling domino. Had the public not fought back, those reactors would have been “fixed” at public expense.

Today, they are dead.

Worldwide, there are some 400 to go. Each of them—including the 100 remaining in the US—could do apocalyptic damage. We still have our work cut out for us.

But a huge double-step has been taken up the road to Solartopia.

There will be no Fukushimas at San Onofre.

A green-powered Earth is that much closer.

And we have yet another proof that citizen action makes all the difference in our world.

So seize the day and celebrate!!!

Harvey Wasserman

Harvey Wasserman’s Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.progressiveradionetwork.com, and he edits www.nukefree.org. Harvey Wasserman’s History of the US and Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth are atwww.harveywasserman.com along with Passions of the PotSmoking Patriots by “Thomas Paine.”  He and Bob Fitrakis have co-authored four books on election protection, including How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election, atwww.freepress.org.

PRESS RELEASE- San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to close permanently #goodnews


SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON PLANT - NARA - 542593

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON PLANT – NARA – 542593 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Media Relations (626) 302-2255
Investor Relations Contact: Scott Cunningham (626) 302-2540
Southern California Edison Announces Plans to
Retire San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
Company Will Continue its Work with State Agencies on Electric Grid Reliability
ROSEMEAD, Calif. (June 7, 2013) — Southern California Edison (SCE) has decided to permanently
retire Units 2 and 3 of its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).
“SONGS has served this region for over 40 years,” said Ted Craver, Chairman and CEO of Edison
International, parent company of SCE, “but we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about
when or if SONGS might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to
plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs.”
Both SONGS units have been shut down safely since January 2012. Unit 2 was taken out of service
January 9, 2012, for a planned routine outage. Unit 3 was safely taken offline January 31, 2012, after
station operators detected a small leak in a tube inside a steam generator manufactured by Mitsubishi
Heavy Industries (MHI). Two steam generators manufactured by MHI were installed in Unit 2 in 2009 and
two more were installed in Unit 3 in 2010, one of which developed the leak.
In connection with the decision, SCE estimates that it will record a charge in the second quarter of
between $450 million and $650 million before taxes ($300 million – $425 million after tax), in accordance
with accounting requirements.
After months of analysis and tests, SCE submitted a restart plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) in October 2012. SCE proposed to safely restart Unit 2 at a reduced power level (70%) for an
initial period of approximately five months. That plan was based on work done by engineering groups
from three independent firms with expertise in steam generator design and manufacturing.
The NRC has been reviewing SCE’s plans for restart of Unit 2 for the last eight months, during which
several public meetings have been held. A recent ruling by an adjudicatory arm of the NRC, the Atomic
Safety and Licensing Board, creates further uncertainty regarding when a final decision might be made on
restarting Unit 2. Additional administrative processes and appeals could result in delay of more than a
year. During this period, the costs of maintaining SONGS in a state of readiness to restart and the costs
to replace the power SONGS previously provided would continue. Moreover, it is uneconomic for SCE
and its customers to bear the long-term repair costs for returning SONGS to full power operation without
restart of Unit 2. SCE has concluded that efforts are better focused on planning for the replacement
generation and transmission resources which will be required for grid reliability.
“Looking ahead,” said Ron Litzinger, SCE’s President, “we think that our decision to retire the units will
eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future.”
Litzinger noted that the company has worked with the California Independent System Operator, the
California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission in planning for Southern
California’s energy needs and will continue to do so. 2 of 2
“The company is already well into a summer reliability program and has completed numerous
transmission upgrades in addition to those completed last year,” Litzinger said. “Thanks to consumer
conservation, energy efficiency programs and a moderate summer, the region was able to get through
last summer without electricity shortages. We hope for the same positive result again this year,” Litzinger
added, “although generation outages, soaring temperatures or wildfires impacting transmission lines
would test the system.”
In connection with the retirement of Units 2 and 3, San Onofre anticipates reducing staff over the next
year from approximately 1,500 to approximately 400 employees, subject to applicable regulatory
approvals. The majority of such reductions are expected to occur in 2013.
“This situation is very unfortunate,” said Pete Dietrich, SCE’s Chief Nuclear Officer, noting that “this is an
extraordinary team of men and women. We will treat them fairly.” SCE will work to ensure a fair process
for this transition, and will work with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the International
Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW) on transition plans for the employees they represent.
SCE also recognizes its continuing safety responsibilities as it moves toward decommissioning of the
units. SCE’s top priority will be to ensure a safe, orderly, and compliant retirement of these units. Full
retirement of the units prior to decommissioning will take some years in accordance with customary
practices. Actual decommissioning will take many years until completion. Such activities will remain
subject to the continued oversight of the NRC.
SCE intends to pursue recovery of damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the supplier of the
replacement steam generators, as well as recovery of amounts under applicable insurance policies.
For updates, please visit http://www.SONGScommunity.com, or follow us on Twitter at
http://www.twitter.com/SCE_SONGS and on http://www.facebook.com/SCE.
San Onofre is jointly owned by SCE (78.21 percent), San Diego Gas & Electric (20 percent) and the city
of Riverside (1.79 percent).
About Southern California Edison
An Edison International (NYSE:EIX) company, Southern California Edison is one of the nation’s largest
electric utilities, serving a population of nearly 14 million via 4.9 million customer accounts in a 50,000-
square-mile service area within Central, Coastal and Southern California.

 

Chemical Disasters, Agent Orange, and GMOs: Monsanto’s Legacy Traced in Exposé


Published on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 by Common Dreams

Food & Water Watch highlights toxic ‘corporatization and industrialization of our food supply’

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Chemical disasters, Agent Orange, and the first genetically modified plant cell are among just some of the dark milestones belonging to the history of the biotech giant Monsanto highlighted in a new report released Wednesday by consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

 The in-depth historical analysis Monsanto: A Corporate Profile presents a corporation “steeped in heavy industrial chemical production,” who only recently began marketing itself through an “environmentally friendly, feed-the-world image”—an image that is contradictory to a century of toxic chemical production and a food supply saturated with un-labeled GE crops, herbicides, and artificial growth hormones.

Monsanto, as FWW shows, now holds vast “undue influence over lawmakers, regulators, and our food supply,” and has caused great devastation to farmers around the world through its global seed monopoly.

“Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and, in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of Organic Consumers Association in response to the report. “Monsanto has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.”

“Even though you won’t find the Monsanto brand on a food or beverage container at your local grocery store, the company holds vast power over our food supply,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director for the Center for Food Safety. “This power is largely responsible for something else we cannot find on our grocery store shelves — labels on genetically engineered food. Not only has Monsanto’s and other agribusinesses’ efforts prevented the labeling of GE foods, but they spend millions to block grassroots efforts like California’s Prop 37 in order to keep consumers in the dark.”

The report arrives after President Obama signed last week what has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”—legislation critics say amounts to “corporate welfare” for biotechnology corporations like Monsanto that puts both farmers and the environment in jeopardy.

The law will essentially “bar US federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops even if they failed to be approved by the government’s own weak approval process and no matter what the health or environmental consequences might be,” Greenpeace wrote last week.

“At the end of March, the American public saw first hand the unjustifiable power that Monsanto holds over our elected officials when an unprecedented budget rider, dubbed the ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ was tacked onto the spending bill to fund the federal government,” Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Nowstated following the release of Food & Water Watches new report. “This is an outrageous interference with our courts and separation of powers and we cannot sit back and allow our elected officials to continue to take orders from Monsanto at the expense of family farmers and consumers.”

Monsanto’s legacy continues… Read more here.

 

Obama Deports Record Number of Immigrants, Using Scary Private GEO Group to Get the Job Done


The largest deportation prison in the U.S. is a former jail in the hyper-corrupt City of Adelanto, California, where public officials are often criminals.
March 31, 2013  |  alternet

This article was first published by Not Safe for Work Corporation.

Last year, the federal government deported roughly 400,000 people, the highest number of deportations in U.S. history.

A generous portion of these poor saps came through a brand new private processing and detention facility located in the remote and fairly unpopulated High Desert of California. Operated by Geo Group — remember that name — the prison is now the largest immigrant detention center in the Golden State. And it’s located only a few miles my house, on the edge of a miserable little suburb city by the name of Adelanto.

Adelanto means “progress” in Spanish.

According to the town’s official biography, Adelanto was founded by Earl H. Richardson, inventor of the first electric iron, the Hotpoint. His outfit, the Hotpoint Electric Heating Company, later merged with GE and churned out electric irons by the hundred of thousands. The invention made Richardson rich. It also gave the kindly old bespectacled gentleman visions of grandeur. His dream: to buy land way out in the Mojave Desert, lay the foundation for the first master-planned community in Southern California and sell it off piece by piece to veterans returning from trenches of World War I.

For some reason, the vets had no interest in living hundreds of miles from civilization, preferring instead to convalesce in bungalows on the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica. But Adelanto wasn’t a total loss for Richardson. World War II broke out, and the federal government took a bunch of land off his hands to build what would later become the George Air Force Base. Adelanto remained a military support settlement until the base closed in 1992.

The city has grown since then, tripling in size since the late 1980s. Now, Adelanto is a cheap suburb of Victorville. There’s no shape or organization to it, no master planning in sight—just patches of subprime subdivisions, apartment complexes and warehouses scattered in the desert. All that growth didn’t bring prosperity; it only accelerated the city’s slide into corruption, poverty and violence.

In 1997, Adelanto’s police chief was convicted of embezzlement and sent to jail. That same year, one police officer was convicted of child molestation, while two otherswere found guilty of beating and torturing suspects in their custody. In one case, they hauled someone in on a drug offense, attempted to beat a confession out of him and, when the guy started bleeding on the floor, made him lick up his own blood. One of the officers — Thomas Boyd Chandler — then threatened the suspect that he’d be shot and buried in a hole in the desert if he squealed to anyone about the enhanced interrogation techniques used on him in custody. To drive the point home, Chandler took a bullet from his gun. “This bullet has your name on it,” he warned.

Despite a shakeup, in 1998, both Adelanto’s sitting mayor and the city attorney were convicted felons. And a grand jury investigation found evidence of election fraud and rampant corruption.

“This is one of the most crooked places on Earth,” said 20-year resident Roger Ayers told the Associated Press in 1998. The AP article noted that the town had a bingo parlor and a strip club, but no restaurants or supermarkets.

Adelanto was also being infiltrated by the Taiwanese mafia, which was operating an ammunition factory in the area.

Here’s the Associated Press again:

Federal and county law enforcement officials have questioned the opening of J.J. Ammo Inc., a bullet factory with connections to China. A principal in the firm, Wah Nien “Johnny” Chiang, is a Taiwan native who authorities say is tied to Asian organized crime. “We’re well aware of Johnny Chiang and that he’s making ammunition out in Adelanto. We’re not sure why,” said Sgt. Tom Budds, who heads the Asian organized crime unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Chinese-Taiwanese mafia churning out bullets in Adelanto? I guess anything’s possible out here on the frontier of SoCal’s suburban sprawl.

Today, of the 32,000 people who call Adelanto home, nearly 60 percent are Latino and a large number of those are undocumented. Per-capita income is just under $12,000—nearly three times lower than California average. One out of every three people live under the poverty line, and 5.4 percent of the population is what the good folks at the census bureau classify as “institutionalized.” Which is just a bureaucratic way of saying that one out of 20 Adelanto residents is currently rotting in jail—at a rate that’s five times higher than the national average. That’s not surprising: until recently Adelanto had been home to three prisons: one county, one city and one private.

After the real estate bubble popped, Adelanto teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. By 2010, the city was essentially out of money, and had only $100,000 in its reserve fund. On top of everything, California started releasing nonviolent prisoners to relieve the state’s overcrowded penitentiary system. And that meant Adelanto was on the verge of losing a major source of revenue: a city-owned minimum security facility that housed state inmates and brought in nearly $2 million in pure profit. But there was a way out…

As luck would have it, a private prison company called Geo Group happened to be in the market for a detention facility located in Southern California.

California might have been downsizing its prison population, but the federal government was ramping up its deportation operations and needed private contractors to handle the logistics of housing and processing immigrants. Geo Group—the second-largest private prison company in America, with roughly 60 facilities and 40,000 souls under its care—was always eager for more business, and Adelanto’s prison was exactly what it needed to get in on the action.

In 2010, Adelanto sold its prison to Geo Group for lump payment of $28 million. As part of the deal, Adelanto helped the new buyer secure a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for which the city negotiated an additional payout of $50,000 a year from Geo Group.

Geo quickly expanded the facility to hold 1,300 inmates, making it the largest private deportation center in the state California. It projected an annual revenue stream of $42 million (at a rock bottom rate of $99 per detained immigrant per day). And according to its cushy contract with ICE, Geo was guaranteed a 75-percent minimum occupancy rate, meaning that the feds agreed to pay the private prison company $36 million a year to run its Adelanto facility, whether it contained immigrant detainees or not. All this, of course, is being funded by hardworking American taxpayers.

Remember Adelanto’s majority Latino population, a large number of whom are undocumented? Now, they suddenly find themselves living in the shadow of the largest deportation center in the state, dedicated to concentrating and kicking out people just like them. A speeding ticket is enough to initiate deportation these days, and it doesn’t matter if the immigrant has children or family here: recent stats show that a quarter of people deported are parents with children who are U.S. citizens.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Geo Group’s Adelanto project was still in the works when I lived out here in 2009, so last week I decided to take a drive out and see how the finished product looks.

It was right around sunset time, and everything was awash in an orange-red light radiated out from behind the San Bernardino Mountains. Geo’s Adelanto facility is located on Ranchero Rd, on the western edge of Adelanto. Just one block past the prison, the asphalt ends and the street turns into a dirt road that disappears into the desert on horizon.

The road leading to the prison was mostly empty. A big rig or a truck rumbled past once in a while. Warehouses flanked the prison complex. There was some sort of pump substation across the street, and a big cluster of high-voltage transmission cables and transformers a little farther down. A gentleman’s club sat on a lot behind the prison, in sight of its fortified courtyard. Two dancers stood out back by the club’s service entrance, smoking and looking out at the brightly lit detention center in front of them. Other than that, there was nothing but desert scrub and Joshua trees for miles around.

At first I passed the prison completely, mistaking it for a cluster of warehouses. It was only when I saw the high metal fence surrounding an outdoor area lit up with blinding flood lights that I realized what I was looking at.

I doubled back and parked on the side of the road across the sprawling prison complex.

There were a couple of blue “Geo Group” signs. Shuttle busses of various sizes were clustered in a side parking lot. A dozen or so cars were parked in the lot out front, and two or three people were slowly walking toward the main entrance.

If I didn’t know otherwise, I never would have guessed that I was looking at the largest deportation facility in California. It could have been anything: a distribution hub, a warehouse or a large office complex. Hell, it could have even passed for a community college.

Unlike the imposing slab structures of federal prison complex a couple of miles to the east, the bland nondescript facade of Geo’s detention facility masked its brutal function, and gave no indication about the dark and bloody history of the company that ran it.

Y’see, Geo Group isn’t just any private prison operator. It started life as a subsidiary of the Wackenhut Corporation, the shady quasi-government security company founded in the 1950s by former FBI agent and fervent McCarthyite George R. Wackenhut.

Wackenhut packed his company with rightwing generals, John Birch Society leaders and future leaders of the military-security establishment, including William Casey and Frank Carlucci. He fashioned Wackenhut Corp into a modern version of the Pinkerton Agency, providing various security and espionage services to both the government and private clients.

It has defended U.S. Embassies all across the world, protected domestic nuclear facilities and currently guards our nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In the 1960s, Wackenhut spied on antiwar activists, infiltrated protest movements and compiled dossiers on 2.5 million suspected dissidents. Mining companies hired Wackenhut goons to serve as strikebreakers.There’s even a good chance Wackenhut was involved in transferring chemical weapons from the U.S. to Saddam Hussein in 1990, as reported in a 1992 SPY Magazine investigation titled “Inside the Shadow CIA.”

“It is known throughout the industry that if you want a dirty job done, call Wackenhut,” a retired FBI special agent William Hinshaw told SPY. In the 1980s, George Wackenhut opened up a new subsidiary, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, to take advantage of new and exciting lucrative business opportunity: private prisons.

We can go down a deep rabbit hole chasing Wackenhut’s spook connections. But the main thing to note is that the company feeds on and profits from military conflict, social unrest, economic hardship, paranoia and fear. And its private prison operations are simply the newest outgrowth of that business model.

With Wackenhut’s history as a violent rightwing paramilitary organization, it’s track record in prison management quickly became littered with corpses, broken bodies and rape victims. It racked up such a bad rep that the company was forced to change its name from Wackenhut to Geo Group.

There are too many incidents to list here. But a recent Department of Justice investigation into Geo’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Mississippi, gives a glimpse of the kind of conditions inmates face in Geo’s for-profit prisons.

Here are few tidbits, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Guards frequently doused young men with pepper spray as a first response, rather than a last resort. Youths were routinely sprayed simply for refusing verbal commands, such as failing to remove their arms from food tray slots while locked in their cells – something they sometimes did to get attention for medical emergencies… .

… Fights were common, occurring almost daily. Cell doors could be easily rigged to remain unlocked, allowing youths to leave their cells and enter others at will. Guards were often complicit in attacks. Weapons were readily available. Emergency call buttons in the cells didn’t work… . In addition, guards “frequently and brutally react to low-level aggression” – such as using profanities or reacting too slowly to an order – by “slamming youth head first into the ground, slapping, beating, and kicking youth,” the DOJ found…

… Some guards apparently saw their charges as sexual prey. Sexual misconduct between staffers and youth occurred on a monthly basis – “at a minimum,” the DOJ found. But GEO did little or nothing to prevent it, other than firing those caught in the act – like the female guard who yelled “close the door” at another guard who saw her engaged in intercourse with a youth in a medical department restroom…

… Violence by youths and guards wasn’t the only problem. Neither were the gang affiliations of some guards. Or the grossly inadequate medical and mental health care. Or the proliferation of drugs and other contraband. Or the lack of educational and rehabilitative programs. Or the wild overuse of pepper spray on passive youths.

Indeed, the DOJ found that sexual abuse – including brutal youth-on-youth rapes and “brazen” sexual misconduct by prison staffers who coerced youths – was “among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”

Geo Group is very aware just how much it depends on a harsh, punitive criminal and immigration laws for survival.

Here’s how Geo described its position to investors in a 2012 10K filing:

In particular, the demand for our correctional and detention facilities and services, electronic monitoring services, community-based re-entry services and monitoring and supervision services could be adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws or the loosening of immigration laws. For example, any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.

Geo Group is candid about all this. It has to be: In 2011, the company depended on the deportation of immigrants for 14 percent of its business. Something like 88 percent of its $1.6 billion in revenues that year came from federal and state government agencies. And that’s what so troubling about President Barack Obama’s promise to enact “meaningful” immigration reform. After Obama took office, Geo’s stock price rebounded from a low of about $10 a share in 2009 to nearly $33 in January 2013, tripling over the course of Obama’s first term. And here’s the frightening thing: the stock price didn’t even budge last week, after Obama announced his intent to push through immigration reform by the end of spring this year.

This means one of two things: Either the multibillion dollar hedge funds and private equity firms that own 97% of Geo Group’s stock don’t know what they’re doing. Or they know exactly what they’re doing, and are confident that — despite the bipartisan rhetoric around a kinder, gentler, less deporty immigration system — Geo Group’s deportation facility in Adelanto is still looking forward to a long, prosperous future.

Yasha Levine is an editor for eXiledonline.com. He is the author of the book, The Corruption of Malcolm Gladwell (2012).

 

Corporations Are Robbing Us Of Our Right to a Fair Trial #civiliberties #CSR


AlterNet / By Jim Hightower

human_rights_first1_

If you’ve been gouged by your bank, discriminated against, sexually harassed, unfairly fired, you’ll most likely find that you’re barred from the courthouse door.
March 27, 2013 |

Being wronged by a corporation is painful enough, but just try getting your day in court. Most Americans don’t realize it, but our Seventh Amendment right to a fair jury trial against corporate wrongdoers has quietly been stripped from us. Instead, we are now shunted into a stacked-deck game called “Binding Mandatory Arbitration.” Proponents of the process hail it as superior to the courts — “faster, cheaper and more efficient!” they exclaim.

But does it deliver justice? It could, for the original concept of voluntary, face-to-face resolution of conflict by a neutral third party makes sense in many cases. But remember what Mae West said of her own virtue: “I used to be Snow White, then I drifted.” Today’s practice of arbitration has drifted far away from the purity of the concept.

All you really need to know about today’s process is that it’s the product of years of conceptual monkey-wrenching by corporate lobbyists, Congress, the Supreme Court and hired-gun lobbying firms looking to milk the system for steady profits. First and foremost, these fixers have turned a voluntary process into the exact opposite: mandatory. Let’s look at this mess.

— Unlike courts, arbitration is not a public system, but a private business.

— Far from being neutral, “the third-party” arbitration firms are — get this! — usually hand-picked by the corporation involved in the case, chosen specifically because they have proven records of favoring the corporation.

— The corporation also gets to choose the city or town where the case is heard, allowing it to make the case inconvenient, expensive and unfair to individuals bringing a complaint.

— Arbitrators are not required to know the law relevant to the cases they judge or follow legal precedents.

— Normal procedural rules for gathering and sharing evidence and safeguarding fairness to both parties do not apply in arbitration cases.

— Arbitration proceedings are closed to the media and the public.

— Arbitrators need not reveal the reasons for their decisions, so they are not legally accountable for errors, and the decisions set no legal precedents for guiding future corporate conduct.

— Even if an arbitrator’s decision is legally incorrect, it still is enforceable, carrying the full weight of the law.

— There is virtually no right to appeal an arbitrator’s ruling.

That adds up to a kangaroo court! Who would choose such a rigged system? No one. Which is why corporate America has resorted to brute force and skullduggery to drag you into their arbitration wringer.

By “force,” I mean practically every business relationship you have with a corporation (customer, employee, supplier, etc.) begins with you blindly signing away your right to go to court. Written in indecipherable legalese, these sneaky provisos are usually secluded in the tiny-type of pre-printed, take-it-or-leave-it, non-negotiable contracts.

By “you,” I mean everyone one of us who: takes a job, gets a credit card, subscribes to cable TV, buys an insurance policy, rents an apartment, purchases nearly any new product (from cellphone to house), has a home remodeled or car repaired, enters a nursing home, becomes a franchisee or corporate supplier or signs up with a landscaping service.

If you seek justice because you’ve been gouged by your bank, discriminated against, sexually harassed, unfairly fired, cheated on wages, sold a shoddy product, denied health care coverage or otherwise harmed by a corporation, you’ll most likely find that you’re barred from the courthouse door. That document you unwittingly signed has shackled you to the corporation’s own privatized court.

Since binding mandatory arbitration “agreements” are written by corporate lawyers, it’s no surprise that they stack the deck in favor of corporations. But — wow! — the percentage of rigged wins is disgusting.

For example, Public Citizen found that one giant firm, the National Arbitration Forum, heard over 34,000 consumer-versus-bank cases in California. It sided with financial giants 95 percent of the time. Even more astonishing, the city of San Francisco found that of the 18,045 cases brought by banks and other powers against overmatched California consumers, NAF’s private judges sided with the corporations 100 percent of the time.

 

America’s Retreat From the #DeathPenalty


Published: January 1, 2013 , NY times

When the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, it said there were two social purposes for imposing capital punishment for the most egregious crimes: deterrence and retribution. In recent months, these justifications for a cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike.

A distinguished committee of scholars convened by the National Research Council found that there is no useful evidence to determine if the death penalty deters serious crimes. Many first-rate scholars have tried to prove the theory of deterrence, but that research “is not informative about whether capital punishment increases, decreases, or has no effect on homicide rates,” the committee said.

A host of other respected experts have also concluded that life imprisonment is a far more practical form of retribution, because the death penalty process is too expensive, too time-consuming and unfairly applied.

The punishment is supposed to be reserved for the very worst criminals, but dozens of studies in state after state have shown that the process for deciding who should be sent to death row is arbitrary and discriminatory.

Thanks to the Innocence Project and the overturning of 18 wrongful convictions of death-row inmates with DNA evidence and the exonerations of 16 others charged with capital crimes, the American public is increasingly aware that the system makes terrible mistakes. Since 1973, a total of 142 people have been freed from death row after being exonerated with DNA or other kinds of evidence.

All of these factors have led the states to retreat from the death penalty in recent years — in both law and in practice. In 2012, Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to abolish the penalty. Nine states executed inmates, the fewest in two decades. Three-fourths of the 43 executions in 2012 were carried out in only four states. The number of new death sentences remained low at 77 — about one-third the number in 2000 — with just four states accounting for almost two-thirds of those sentences. While 33 states retain the death penalty on their books, 13 of them have not executed anyone for at least five years.

Those 13 states plus the 17 without the penalty means that 30 states are not carrying it out — and that includes California, which retained the death penalty in a November referendum vote. Almost one-quarter of the 3,146 death row inmates in the United States, as of October, are imprisoned in California, but that state has not executed anyone in seven years.

California’s chief justice said recently that the state’s official moratorium, which has been in place for six years, is likely to continue for at least three more because of problems with the execution method.

In January, executions are scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas. As it happens, major reviews of the death penalty are under way in each of those states. The reviews are very likely to find that those states have failed to meet standards of fairness under the Constitution, just as reviews of the capital systems in other states have concluded in the last decade.

The large number of states no longer carrying out executions indicates a kind of national consensus. It points to “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” an idea that the Supreme Court has evoked in judging the constitutionality of punishments. The court used that analysis most recently when it ruled that mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders even if they are convicted of homicide.

It should similarly recognize that under evolving standards capital punishment is cruel and unusual and should be abolished.

Walmart Black Friday Strike Being Organized Online For Stores Across U.S


Walmart Black Friday Strike Being Organized Online For Stores Across U.S. (

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving regarded as one of the biggest shopping days of the year, may be dramatically different this year.

Organizers are planning a nationwide strike against Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, and are banking on a new strategy: online organizing.

Labor organizers are working with social action nonprofit Engage Network as well as corporate watchdog nonprofit Corporate Action Network to pull off what they are calling a “viral” — meaning national and spreading online — strike.

Walmart workers interested in joining the day of action are directed to this website, either to find a store near them with an organized strike or to “adopt an event” at a store near them.

Brian Young, cofounder of the Corporate Action Network, said on a conference call coordinated by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Thursday, that organizers cannot cover the roughly 4,000 Walmarts across the country, but enabling self-appointed leaders online has widened and decentralized the campaign.

Supporters can also sponsor a striking worker, who may be losing wages in order to strike, by donating grocery gift cards. The campaign has raised more than $13,500 worth of donations toward grocery gift cards since Oct. 15 — a figure that doesn’t include significant funds raised through mailed-in checks, Jamie Way, of the UFCW, told HuffPost.

The campaign is also mobilizing strikers and supporters through a Facebook app, multiple Facebook pages, a Tumblr and Twitter with the hashtag #walmartstrikers.

“This online mobilization, in addition to traditional on-the-ground organizing, has allowed the campaign to reach into the rural corners of the country that might have otherwise been overlooked,” Marianne Manilov, cofounder of the Engage Network, said on the conference call.

She pointed to a group of renegade workers in Oklahoma who mobilized in October. “A completely unorganized set of workers in Oklahoma spontaneously went out on strike and held their own type of action without any organizer or … connection with the broader organization,” she said. “This is what organizing looks like in the age of Occupy.”

The outreach leading up to Black Friday follows a series of unprecedented actions taken by Walmart workers against their employer and working conditions. In October, for the first time in the company’s 50-year history, more than 70 workers at multiple Los Angeles-area Walmart stores walked off the job, even though their jobs are not protected by an official union. The strike had a ripple effect, causing strikes in 12 other cities, in large part through online organizing.

The success of these strikes, as well as one over the summer touted as the largest ever protest against the company, and a six-day pilgrimmage of warehouse workers in September, would not have been possible without Facebook, Twitter and other web sites, Young said.

“Making Change at Walmart,” which organized the demonstrations and is a campaign affiliated with the UFCW union, has over 25,000 supporters on Facebook.

Although it does not officially represent Walmart workers, OUR Walmart, organized by the Making Change campaign, acts like a union to fight for the rights of Walmart workers. OUR Walmart, which was founded last year with 100 members, now has over 14,000 supporters on Facebook.

Corey Parker, a Walmart worker from Mississippi, said on the conference call that he became active with OUR Walmart after finding out about it through a HuffPost article on Facebook. Now, he has mobilized workers at his store to strike on Black Friday because, he said, he realized that “not being able to make a living was not just an issue at my store.”

Adding fuel to movement, Walmart announced Thursday that it will kick off its Black Friday sale at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, its earliest start ever.

“Lots and lots of Walmart workers are going to be forced to not have Thanksgiving because they’re going to be preparing all day for the busiest shopping day of the year,” Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart, said on the conference call. “This essentially cancels Thanksgiving for hundreds of thousands of workers.”

“It’s not like Walmart is financially hurting. It’s not like they’re not making unbelievable sums of money. The price of this is really decimating an important family day in our country.”

But Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said of the sale, “Last year, our highest customer traffic was during the 10 p.m. hour and, according to the National Retail Federation, Thanksgiving night shopping has surged over the past three years.”

“Most of our stores are open 24 hours and, historically, much of our Black Friday preparations have been done on Thanksgiving, which is not unusual in the retail industry,” he said, adding that the strikes planned for Black Friday, will not “have any impact on our business.”

Regarding the action over the last few months, Restivo said, “While the opinions expressed by this group don’t represent the views of the vast majority of more than 1.3 million Walmart associates in the U.S., when our associates bring forward concerns, we listen.”

In September, dozens of Walmart-contracted warehouse workers in Southern California’s Inland Empire walked off the job and went on a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage to protest working conditions and retaliation for speaking up.

More than a month later, the warehouse company NFI responded to some of the strikers’ working condition requests. “Just in the last week, we’ve seen the warehouse operators scrambling to replace broken and unsafe equipment, they’ve rented fans to increase ventilation, and they’ve added more water coolers,” Elizabeth Brennan, communications director for Warehouse Workers United, said on the conference call.

However, the strikers who returned to work have continued to face retaliation, many times getting their hours cut from 35 down to eight, she said. Some of these warehouse workers will join striking Walmart workers on Black Friday, Brennan said.

Excluding the retaliation, organizers hope to see that type of positive response after Black Friday. And with an online system open to anyone who wants to start a strike in his or her local Walmart, Manilov hopes both the demonstration and response will be broad-reaching.

“This is one of the first labor campaigns to really fully embrace the potential of online-to-offline labor organizing,” she said. “As this captures fire, its potential is limitless.”

World Medical Association strengthens opposition to capital punishment #deathpenalty


  • SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2012

The World Medical Association has strengthened its opposition to capital punishment with a resolution at its recent conference in Bangkok that “physicians will not facilitate the importation or prescription of drugs for execution.”
It also reaffirmed previous resolutions that “it is unethical for physicians to participate in capital punishment, in any way, or during any step of the execution process, including its planning and the instruction and/or training of persons to perform executions”, and that physicians “will maintain the utmost respect for human life and will not use medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat.”
In any case, campaigners against the death penalty in the US are successfully lobbying to block supply of lethal drugs for executions. Maya Foa, head of the lethal injection project at the anti-death penalty organisation Reprieve, told a conference in London in mid-October, “Executions in certain states can’t go ahead because they’ve run out of drugs and others are running out.”
Reprieve has launched what it calls a “Pharmaceutical Hippocratic Oath” for drug companies which pledge themselves not to supply lethal drugs for executions. Under the oath, companies pledge that:
“We dedicate our work to developing and distributing pharmaceuticals to the service of humanity; we will practice our profession with conscience and dignity; the right to health of the patient will be our first consideration; we condemn the use of any of our pharmaceuticals in the execution of human beings.”
1 US company, Hospira, still supplies a paralyzing agent, pancuronium, which is part of a 3-drug cocktail for executions. Reprieve says that this drug is cause for particular concern, as it renders prisoners unable to signal that they are suffering agonising pain as the final, lethal substance is injected.
Source: BioEdge, November 3, 2012