Thursday, August 20, 2015

Your Cheatin' Heart

Will Make You Weep:

The release of stolen data from Ashley Madison, a dating website marketed at would-be adulterers, promises to roil the marital lives of its members.

It has also underscored the troubling limitations of Internet privacy.

On Tuesday, hackers appeared to make good on a threat to release what they said was 9.7 gigabytes of account and credit card information from 37 million users of the site.

What information was released?

The data includes members’ names, user names, addresses, phone numbers and birth dates as well as details of credit card transactions. Member passwords are encrypted, but specific users could be easily targeted for decryption, according to Quartz.

Profiles filled out by users could also contain embarrassing information about their sexual preferences.

The breach also included users of Established Men, a separate site aimed at women looking to date rich men. Both sites are owned by Avid Life Media.
Not to be a moral scold or anything, but this is outstanding. As this columnist points out, we really are becoming so dumb as a society, we don't even know how to cheat properly. 
We’re a nation of losers, mouth-breathing, couch-potato, hands-down-our-pants dolts. We’re an embarrassment, and in the wake of Tuesday’s revelation, we should all be sent to our rooms with no electronics.

I speak, of course, of the Ashley Madison scandal, a hack that revealed the names of a jaw-dropping, knee-weakening 32 million would-be philanderers, many of whom were stupid enough to use work emails for the purposes of philandering. (The site, brought to us by some clever Canadians, allows married people to find dates who know from the beginning that nothing serious is intended.)
Again, with all the hand-wringing over same-sex marriage and what making it constitutional a few months ago might "do" to society, this data dump of 33 million philanderers shows the knuckle-dragging, heterosexual, married population is doing just fine trashing the institution of marriage on its own. Major props.
A group of hackers calling themselves Impact Team posted a small portion of the data in July, and they threatened to release the rest unless the site was shut down.

The hackers said they were upset about Ashley Madison’s policy for deleting user data when requested. The company has long offered members the ability to scrub their profiles and information from the site for $19, a feature that BuzzFeed News said generated nearly $2 million in 2014. But, as the breach showed, the data remained.

“We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of A.L.M. and their members,” Impact Team wrote, referring to Avid Life Media. “Now everyone gets to see their data.”
I don't know if any of that is true, or whether the "Impact Team" was made up of vigilantes who themselves were cheated on, or what. But the tawdry website's pushback was swift, intense and moralistically opaque.
“This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality,” it said in a statement. “It is an illegal action against the individual members of AshleyMadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities. The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society.”
Er...what exactly is "freethinking" about cheating on your spouse? And how is exposing cheating spouses "imposing a personal notion of virtue on all of society"? A notion that says, what, if you get married, you shouldn't cheat on your spouse? 

Gasp. Who the hell do these people think they are? Neo-puritans? The Dr. Laura brigade? 

Frankly, Hank Sr. had it right when he sang those words "your cheatin' heart will tell on you." And it's a pretty low bar, btw, when the "criminals" this company is so righteously indignant about actually have a higher moral threshold than the company itself and the garbage they're selling on this website.

Oh well. It should be interesting to see what comes out. As the article notes, one should take the info with a grain of salt. No one can really verify it, and who says it hasn't been altered to include innocent people? 

But still, watching all the domain names come public...government workers, big corporate employees, non-profit giants, etc is rather entertaining. 

And for those of you surprised by my tone here...yeah, I've got little sympathy for people whose marriages may be blown sky high over this. Maybe they should channel their indignation inwardly and try and figure out why they can't keep their pants zipped or skirts on, rather than worrying about who's invaded their privacy.

Or better yet, just get divorced. Then you can go do whatever you want, bruh.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Beat Up Squad

Prison Guard "Beat Up Squad" Blamed in Inmate Death:

On the evening of April 21 in Building 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, an inmate with a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder, packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.

Not long after, he got into a confrontation with corrections officers, was thrown to the floor and was handcuffed. As many as 20 officers — including members of a group known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad — repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Harrell, who is black, with some of them shouting racial slurs, according to more than a dozen inmate witnesses. “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him,” said Edwin Pearson, an inmate who watched from a nearby bathroom.

Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.

He was taken to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and at 10:19 p.m. was pronounced dead.
In the four months since, state corrections officials have provided only the barest details about what happened at Fishkill, a medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. Citing a continuing investigation by the State Police, officials for weeks had declined to comment on the inmates’ accounts of a beating.

An autopsy report by the Orange County medical examiner, obtained by The New York Times, concluded that Mr. Harrell, 30, had cuts and bruises to the head and extremities and had no illicit drugs in his system, only an antidepressant and tobacco. He died of cardiac arrhythmia, the autopsy report said, “following physical altercation with corrections officers.”

The manner of death: Homicide.
Which immediately led to mass arrests at the correctional facility, right? Wrong.
No officers have been disciplined in connection with the death, officials said. A classification of homicide is a medical term that indicates the death occurred at the hands of other people, but it does not necessarily mean a crime was committed.
Kind of like when we execute someone. The official death certificate is always listed as homicide, even though, y'know, it doesn't really count.

So back to the Clown Squad.
Most of the inmates could identify the officers by last names only, which they spelled in a variety of ways in their affidavits. In a database of New York State employees, SeeThroughNY.net, there are several Fishkill officers who appeared to match the guards most often named by the inmates as being directly involved in the encounter. They are Thomas Dickenson (named by 10 of the inmates), John Yager (10), Officer Michels (nine), Bryan Eull (five) and a white woman they knew only as “Ms. B” (four).

They also identified the ranking officer at the scene as Sgt. Joseph Guarino. Reached by telephone, Sergeant Guarino confirmed he was present that night but said he could not comment.

Neither the corrections department nor the union would confirm the names of the officers. Reached by phone, several of the officers declined to comment. Others did not respond to voice mail messages, emails or messages sent through Facebook.

Through the years, Sergeant Guarino, 60, has been sued several times by inmates accusing him of brutality. One case was settled by the state in 2012 for $60,000 and another in 2011 for $65,000. In a 2011 deposition, he said inmates typically filed about 30 grievances against him a year and referred to him by the nickname Sergeant Searchalot.
LOL. Sounds to me like Sgt. "Searchalot" should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. How this clown keeps his job with an "average of 30 grievances" filed against him each year boggles the mind.

But this seems to be a problem generally in several New York prisons, not just Fishkill. Following the escape of two maximum security inmates from the Clinton facility back in June, a similar "Beat Up Squad" went on a retributive rampage against inmates suspected of aiding and abetting the escape.
Night had fallen at the Clinton Correctional Facility in far northern New York when the prison guards came for Patrick Alexander. They handcuffed him and took him into a broom closet for questioning. Then, Mr. Alexander said in an interview last week, the beatings began.

As the three guards, who wore no name badges, punched him and slammed his head against the wall, he said they shouted questions: “Where are they going? What did you hear? How much are they paying you to keep your mouth shut?” One of the guards put a plastic bag over his head, Mr. Alexander said, and threatened to waterboard him.

Hours earlier, Richard W. Matt and David Sweat had made their daring escape from the unit — called the “honor block” — where they were housed. Now it appeared that Mr. Alexander, a fellow convicted murderer who lived in an adjoining cell, was being made to suffer the consequences.
For days after the June prison break, corrections officers carried out what seemed like a campaign of retribution against dozens of Clinton inmates, particularly those on the honor block, an investigation by The New York Times found. In letters reviewed by The Times, as well as prison interviews, inmates described a strikingly similar catalog of abuses, including being beaten while handcuffed, choked and slammed against cell bars and walls.
Part of the problem too with corrections is that the officer's unions often go to great lengths to downplay or otherwise impede investigations into their officers. Correctional unions have done a lot of good over the years, but one of the downsides is the "thin gray line" they promote among the members.  
James Miller, a spokesman for the corrections officers’ union, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said in an email last month that Mr. Harrell was “acting violently and appeared delusional as a result of apparently ingesting drugs.” While trying to subdue him, one guard had several ribs broken, Mr. Miller said.

Officials have described abuse of K2 by inmates as a problem throughout the state prison system.

On Monday, Mr. Miller wrote in an email that the union was “reviewing all the facts before rushing to judgment.”

“Rather than simply relying on allegations made by a handful of violent convicted felons,” he wrote, “we will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure a resolution to this tragic incident.”
One assumes the "handful of violent convicted felons" refers to the inmates. And while I still fundamentally support unions and the great work they have done to professionalize correctional work, it is incidents like this where they often make things worse.

But this his is not just a problem in New York prisons, or prisons where unions are strong. This is a problem in state prisons throughout the country.  

Because as with the militarization of policing that has been well-documented over the years, the same "crack skulls" mentality has transformed correctional officer work too (the same jack boots, body armor and CERT teams are everywhere). 

Worse, since so many of the inmates these guards are watching are mentally ill (and belong anywhere other than a prison) their mental illness is often treated as malingering or manipulative behavior, and thus the extreme reactions.

One hopes the re-thinking going on in law enforcement today, from the Black Lives Matter movement to anti-militarization efforts, eventually works its way to corrections. Frankly, the same body cameras we are seeing in police departments should be worn by correctional officers. 

Because unlike the general public, where smartphones and video cameras are ubiquitous, and abusive situations can be captured and released immediately, no such technology pervades the deep bowels of a prison. And where no one can see, and no one cares, the depravity can be at its worst.
Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.”

“His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Crazy Like the Heat

ACLU Sues Over Handcuffing Boy, 8, Girl 9:

The American Civil Liberties Union, seeking to spotlight the use of handcuffs to restrain young children who act out in school, filed a federal lawsuit in Covington, Ky., on Monday alleging that a school resource officer there shackled an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, both with disabilities, causing the children “pain, fear and emotional trauma.”

The A.C.L.U. released what it called a “disturbing video” showing the boy, who it said weighs about 52 pounds, crying as the resource officer handcuffed his arms at the biceps behind his back. In the video, the officer tells the boy, “You don’t get to swing at me like that.”

The boy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; the girl has the disorder and other “special needs,” according to the lawsuit. It says both children are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and alleges that the school resource officer, who it says shackled the boy once and the girl twice in 2014, violated both the disabilities act and the children’s constitutional rights.
Forget the disabilities, shouldn't they be sued (and the officer relieved of his post, if not arrested for child abuse) because, y'know, handcuffing children is wrong?

Watch the video, which is gag-inducing (particularly Officer Friendly's "you ain't got no right to swing at me like that"). Like if the kid had connected, what, he collapses on the fainting couch?

Speaking of crazy like the heat (and the prolonged effects of solitary confinement):
In 1993, Craig Haney, a social psychologist, interviewed a group of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s toughest penal institution.

He was studying the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners, and Pelican Bay was among the first of a new breed of super-maximum-security prisons that states around the country were beginning to build.

Twenty years later, he returned to the prison for another set of interviews. He was startled to find himself facing some of the same prisoners he had met before, inmates who now had spent more than two decades alone in windowless cells.

“It was shocking, frankly,” Dr. Haney said.
Sidebar: Haney was part of Zimbardo's Prison Experiment mentioned in yesterday's post.
The interviews, conducted over the last two years as part of a lawsuit over prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, have not yet been written up as a formal study or reviewed by other researchers. But Dr. Haney’s work provides a vivid portrait of men so severely isolated that, to use Dr. Haney’s term, they have undergone a “social death.”

Sealed for years in a hermetic environment — one inmate likened the prison’s solitary confinement unit to “a weapons lab or a place for human experiments” — prisoners recounted struggling daily to maintain their sanity. They spoke of longing to catch sight of a tree or a bird. Many responded to their isolation by shutting down their emotions and withdrawing even further, shunning even the meager human conversation and company they were afforded.
I'm not sure "social death" is really Haney's term. We use it in penology to refer to other invisible punishments (such as disenfranchisement, lack of public assistance, the inability to get a job, etc.) that haunt inmates once they've paid their theoretical debt and return to society.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, citing the continuing litigation, declined to comment on the lawsuit or on the reports of Dr. Haney or other expert witnesses for the plaintiffs. But since the lawsuit was filed, the department has moved many inmates who had been in isolation at Pelican Bay for more than a decade to other settings. All but two of the 10 inmates originally named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are now in other facilities, according to Jeffrey Callison, a department spokesman.
In an interview, Dr. Haney said that he was especially struck by the profound sadness that many of the inmates he interviewed seemed to carry with them.

“The weight of what they had been through was apparent on them and in them,” he said.
“They were grieving for their lost lives, for their loss of connectedness to the social world and their families outside, and also for their lost selves,” he said. “Most of them really did understand that they had lost who they were, and weren’t sure of who they had become.”
Kind of like Officer Friendly above. Or the weird cast of characters I wrote about yesterday.

I need a vacay.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Light Beach Reading

Better to be on vacation and zoning out on your ipod than reading these articles, but if you need a few things to raise you out of beach-reading stupor and get your blood flowing, check these out.

First, a lurid tale of a wackadoodle judge and the abuse of probation

In Maryland, many first-time drunken-driving defendants are released on their own recognizance, particularly if no one was hurt. But Mrs. Hall’s bail was set by a court commissioner at $25,000.
A bail bondsman charged Mr. Hall $2,000, payable in monthly installments, to post bond, and Mrs. Hall was released in less than 24 hours. Everyone assured her the case was minor.

Drunken-driving penalties vary widely depending on the judge, but Mr. Stamm said a typical sentence for a first offense might be a year of unsupervised probation. Most judges will offer what in Maryland is called “probation before judgment,” or P.B.J., in which a defendant’s guilty plea is set aside. If the defendant violates probation, the judge may reimpose the conviction and sentence the person under the original offense — in Mrs. Hall’s case, up to 60 days in jail. If the defendant is successful, she avoids a criminal conviction.

As expected, the prosecutor offered Mrs. Hall probation before judgment in exchange for a guilty plea. But Judge Joan Bossmann Gordon of Maryland District Court in Baltimore balked over what she viewed as Mrs. Hall’s lack of cooperation with the police. After taking a recess to consider the matter, she agreed to the plea deal “against my better judgment.”
Typically, drunken-driving defendants get a professional assessment to determine what kind of treatment they need: a 26-hour class for “problem drinkers” or a 12-hour class for “social drinkers.” Mrs. Hall denies having a drinking problem, and there is nothing in her record to suggest otherwise.

But Judge Gordon did not wait for an assessment. She sentenced Mrs. Hall to 18 months supervised probation, costing her $105 a month in fees for probation and drunken-driving monitoring. She also ordered Mrs. Hall to attend 26 weeks of alcohol education at $70 a week and three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week.

All told, Mrs. Hall was looking at fees of $385 a month, her lawyer’s fee of $1,500, fines and court costs totaling $252.50 and the $2,000 bail bond.

Still, her financial situation was about to get worse — in April, the Motor Vehicle Administration suspended Mrs. Hall’s driver’s license for 14 days. The suspension contributed, Mrs. Hall said, to the loss of her job at a rehabilitation center 20 miles away.
Read the whole article. I had to read it twice to believe it wasn't out of Texas somewhere. And how this "judge" or whatever she is hasn't been removed from the bench and disbarred for abuse of office beggars insanity.

 

Speaking of insanity, there's this guy who makes a living providing "pseudoscience" to juries who exonerate cops who kill.

Training Officers to Shoot First, He'll Answer Questions Later:
When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country.

His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.

He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged. In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive.

A former Minnesota State professor, he says his testimony and training are based on hard science, but his research has been roundly criticized by experts. An editor for The American Journal of Psychology called his work “pseudoscience.” The Justice Department denounced his findings as “lacking in both foundation and reliability.” Civil rights lawyers say he is selling dangerous ideas.

“People die because of this stuff,” said John Burton, a California lawyer who specializes in police misconduct cases. “When they give these cops a pass, it just ripples through the system.”
It also shows the inherent subjectivity of psychology in general. The fact that you can find an "expert" in the field who produces diametric conclusions to settled research illustrates its inherent arbitrariness. 

But I guess if you paid me enough, I could provide you with all kinds of junk science showing that Leprechauns and Unicorns are real too. Just write the check.
 
Speaking of shrinks, this article illuminates Cook County's newest chief jailer...a clinical psychologist.
Instead, she became fascinated by psychology and earned a doctorate. She began working at Cook County Jail in 2006, and this spring became its unlikely warden when she was promoted to executive director — one of the first clinical psychologists to run a jail, underscoring how much the country’s prisons have become holding centers for the mentally ill.

“It’s a national disgrace how we deal with this,” said Sheriff Thomas Dart, who appointed Dr. Jones Tapia to the post and who refers to the jail, a place notorious for its history of violence and overcrowding, as the largest mental institution in the country. He said that as many as one-third of the jail’s 8,600 inmates were mentally ill.

Before becoming warden, Dr. Jones Tapia oversaw mental health care at the jail, and under her guidance, Cook County began offering services that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. All inmates upon arrival now see a clinician who collects a mental health history to ensure that anyone who is mentally ill gets a proper diagnosis and receives medication. The jail then forwards that information to judges in time for arraignments in the hope of convincing them that in certain cases, mental health care may be more appropriate than jail.
The jail also enrolls arriving inmates in health insurance plans, then helps arrange basic case management upon their release.



“We’ve started to focus on the entirety of the system, from the point of arrest through discharge, and really forcing the whole system to take a look at the people that we’re incarcerating,” Dr. Jones Tapia said.
While I applaud Dr. Jones Tapia's efforts, it's sad that it took a psychologist becoming a warden to somehow give voice to what others have been saying for decades: that our jails and prisons have become the new asylums; that these people need help and treatment, not punishment and incarceration; that isolation invariably makes mental illness even worse; and that a lack of follow-up care virtually guarantees the turnstile will spin again with said mentally ill individuals' incarceration (see also: this blog and its posts for the past 8 years as well).

It's also, I confess, a bit troubling, "the first clinical psychologist to run a jail" in the U.S. Actually she'd be the second. The first was Zimbardo and his colleagues 40+ years ago, and we all know how that turned out.

And given that psychology and its main organization the APA is still under fire for their role in punishment and torture during the War on Terror, putting a psychologist in charge of an incarceration facility should give everyone pause.

You may now return to sand and surf (and Leprechauns).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Push Back, Pell Grants and Puppies

Push to Scale Back Minimum Sentences Gains Momentum:

Even in a Congress riven by partisanship, the priorities of libertarian-leaning Republicans and left-leaning Democrats have come together, led by the example of several states that have adopted similar policies to reduce their prison costs.

As senators work to meld several proposals into one bill, one important change would be to expand the so-called safety-valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison than the required mandatory minimum term if they meet certain requirements.

Proponents of changes to sentencing laws are now staring at what they say is the first real open window in decades to make meaningful change, and they are fearful that lawmakers may tinker around the edges of a prison overhaul — allowing people to leave jail early for good behavior and increasing services for juveniles — while leaving the thorny sentencing issue to fester.
Good idea to address it head on too. Especially after John Oliver did a blistering segment last week on the absurdity of mandatory minimum sentencing.


Favorite takeaway line: “Prison sentences are a lot like penises. If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick.”  

LOL. The article also addresses the issue of recidivism. 
Another would allow lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25 percent reduction of their sentence. Lawmakers would also like to create more alternatives for low-level drug offenders. Nearly half of all current federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug crimes.
I was stunned to read in the WSJ yesterday that the Obama administration is restoring the availability of Pell Grants to prisoners.
The Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.
Funny, the article doesn't mention that the Senator who led the charge on banning Pell grants for inmates was the Vice President himself, Joe Biden. Read the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (aka "The Biden Bill") again.

The reason this is so important is that a college degree in prison is the only known recidivism program to work at a rate of 95% or greater. Meaning, less than 5% of inmates who get a degree in prison will recidivate and end up back in prison...the other 95% will never come back.

But during the myopia and hysteria of the mid-90's, Pell grants and higher education were whacked, even by so-called liberals like Biden and Clinton.

I get the middle class push back. "I can't afford to send my own kid to college, why should we pay for a bunch of rapists or molesters to get bachelors or masters degrees?" Fair enough. But that's more of an issue for free higher education for everyone, and not so much about denying prisoners the opportunity.

And lost in all the chatter about who's paying for what, is the simple fact that you are going to pay for it one way or the other anyway. The question is: do you want to pay for it in terms of a college education, practically guaranteeing that they'll never come back to prison? Or do you want to pay for more prison cells, three hots and a cot, free healthcare, and a revolving turnstile of imprisonment, release, imprisonment, ad nauseum? Your choice.

Meanwhile, another recidivism program that works...puppies!
Mr. Perry says he is tremendously proud of the Auburn partnership, crediting it with improving inmates’ morale and behavior. “The incident rate in that unit is almost nonexistent,” he said. “That dog program just kind of calms everyone.”

Not every inmate is eligible. To apply, inmates must have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be free of disciplinary reports for a year — a considerable challenge, Mr. Perry said.

“These aren’t heinous individuals,” he said. “They’re men who’ve made mistakes, serious ones, and they deserve to be forgiven. And the sooner they can forgive themselves, the sooner we can.”
Working with the dogs, he said, speeds that process. “A lot of these guys have never been given a lot of responsibility, and this is their chance not only to be a responsible adult but a responsible citizen,” he said.
It's a win win...the dogs are being trained for search and rescue, IEDs and drugs, guide responsibilities, etc., the inmates are being changed by the responsibility.

My goodness. Puppies, Pell grants, and bipartisan push back to the mandatory minimum madness of the 1990's. Are we really turning a corner here in crime and punishment in 2015? Is the correctional-industrial complex an endangered species?

UPDATE: This Chronicle of Higher Ed piece predicts pushback against the Pell grant pilot program (can I get any more alliterative?):
Rep. Christopher C. Collins, a New York Republican whose district includes the Attica prison, has already introduced legislation that would bar the department from doing so. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who is chairman of the Senate education committee, has said the administration does not have the authority to run the pilot program.

Cornell’s Mr. Scott wondered whether the topic could become an issue in the 2016 presidential race. "Americans are really divided on this," he said. But, he said, the program could also spark action from states that could introduce their own tuition-assistance programs before the broader federal debate winds down.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Brave New World

How Brain Implants Could Make the Death Penalty Obsolete:

The death penalty is one of America’s most contentious issues. Critics complain that capital punishment is inhumane, pointing out how some executions have failed to quickly kill criminals (and instead tortured them). Supporters of the death penalty fire back saying capital punishment deters violent crime in society and serves justice to wronged victims. Complicating the matter is that political, ethnic, and religious lines don’t easily distinguish death penalty advocates from its critics.
In fact, only 31 states even allow capital punishment, so America is largely divided on the issue.

Regardless of the debate—which shows no signs of easing as we head into the 2016 elections—I think technology will change the entire conversation in the next 10 to 20 years, rendering many of the most potent issues obsolete.

For example, it’s likely we will have cranial implants in two decades time that will be able to send signals to our brains that manipulate our behaviors. Those implants will be able to control out-of-control tempers and violent actions—and maybe even unsavory thoughts. This type of tech raises the obvious question: Instead of killing someone who has committed a terrible crime, should we instead alter their brain and the way it functions to make them a better person?
Obvious? I thought this was an Onion article at first when I read about it on Twitter, but scarily enough, it isn't. There are people who really believe in this sh!t.
Some people may complain that implants are too invasive and extreme. But similar outcomes—especially in altering criminal’s minds to better fit society’s goals—may be accomplished by genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or even super drugs. In fact, many criminals are already given powerful drugs, which make them quite different that they might be without them. After all, some people—including myself—believe much violent crime is a version of mental disease.

With so much scientific possibility on the near-term horizon of changing someone’s criminal behavior and attitudes, the real debate society may end up having soon is not whether to execute people, but whether society should advocate for cerebral reconditioning of criminals—in other words, a lobotomy.
LOL. We used to do that kind of stuff back in the bad old days, which led to a series of laws forbidding such gruesome and barbaric treatment. The difference between shoving ice picks through your eyes to scramble your brains, and what this author is proposing, is negligible. There is, in fact, no difference.

The author is apparently a self-described "futurist".
Because I want to believe in the good of human beings, and I also think all human existence has some value, I’m on the lookout for ways to preserve life and maximize its usefulness in society.
And so why not have Big Brother come in with implants in our brains to monitor our every move...and every thought. Funny how the author tags the 8th amendment in his article, but neglects the 4th amendment. Wouldn't the government forcibly implanting technology into your cranium be a violation of the 4th? Is that really a way to "preserve life and maximize its usefulness in society"?
Inevitably, the future of crime will change because of technology. Therefore, we should also consider changing our views on the death penalty. The rehabilitation of criminals via coming radical technology, as well as my optimism for finding the good in people, has swayed me to gently come out publicly against the death penalty.

Whatever happens, we shouldn’t continue to spend billions of dollars of tax payer money to keep so many criminals in jail. The US prison system costs four times the entire public education system in America. To me, this financial fact is one of the greatest ongoing tragedies of American economics and society. We should use science and technology to rehabilitate and make criminals contribute positively to American life—then they may not be criminals anymore, but citizens adding to a brighter future for all of us.
[crickets chirping]

I really have nothing else, other than while the anti-death penalty crowd is always happy to have new members, I'm rather sure lobotomizing criminals via microchip isn't exactly the kind of "solution" to violent crime and punishment that most are looking for.

Or anyone, really.

Friday, July 17, 2015

POTUS Goes To Prison

No, not some Nixon-era headline.

Obama First Sitting President to Visit U.S. Prison:

EL RENO, Okla. — They opened the door to Cell 123, and President Obama stared inside. In the space of 9 feet by 10 feet, he saw three bunks, a toilet with no seat, a night table with books, a small sink, prison clothes on a hook, some metal cabinets and the life he might have had.

In becoming the first occupant of his high office to visit a federal correctional facility, Mr. Obama could not help reflecting on what might have been. After all, as a young man, he smoked marijuana and tried cocaine. But he did not end up with a prison term lasting decades like some of the men who have occupied Cell 123.

As it turns out, Mr. Obama noted, there is a fine line between president and prisoner. “There but for the grace of God,” he said somberly after his tour. “And that, I think, is something that we all have to think about.”
Frankly, as a pre-requisite to holding elected office, ANY elected office at ANY level of government (local, state or federal), politicians should be required to tour a correctional facility, write a paper about the experience, and pass a quiz before they can write one word of legislation related to crime and punishment. If that had been on the books 35 years ago, we would not have had an imprisonment binge in the 80's and 90's. 
In visiting the El Reno prison, Mr. Obama went where no president ever had before, both literally and perhaps even figuratively, hoping to build support for a bipartisan overhaul of America’s criminal justice system. While his predecessors worked to toughen life for criminals, Mr. Obama wants to make their conditions better.

What was once politically unthinkable has become a bipartisan venture. Mr. Obama is making common cause with Republicans and Democrats who have come to the conclusion that the United States has given excessive sentences to many nonviolent offenders at an enormous moral and financial cost. This week, Mr. Obama commuted the sentences of 46 such prisoners and gave a speech calling for legislation revamping sentencing rules by the end of the year.
He got a lot of mileage out of the commutations earlier in the week, but let's be realistic: 46 inmates out of 1.4 million in prison (+ 800,000 in jails = 2.2 million total) is not even statistically significant. Yes, it represents a step in the right direction for what is supposedly being attempted here (the reaction to his pardons by the get tough dopes was largely muted), but it's not even a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Still, Obama deserves credit not just for touring the place, but sitting down with a group of inmates and a group of staff to discuss their concerns.
The president was brought to Cell Block B, which had been emptied for the occasion, its usual occupants moved to other buildings. The only inmates Mr. Obama saw during his visit were six nonviolent drug offenders who were selected to have a 45-minute conversation with him at a round table. It was recorded for a Vice documentary on criminal justice to be shown on HBO in the fall.

The six seemed to make an impression. “When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Mr. Obama said afterward. “The difference is they did not have the kinds of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”
He added that “we have a tendency sometimes to almost take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up. “It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people making mistakes.”

Advocates said no president had ever highlighted the conditions of prisoners so personally. “They’re out of sight and out of mind,” Cornell William Brooks, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview. “To have a president say by his actions, by his speech, by his example, ‘You’re in sight and in mind of the American public and of this democracy,’ it’s critically important.”
Of course, some are worried about what it all means.
Despite the growing consensus, others seem worried. “Victims’ rights must be at the core of all reforms, and the conversation needs to move beyond de-incarceration,” said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. 

“Victims’ rights must be at the core of all reforms, and the conversation needs to move beyond de-incarceration,” Ms. Fernandez said.
Absolutely, but only in crimes where there are victims. The vast majority (2/3 of those behind bars in the U.S. today) are in for non-violent crimes, almost 40% of which are drug-related (use, possession, distribution) i.e. victimless.

Nonetheless, the spirit of bipartisanship would seem to indicate that at least some reform is possible given the "polarized" politics of the time. Even Bill Clinton, who along with Reagan imprisoned more people than any other president in history, is sounding contrite for "mistakes" made in the anti-crime efforts during his tenure (like he wasn't warned about what a colossal error it might turn into back then).

But let's hope they hurry. With some cities experiencing rising crime rates for the first time in decades (along with the requisite idiotic media coverage such as this...look at the headline "What's Sparking A Violent Crime Surge?"...answer: your ratings?), and mass shootings happening every other day, time is of the essence.