Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Law Professor Will See You Now

Oklahoma Law Professor Suggests Alternative to Lethal Injection:

Michael Copeland has a unique resume: former Assistant Attorney General of the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, professor of criminal justice at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma—and now, the proponent of a new execution method he claims would be more humane than lethal injection. 
Copeland is one of the brains behind House Bill 1879 proposed by Oklahoma State Representative Mike Christian. The bill, passed by the Oklahoma House last week, would make “nitrogen hypoxia” a secondary method to lethal injection. Oklahoma State Senator Anthony Sykes will be introducing it to the senate shortly. 
Copeland explained the execution method last September to the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee at Christian’s invitation. Copeland says that Christian had been suggesting the firing squad, but Copeland thought there might be a better way. Along with two other professors from East Central University, Christine C. Pappas and Thomas M. Parr, he is drafting a white paper about the benefits of nitrogen-induced hypoxia over lethal injection. 
This isn’t Oklahoma’s first time engineering new execution methods. The modern lethal-injection protocol was first proposed by an Oklahoma state medical examiner named Jay Chapman in 1977. But Copeland, who spends most of his time teaching criminal justice policy, procedure, and research methods, has no background in medicine. This is his first foray into execution technologies.
LOL. This would be like me, who spends most of my time teaching criminology, penology and research methods, "making a foray into execution technologies" by passing myself off as an expert on medicine, chemistry and the human body.

Frankly, since our qualifications are pretty much the same (and we both, apparently, know how to use Wikipedia), let me share with you my own recommendation (and no doubt the source of this guy's "ingenious idea"): suicide bags and helium tanks from Party City:

"A suicide bag, also known as an exit bag, is a device consisting of a large plastic bag with a drawcord used to commit suicide. It is usually used in conjunction with an inert gas like helium or nitrogen, which prevents the panic, sense of suffocation and struggling during unconsciousness (the hypercapnic alarm response) usually caused by the deprivation of oxygen in the presence of carbon dioxide. This method also makes the direct cause of death difficult to trace if the bag and gas canister are removed before the death is reported.[1][2][3] Right-to-die groups recommend this form of suicide as certain, fast, and painless, according to a 2007 study.[4]The suicide bag was first widely mentioned in Derek Humphry's book Final Exit in 1992,[5][6] and its use with inert gases mentioned in a Supplement to Final Exit published in 2000.[7]"

That's right, folks. This professor and Oklahoma's new big idea is actually ripping a page from the Final Exit Suicide Network and applying it to executions. I wonder if that means corrections officers who work on the execution team now have to be referred to as "exit guides"?

More specifically, it seems as if they just Googled "how to kill people other than lethal injection" and got a all kinds of neat stuff off the interwebs. Basically, the Oklahoma secondary method of execution was built off Wikipedia entries.
From its first use in the execution of Gee Jon in Nevada in 1924 to its link to Nazi gas chambers, lethal gas as method of execution has a problematic history. American lethal-gas executions typically used hydrogen cyanide as the mechanism of death. Inmates were strapped to chairs in gas chambers and the ensuing chemical reaction would cause visible signs of pain and discomfort: skin discoloration, drooling, and writhing.
But nitrogen hypoxia would likely not produce the gruesome deaths that resulted from cyanide gas executions. Copeland says that “you don’t have to worry about someone reacting differently.” The condemned person would feel slightly intoxicated before losing consciousness and ultimately dying.
It's all good, bruh!
Copeland thinks that it is death penalty abolitionists who have made executions inhumane by restricting access to drugs. It will only get worse. Some corrections officials at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections agree. On February 18, they submitted a report to the state House of Representatives proposing the use of nitrogen-induced hypoxia and cited Copeland’s forthcoming paper. 
Copeland says that it’s a logical and humane next step. “Nitrogen is ubiquitous. The process is humane, it doesn’t require expertise, and it’s cheap,” he explained. “I think of it as a harm-reduction thing—like you’d rather people not use heroin, but if they do, you want them to use clean needles.
Ha ha ha...whatever that means. I'll leave it to the Oklahoma ACLU ED to sum it up.
“What’s missing is the question of whether or not we should be executing people at all,” said Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU and a former three-term member of the state House of Representatives. He argues that the state legislature is missing the big picture. “Instead, we’re having this bizarre academic exercise with professors playing doctors dressed up as executioners. Behind all of those masks, there’s no legitimate expertise to help legislators consider this method.”  
Precisely. The fact that a law professor with absolutely no medical credential whatsoever could recommend such a switch in alternative execution methods for Oklahoma, and be taken seriously and actually have it pass, shows you the desperate, junkie-like behavior states are resorting to in order to score their drugs for killing. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures. Excuse me now while I go and try to corner the market on turkey basting bags, because remember: if basting bags, the preferred method of helium delivery in assisted suicide, are good enough Final Exit, they're good enough for  Oklahoma.

Monday, March 23, 2015

College As Kindergarten

In College, Hiding From Scary Ideas:

KATHERINE BYRON, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.

So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”

Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
I'm a bit lost in the premise or set up here. If the debate wasn't assigned by a professor to attend, and attendance was simply voluntary, why would one put themselves in the situation of being "bombarded by viewpoints" you don't agree with, and thus in need of said safe space?
Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material.

But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.

This logic clearly informed a campaign undertaken this fall by a Columbia University student group called Everyone Allied Against Homophobia that consisted of slipping a flier under the door of every dorm room on campus. The headline of the flier stated, “I want this space to be a safer space.” The text below instructed students to tape the fliers to their windows. The group’s vice president then had the flier published in the Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper, along with an editorial asserting that “making spaces safer is about learning how to be kind to each other.”

A junior named Adam Shapiro decided he didn’t want his room to be a safer space. He printed up his own flier calling it a dangerous space and had that, too, published in the Columbia Daily Spectator. “Kindness alone won’t allow us to gain more insight into truth,” he wrote. In an interview, Mr. Shapiro said, “If the point of a safe space is therapy for people who feel victimized by traumatization, that sounds like a great mission.” But a safe-space mentality has begun infiltrating classrooms, he said, making both professors and students loath to say anything that might hurt someone’s feelings. “I don’t see how you can have a therapeutic space that’s also an intellectual space,” he said.
Presenting material in a sensitive way is certainly a requirement for any good professor, but the notion that certain topics are verboten simply because they might "offend" someone is the very antithesis of higher education. 
It’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago. But those were hardier souls. Now students’ needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals — mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like. This new bureaucracy may be exacerbating students’ “self-infantilization,” as Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, suggested in an essay for Inside Higher Ed.

But why are students so eager to self-infantilize? Their parents should probably share the blame. Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, wrote on Slate last month that although universities cosset students more than they used to, that’s what they have to do, because today’s undergraduates are more puerile than their predecessors. “Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity,” he wrote. But “if college students are children, then they should be protected like children.”
The Posner article is one of the dumber things I've ever read...a call to arms for the prolonging of adolescence into your college years and beyond. I can remember, as an undergraduate back in the 80's, the last thing I would have ever wanted someone to call me was a "child"  at college.

But it does fit with the self-infantilization mindset of helicopter parents today. I'm not sure it's the students who want to live in a cocoon as much as it is their over-protective, entitled parents who won't let their kids fail, be exposed to anything challenging, and who give them trophies for every single thing they've ever done in their lives (win or lose).

The article does have problems. The author selectively presents examples of p.c. run amok and then over-generalizes to ALL college campuses today. I've seen things here and there where I work, but I've never seen anything resembling the over-the-top incidents she cites.

Nonetheless, her overarching point stands: higher ed is not doing this generation of students any favors whatsoever by catering to them with a service-sector mentality where "the customer is always right," and their hands have to be held through every life-event (or class). Part of it is their parents (who, because they're paying exorbitant tuition in some cases, think their kids are owed something), but part of it is the public education system they've come out of which emphasizes only rote memorization and standardized tests, and critical thinking skills are undeveloped if not non-existent.

I'm definitely guilty of perpetuating it myself. I produced a syllabus this semester that is nine pages long for an upper division class, half of it walking the students through precisely what is required of them to write papers. I can hear my professors from the 80's laughing their heads off now. The longest syllabus I ever received was probably two pages; we were given assignments and then had to figure out how to write the papers on our own. "Free-range" education indeed.

Now the students expect boilerplate directions, the professors give them, then spend copious amounts of time wringing their their hands, wondering why students don't know how to write (or think) anymore.

Let me reiterate: colleges should be a safe place to come and live, study, work hard and excel. It is the only time in your life you basically get a pass to sit around and think big thoughts in ways you'll never have a chance to do again, and this is only possible if basic needs are being met (including safety).

But turning universities into kindergarten-like spaces isn't going to keep the big, bad world out there from rearing its ugly head. Sadly, not everyone is going to agree with your "dearly held beliefs" and people are going to get in your grill and challenge you outside the ivory towers. The idea that we should ban speakers, topics and view points from the classroom or campus because they challenge unpopular beliefs is the kind of authoritarian/fascist thinking higher ed is designed to tear down.

If that's the road we're going down, we may as well close up shop and go home.

UPDATE: You think I'm kidding about self-infantilization? Check this out: Adult Pre-K!
Whimsy is having a moment. In New York, men with full beards ride skateboards to work. Thirty-somethings join kickball leagues. Folks wait hours in line for novelty baked goods. But a preschool for adults?
Michelle Joni Lapidos, who launched what may be the world’s first pre-K for the over-21 set, arrived for our interview sporting a tiger-print coat, cherry-red hair and two sequins twinkling on her temple. Her feet were shod with shiny platform tennis shoes or, as she calls them, “Silver super skipping sneakers.”
Preschool Mastermind, which runs Tuesday nights in her Park Slope duplex, is doing well, she says. Her six students are enjoying activities such as snack time, nap time and show-and-tell. They are channeling their inner super heroes. Last week, they had a slumber party.
“It’s for adults seeking play and adventure and excitement in their life and community,” says Ms. Lapidos.
::crickets chirping::

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Closing Arguments in "Trial of the Century"

Atlanta Standardized Test Cheating Trial Wraps Up:

After more than five years of controversy and five months of testimony, a prosecutor used seven words on Monday to recap the accusations against the dozen Atlanta educators seated in a courtroom here.

“They cheated,” the prosecutor, John E. Floyd, told the jurors in Fulton County Superior Court. “They lied. And they stole.”

Mr. Floyd’s scornful summary came near the start of what will be days of closing arguments centered on whether significant increases in standardized test scores in Atlanta’s public schools came about because of endemic cheating and what prosecutors say was criminal misconduct that included racketeering. The trial, set up by a March 2013 indictment, as well as a state-commissioned report and a series of articles published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, could lead to decades in prison for the defendants.
You read that right, folks: "decades of imprisonment" for changing bubbles on scantron forms. The AJC must be right proud.
The cheating, prosecutors said, cloaked from view a system filled with greedy teachers, conspiring administrators and students who, despite their elevated scores, were academically inadequate.

“They changed answers from wrong to right on the C.R.C.T. exam for a whole bunch of folks over the course of a whole bunch of years,” Mr. Rucker said of some of those charged in the episode, which he described as one about “creating a false impression of academic success” that could lead to bonuses.
Gasp. I wonder where on earth that incentive could possibly have come from?
And with the death this month of Beverly L. Hall, the longtime Atlanta superintendent who was also charged and was to stand trial separately, the proceedings have taken on the burden of being the climax of the scandal that embarrassed this city.

Closing arguments are scheduled to resume on Tuesday. Talk of the conduct and leadership of Dr. Hall, who took over Atlanta’s schools in 1999 and was eventually named national superintendent of the year, is likely to appear anew.

Lawyers on both sides of the case mentioned Dr. Hall repeatedly on Monday.
I wonder if there's a way they can convict "the ring leader" in absentia? I mean, she's just dead. Certainly we can reach beyond the grave and exact the correct punishment.
In his own argument a few hours earlier, Mr. Rucker had been equally blunt when he said, “Dr. Hall knew.”

But he insisted that Dr. Hall’s behavior should not have kept lower-ranking employees from complying with testing standards.

“They were cheating, and it’s not right,” Mr. Rucker told the jury. “And I am asking you all to do something about it.”
Damn right. And "decades of imprisonment," after spending millions of taxpayers dollars already to put these vicious criminals on trial, sounds like more money well spent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Preventing Suicide

Blocking the Paths to Suicide:

Every year, nearly 40,000 Americans kill themselves. The majority are men, and most of them use guns. In fact, more than half of all gun deaths in the United States are suicides.

Suicide can be a very impulsive act, especially among the young, and therefore difficult to predict. Its deadliness depends more upon the means than the determination of the suicide victim.

Now many experts are calling for a reconsideration of suicide-prevention strategies. While mental health and substance abuse treatment must always be important components in treating suicidality, researchers like Ms. Barber are stressing another avenue: “means restriction.”

Instead of treating individual risk, means restriction entails modifying the environment by removing the means by which people usually die by suicide. The world cannot be made suicide-proof, of course. But, these researchers argue, if the walkway over a bridge is fenced off, a struggling college freshman cannot throw herself over the side. If parents leave guns in a locked safe, a teenage son cannot shoot himself if he suddenly decides life is hopeless.
The article discusses the contrarian research which shows that suicide is not always the methodical, deliberate act it's been portrayed to be, but instead is often a sudden impulse and split-second decision made by the eventual victim.
About 90 percent of the people who try suicide and live ultimately never die by suicide. If the people who died had not had easy access to lethal means, researchers like Dr. Miller reason, most would still be alive.

The public has long held the opposite perception. In 2006, researchers at the Harvard center published an opinion survey about people who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. Seventy-four percent of respondents believed that most or all jumpers would have completed suicide some other way if they had been deterred.

“People think of suicide in this linear way, as if you get more and more depressed and go on to create a more specific plan,” Ms. Barber said.

In fact, suicide is often a convergence of factors leading to a sudden, tragic event. In one study of people who survived a suicide attempt, almost half reported that the whole process, from the first suicidal thought to the final act, took 10 minutes or less.
As I and others have been writing for years, prevention is the key. And while you can't "suicide-proof" a society, as the article notes, we have come a long way in many areas/methods over the years. Bridges are increasingly being made more difficult to jump from, prescription drugs more difficult to stockpile, etc.

We're even recognizing that the correlation between mental illness and suicide is not a good, preventative indicator. In most cases, the potential suicide victim is not clinically depressed, is not in treatment, or if they are, usually not judged to be a suicide-threat risk.
Dr. Igor Galynker, the director of biological psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, noted that in one study, 60 percent of patients who were judged to be at low risk died of suicide after their discharge from an acute care psychiatric unit.

Sometimes, depression isn’t even in the picture. In one study, 60 percent of college students who said they were thinking about ways to kill themselves tested negative for depression.

“There are kids for whom it’s very difficult to predict suicide — there doesn’t seem to be that much that is wrong with them,” said Dr. David Brent, an adolescent psychiatrist who studies suicide at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Brent’s research showed that 40 percent of children younger than 16 who died by suicide did not have a clearly definable psychiatric disorder.
In other words, trying to prevent suicide at the mental health/psychiatric level is simply not as reliable as trying to suicide-proof the available means of suicide.

Kind of ironic, isn't it? The psychiatric-industrial complex promises to be the happy elixir for society and its problems, yet drugging everyone in the culture via Big Pharma is still going to miss a significant portion of the potential suicide population.

So where does that leave us? The thousand pound elephant in the room...the last great frontier: guns.
“You can reduce the rate of suicide in the United States substantially, without attending to underlying mental health problems, if fewer people had guns in their homes and fewer people who are at risk for suicide had access to guns in their home,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, a director of Harvard Injury Control Research Center and a professor of health sciences and epidemiology at Northeastern University.

Availability is a consistent factor in how most people choose to attempt suicide, said Ms. Barber, regardless of age. People trying to die by suicide tend to choose not the most effective method, but the one most at hand.

“Some methods have a case fatality rate as low as 1 or 2 percent,” she said. “With a gun, it’s closer to 85 or 90 percent. So it makes a difference what you’re reaching for in these low-planned or unplanned suicide attempts.”

Statistically, having a gun in the home increases the probability of suicide for all age groups. If the gun is unloaded and locked away, the risk is reduced. If there is no gun in the house at all, the suicide risk goes down even further.
It's a simple, well-known fact: more than 60% of gun-related deaths in the U.S. every year are suicides. They're mainly male (thus why males account for more than 70% of completed suicides annually), and interestingly, older Americans (the gun-related suicide rate for 65+ is triple the national rate).

But we are on the opposite trajectory when it comes to guns and gun control in this country. With the passage of "guns everywhere" laws, "stand your ground" laws, "shoot first, ask questions later" laws, "let God sort 'em out" laws, and "from my cold, dead hands" laws, we are saturated in guns to the point of drowning.

And meanwhile, those who spontaneously exercise the ultimate option of suicide will continue to enjoy the availability of quick and easy access to ending their lives via firearm.

No, you can't prevent everyone from wanting to end their own life. And no, banning guns is not the answer to stop gun-related suicides, just as banning belts isn't an option to stop hangings. 

But imagine how many suicides would be prevented if we made firearms more rare and their access more difficult.
Ken Baldwin, who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived, told reporters that he knew as soon as he had jumped that he had made a terrible mistake. He wanted to live. Mr. Baldwin was lucky.

Ms. Barber tells another story: On a friend’s very first day as an emergency room physician, a patient was wheeled in, a young man who had shot himself in a suicide attempt. “He was begging the doctors to save him,” she said. But they could not.

Your Post-Racial Society

Justice Department Slams Ferguson PD:

The Justice Department reports that its investigation into law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo., found that the police and courts meted out illegal and unduly harsh treatment, particularly to black people. One of the reports released Wednesday, "Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department," says the mistreatment is due to discrimination, and a primary focus on maximizing city revenue through citations, not to keeping the peace.

Black people are two-thirds of Ferguson's population, but from 2012 to 2014, they accounted for 85 percent of police traffic stops, 90 percent of citations issued, and 93 percent of arrests. The Municipal Court also treats blacks more harshly, according to the Justice Department's findings.
The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race.

p. 4
African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables ... but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search. African Americans are more likely to be cited and arrested following a stop regardless of why the stop was initiated ... FPD appears to bring certain offenses almost exclusively against African Americans. For example, from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges.

p. 4
Nearly 90% of documented force used by FPD officers was used against African Americans. In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.

p. 5
Our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans. We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson. For example, we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, including one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.
The emails are particularly horrendous.
The content of these communications is unequivocally derogatory, dehumanizing, and demonstrative of impermissible bias.

p. 71
A November 2008 email stated that President Barack Obama would not be President for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years” … An April 2011 email depicted President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee. A May 2011 email stated: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers …’ An October 2011 email included a photo of a bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”

p. 72
Our investigation has not revealed any indication that any officer or court clerk engaged in these communications was ever disciplined. Nor did we see a single instance in which a police or court recipient of such an email asked that the sender refrain from sending such emails, or any indication that these emails were reported as inappropriate. Instead, the emails were usually forwarded along to others.
Of course, Eric Holder being Eric Holder, on the same day this damning report was released, the DoJ quietly disappeared the case against the officer accused of gunning down Michael Brown last summer.

So the Ferguson PD (really, the entire city apparently) was a hot bed of racism run amok, except just not in the case that put the city and its pd on the international map. Makes sense. I guess.

Meanwhile, three unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police since the Ferguson report was released just five days ago.
CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Witnesses to the fatal police shooting of an African-American man gave differing accounts Tuesday. But they all ended with a similar question: Why was it necessary to shoot Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran who was naked and unarmed?

The shooting is the third police killing of an unarmed or apparently unarmed black man in the last five days, following shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Madison, Wis. They have occurred as the nation considers race, policing and lethal force in the wake of the killing of another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
The monstrosity that is racism in our society continues to play out daily right before our eyes. From the passive-aggressive vitriol and disrespect heaped at the president and his family, to the shootings of these unarmed men, to more stupid acts (like these fraternity boneheads) caught on video and going viral via social media...there is no doubt the concept of a "post-racial world" is simply fantasy.

Even the Millennial Generation, much touted as being the first group to usher in a post-racial society of tolerance and good will, turns out to be way more racist than previously thought. Not as bad as the Boomers, but no better than my generation (X).

The 50th anniversary celebration of the Selma marches this past weekend was definitely a reminder of the progress made and how far we've come since the modern civil rights movement began. The president's speech is clearly one of the best he has given in years.

But the above incidents clearly remind us how far we have yet to go.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Invisible Punishments

Criminal Records Keep Men Out Of Work:

The share of American men with criminal records — particularly black men — grew rapidly in recent decades as the government pursued aggressive law enforcement strategies, especially against drug crimes. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, those men are having particular trouble finding work. Men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The reluctance of employers to hire people with criminal records, combined with laws that place broad categories of jobs off-limits, is not just a frustration for men like Mr. Mirsky; it is also taking a toll on the broader economy. It is preventing millions of American men from becoming, in that old phrase, productive members of society.

“Prior to the prison boom, when convictions were restricted to a smaller fraction of the population, it wasn’t great for their rehab potential but it wasn’t having a huge impact,” said Devah Pager, a Harvard professor of sociology. “Now such a large fraction of the population is affected that it has really significant implications, not just for those people, but for the labor market as a whole.”
Remember: unlike race, creed, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, having been in prison is not a protected status under the law when it comes to discrimination. Meaning, employers cannot discriminate against you based on those other categories, but if you've been in prison? Delete.
Rising concern that background checks are being used to systematically exclude applicants with criminal records is fueling a national “ban the box” movement to improve their chances. The name refers to the box that job applicants are sometimes required to check if they have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. Fourteen states and several dozen cities have passed laws, mostly in recent years, that generally require employers to postpone background checks until the later stages of the hiring process.
Georgia became the latest state to join that list when Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order Monday. It described the new policy as a matter of fairness and a way to strengthen the state’s economy by expanding the pool of workers. New Jersey passed its own “ban the box” law last year. It is scheduled take effect March 1.
Naturally, the "criminal records industry" is pushing back.
The ready availability of criminal records databases has fueled the perception that it is irresponsible for employers to ignore available information. Local governments increasingly put criminal records online, and private companies like HireRight, Sterling BackCheck and LexisNexis Risk Solutions aggregate those records, offering almost instant results. In the early 1990s, less than half of companies routinely checked criminal histories. Now relatively few refrain.

“Criminal background screening is an important tool — nearly the only tool — that employers have to protect their customers, their employees and themselves from criminal behavior,” Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, testified before a congressional committee last year. Local, state and federal governments have embraced the same logic, writing background checks into professional licensing requirements and post-9/11 security regulations.

The quality of the information used in background checks is another cause for concern. One of the most common problems is that databases may include arrest records without any indication of whether a person was convicted
The information contained in the criminal record databases pedaled by private companies is wrong almost exactly 50% of the time.

My colleague Sarah Shannon and Chris Uggen of U.Minn take it from here.
These policies affect a growing number of people. About 10 percent of nonincarcerated men had felony records in 2010, up from 4 percent in 1980, according to research led by the sociologists Sarah Shannon of the University of Georgia and Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota. The numbers are much higher among African-American men: About 25 percent of nonincarcerated black men had been convicted of a felony, up from 9 percent in 1980.

The problem with criminal background checks, in Mr. Uggen’s view, is a lack of deliberation about what employers should be looking for. Some employers ask about convictions for felonies; some ask only about narrow categories of felony like violent crimes or sex crimes. Others ask about any arrest whatsoever. “We haven’t really figured out what a disqualifying offense should be for particular activities,” he said.

Mr. Uggen was himself arrested few times as a Minnesota teenager for fighting and other minor sins but, when he submitted his college application to the University of Wisconsin, he was not asked and he did not tell. Now a professor, he said that some of his own students were not able to escape the past so easily.
Colleges routinely ask applicants about criminal history. So do landlords.

“For somebody of my generation who had a brush with the law, they were able to quickly put it in the rearview mirror and move on,” said Mr. Uggen, who is 50. “Now I have graduate students who maybe 10 years ago they were convicted of a crime and for them to try to get an apartment, it’s a huge barrier.”
As I've written before, colleges and universities, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, play a direct role in Big Incarceration by routinely screening out student applicants who have any kind of criminal conviction on their record. Information, frankly, that is none of a college's business.
Nearly three out of four colleges ask applicants a variation of the question most dreaded by those who have been on the wrong side of the law: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
Some colleges are only concerned with violent felonies, others with misdemeanors or even high-school suspensions. And what they do with that information, ostensibly gathered only to keep their campuses safe, varies widely.

Relatively few reject students outright on the basis of criminal convictions, but many require those applicants to jump through so many hoops, gathering letters from probation officers and corrections officials, waiting additional months for committee deliberations, that the students give up.
I should point out when I say above, that they routinely weed out applicants based on this information, it is certainly not something the student ever knows about. They just get the standard, routine chain rejection letter, no explanation necessary or required on behalf of the college.

And the college's defense (we have to weed out the potential sexual assailants and school shooters), while somewhat understandable, is out of proportion to the true threat.
Many of the colleges that now pore over applicants’ rap sheets began doing so in response to violent crimes by students, including the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Colleges are also acutely aware today of their responsibilities in preventing sexual assaults, a factor that could cause more to turn away applicants with histories of sex crimes. Such policies, some campus officials argue, could help protect students from harm and colleges from lawsuits.

But there is no evidence that people with criminal histories are any more likely to commit crimes on campus, or that any of the recent campus shootings, including those at Virginia Tech, were by people with criminal histories, says Robert A. Stewart, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, who is conducting a nationwide study of such screenings.

After examining the applications of about 1,400 baccalaureate colleges in the United States, Mr. Stewart found that about 70 percent inquired about students’ criminal records. About 58 percent of the public colleges and 78 percent of the private colleges did so.

Answering yes rarely means automatic rejection, but the scrutiny that usually follows is enough to make some applicants feel unwelcome, says Alan Rosenthal, co-director of justice strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives, an advocacy group for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

"We know education reduces recidivism," he says. "So if you close your doors, thinking you’re keeping your campus safe, you’re undermining the safety of your communities."
Precisely. You want to stop recidivism and help turn someone's life around? Get them an education. We shoot ourselves in the foot, literally, by continuing to punish these people via college admission or employment denial, long after they've paid their debt to society.

There is hope, perhaps, but it's limited.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warned in 2012 that the systematic exclusion of people with criminal records was effectively a form of discrimination against black men, who were disproportionately affected. It has filed lawsuits charging such discrimination by companies including BMW, Dollar General and Pepsi.
I say limited because it's still only race that is a protected status here under employment discrimination laws. It might benefit African-American men most (and certainly is necessary), but what about white, Hispanic, Asian or Native American men who are systematically discriminated against based on criminal conviction?

In the end, these are what penologist Marc Mauer calls "the invisible punishments." They are subtle, latent forms of discrimination and punishment that follow ex-felons around, long after they have served their sentences and paid their debt to society, thus creating further collateral damage via the war on crime.

And by denying ex-cons gainful employment or educational opportunities, we merely perpetuate the cycle of repeat criminal behavior and recidivism.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Two Day Riot

Two Day Riot Points Up Hypocrisy of Criminalizing Immigration:

The latest uprising at the Willacy County Correctional Center began quietly on Friday morning, when prisoners refused to go to their work assignments or to breakfast. Then, inmates broke out of the massive Kevlar tents that serve as dorms. Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told reporters some had kitchen knives, sharpened mops and brooms. Prison officials sprayed tear gas; a SWAT team, the Texas Rangers, the FBI and the US Border Patrol all showed up. It took two days to quell the demonstration. Now administrators are beginning to transfer the 2,800 prisoners—undocumented immigrants, most serving time for low-level offenses—to other facilities, because the protest made the center “uninhabitable.”

But reports suggest that Willacy has been uninhabitable for years. This is the third disturbance at the center since the summer of 2013, when inmates protested after their complaints of broken, overflowing toilets were ignored. “I feel suffocated and trapped,” a prisoner named Dante told the American Civil Liberties Union, which released a report on conditions at the facility last year. Dante and others described the 200-man tents they were housed in as “dirty and crawling with insects…. the toilets often overflow and always smell foul.” The ACLU also found that "basic medical concerns are often ignored or inadequately addressed." Reportedly, inadequate medical care is what sparked the weekend’s demonstrations.
Much of this was documented by Frontline in their 2011 award-winning film "Lost in Detention."  In addition to unreported sexual assault and routine abuse, the Willacy concentration camp was cited by Human Rights Watch for "horrific crimes" in 2011.

So the fact that immigrant detainees finally rioted isn't all that surprising. What is surprising is that Willacy, which was previously run by the private correctional company Management & Training Corporation  (before having their contract cancelled by the Feds in 2011 following said abuses),was back under private control...by the same company!
The events at Willacy put a spotlight on a shadowed corner of overlap between the federal prison system, private prison companies and the nation’s immigration enforcement machinery. Willacy is one of thirteen facilities in a network of Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons under the jurisdiction of the federal Bureau of Prisons. These “second-class” prisons, run by notorious contractors like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, hold some 25,000 immigrants whose crimes largely fall into two categories: minor drug offenses and immigration infractions such as re-entering the country illegally. A decade ago the latter was rarely treated as a criminal case; as I explain in more detail here, increased prosecution of unlawful entry and re-entry has become a hallmark of President Obama’s enforcement policies. In 2013, nearly a third of all federal criminal cases related to border crossings. In Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, they represent 80 percent of the federal criminal docket.

Willacy was built as an ICE detention facility in 2006, but after a series of reports of sexual and other forms of abuse, the agency transferred the detainees and ended its contract with Management & Training Corporation, the company running the center. Just one month later MTC announced it would again be responsible for detaining immigrants at Willacy, this time with a new partner: the Bureau of Prisons. The ten-year contract was worth more than half a billion dollars.
Incredible. I had lost track of Willacy over the past few years and was unaware of this development. To call it "sick" is probably an understatement, but the role of private correctional companies running concentration camps in the U.S. is only half the problem.

The other half is the Obama administration's unrelenting prosecution of the War on Immigration. They have now deported over 2 million immigrants in just six years. By comparison, the total deportations during the Bush administration's eight years was two million. Obama has passed W's record, and still has two years to go (which makes the assertion by some that Obama is "weak on immigration" truly delusional).

Until we stop criminalizing immigration and dealing with it in a non-carceral way, the human rights abuses going on within our own borders will continue. And there will be more riots in these kevlar concentration camps...you can bank on that.