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 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 can bank on that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Good and Bad in C.J.

The Good:

Unlikely Cause Unites Right and Left in Criminal Justice Reform:

Usually bitter adversaries, Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress have found at least one thing they can agree on: The nation’s criminal justice system is broken.

Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the center, a Washington-based liberal issues group, are coming together to back a new organization called the Coalition for Public Safety. The coalition plans a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives. Other groups from both the left and right — the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks — are also part of the coalition, reflecting its unusually bipartisan approach.

The coalition will have initial backing of more than $5 million, with groups also spending independently on their own criminal justice initiatives.

With the huge costs to the public of an expanding 2.2 million-person prison population drawing interest from the right and the conviction that the system is unfair and incarcerating too many drug and nonviolent offenders driving those on the left, the new coalition is the most recent example of ideological opposites joining together.
Last year, Senators Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, together wrote legislation aimed at helping nonviolent offenders seal their records. This month, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, introduced legislation aimed at cutting prison populations by allowing eligible prisoners to reduce their time.
Naturally, this a lot of feel good rhetoric which, at this point, hasn't produced anything tangible yet. Whether running on criminal justice reform, rather than good old fashioned criminal retribution, actually wins elections remains to be seen.

But for today, anyway, could hope really spring eternal on this issue? Hold your fire.

The Bad:

Bid on Campus for Guns to Deter Sexual Assault:
As gun rights advocates push to legalize firearms on college campuses, an argument is taking shape: Arming female students will help reduce sexual assaults.

This year, lawmakers in 10 states who are pushing bills that would permit the carrying of firearms on campus are hoping that the national spotlight on sexual assault will help them win passage of their measures.

“If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible,” State Representative Dennis K. Baxley of Florida said during debate in a House subcommittee last month. The bill passed.

The sponsor of a bill in Nevada, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, said in a telephone interview: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”
LOL. So, to address the point above, if you think exploiting crime for political capital is a dead horse all of a sudden, think again.

I suppose arming potential rape victims may not lead to more people filling our prisons and jails (yet), but maybe the gun advocates are on to something. Hell, if enough victims just "take out" the bad guys, then we won't need no dang prisons and jails anymore anyhow. Dagummit.

One step up, two steps back...

UPDATE: The Chronicle of Higher Ed Weighs on concealed handguns on campus:
It’s unclear, however, whether allowing concealed handguns on campuses would deter sexual assaults or perhaps even render them more likely, by making it easier for potential perpetrators to arm themselves.

Although researchers on campus sexual assault may sharply differ in their estimates of its prevalence, they generally agree on these two points: The perpetrators are most likely to be men that the victims have known and trusted, and are much less likely to have overcome a woman by pure physical force than they are to have taken advantage of one incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.

United Educators, an insurance and risk-management firm, examined 305 claims from 104 colleges it insures involving alleged sexual assaults of students from 2011 through 2013. It found that 90 percent of victims knew the perpetrator, 84 percent of the perpetrators were students, 78 percent of the assaults involved alcohol, and one in three victims were drunk, passed out, or asleep.

Friday, February 13, 2015

FBI: A Sociological View of Crime and Law Enforcement

FBI Director Addresses Race and Police Bias:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, delivered an unusually candid speech on Thursday about the difficult relationship between the police and African-Americans, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at a high rate develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race.

Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. In an address to students at Georgetown University, Mr. Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

In speaking about racial issues at such length, Mr. Comey used his office in a way that none of his predecessors had. His remarks also went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have said since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
Part of this, of course, is because Comey is not partisan and doesn't have to pretend to be. If here were to step into the cesspool of partisanship, instantly his words would be eviscerated by the "other side" and rendered only half-true because of ideological binders. 

Which is why what he said is even more powerful.
Mr. Comey said that his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the country had not “had a healthy dialogue” since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not “want to see those important issues drift away.”

Previous F.B.I. directors had limited their public comments about race to civil rights investigations, like murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan and the bureau’s wiretapping of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But Mr. Comey tried to dissect the issue layer by layer.

He started by acknowledging that law enforcement had a troubled legacy when it came to race.
“All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,” he said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

Mr. Comey said there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need “to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.”

“Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most,” Mr. Comey said.
And finally:
Mr. Comey said the police had received most of the blame in episodes like the Ferguson shooting and the death of an unarmed black man in Staten Island who was placed in a chokehold by an officer, but law enforcement was “not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods.”

In many of those areas, blacks grow up “in environments lacking role models, adequate education and decent employment,” he said.

Mr. Comey said tensions could be eased if the police got to know those they were charged to protect.
“It’s hard to hate up close,” he said.

Ron Hosko, the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and a former senior F.B.I. official, said that while Mr. Holder’s statements about policing and race after the Ferguson shooting had placed the blame directly on the police, Mr. Comey’s remarks were far more nuanced and thoughtful.

“He looked at all the sociological pieces,” Mr. Hosko said. “The director’s comments were far more balanced, because it wasn’t just heavy-handed on the cops.”
Precisely. It was surprising how sociological, holistic, macro and nuanced the speech was regarding crime, law enforcement and the many social forces in society that affect it.

I've really been impressed by Comey since this interview on surveillance and law enforcement aired last fall on 60 Minutes. Check it out, and welcome to the debate, Mr. Director.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jails: Give Us Your Poor, Addicted, Debtors

Jails Have Become Warehouses for Poor, Addicted:

Jails across the country have become vast warehouses made up primarily of people too poor to post bail or too ill with mental health or drug problems to adequately care for themselves, according to a report issued Wednesday.
The study, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” found that the majority of those incarcerated in local and county jails are there for minor violations, including driving with suspended licenses, shoplifting or evading subway fares, and have been jailed for longer periods of time over the past 30 years because they are unable to pay court-imposed costs.
Most jurisdictions today routinely issue and enforce bench warrants for unpaid traffic tickets, child support payments or probation/parole fines. Then they charge late fees and warrant fees on top of that. 

Only a moron would assume a person who doesn't have the money to pay his traffic ticket or child support would also have the money to pay the extra fees and fines associated with said violation. But this has nothing to do with sense, and everything to do with using our jails as debtor's prisons for the poor.
The report, by the Vera Institute of Justice, comes at a time of increased attention to mass incarceration policies that have swelled prison and jail populations around the country. This week in Missouri, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer stirred months of racial tension last year in the town of Ferguson, 15 people sued that city and another suburb, Jennings, alleging that the cities created an unconstitutional modern-day debtors’ prison, putting impoverished people behind bars in overcrowded, unlawful and unsanitary conditions.

The number of people housed in jails on any given day in the country has increased from 224,000 in 1983 to 731,000 in 2013 — nearly equal to the population of Charlotte, N.C. — even as violent crime nationally has fallen by nearly 50 percent and property crime has dropped by more than 40 percent from its peak.

Inmates have subsequently been spending more time in jail awaiting trial, in part because of the growing reluctance of judges to free suspects on their own recognizance pending trial dates, which had once been common for minor offenses.

As a result, many of those accused of misdemeanors — who are often poor — are unable to pay bail as low as $500.
As Michael Welch pointed out decades ago, the modern jail serves as a 24-hour, social sanitation warehouse...a place we can store the rabble, the "riff-faff," while scrubbing our streets free of the poor and destitute via the enforcement of class-based laws such as excessive traffic ticket amounts, falling behind on child support, or missing your fines/fees payment with a probation officer.

When all those efforts to shake you down legally fail, go directly to jail: do not pass go, do not collect, well, anything.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Trabajo Te Hace Libre

The Shame Of America's Family Detention Camps:

Under the terms of a 1997 settlement in the case of Flores v. Meese, children who enter the country without their parents must be granted a “general policy favoring release” to the custody of relatives or a foster program. When there is cause to detain a child, he or she must be housed in the least restrictive environment possible, kept away from unrelated adults and provided access to medical care, exercise and adequate education.

Even so, in 2005, the administration of George W. Bush decided to deny the Flores protections to refugee children traveling with their parents. Instead of a “general policy favoring release,” the administration began to incarcerate hundreds of those families for months at a time. To house them, officials opened the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center near Austin, Tex. Within a year, the administration faced a lawsuit over the facility’s conditions. Legal filings describe young children forced to wear prison jumpsuits, to live in dormitory housing, to use toilets exposed to public view and to sleep with the lights on, even while being denied access to appropriate schooling.

In 2009, the Obama administration reversed course, abolishing family detention at Hutto and leaving only a small facility in Pennsylvania to house refugee families in exceptional circumstances. For all other refugee families, the administration returned to a policy of release to await trial. Studies have shown that nearly all detainees who are released from custody with some form of monitoring will appear for their court date. But when the number of refugees from Central America spiked last summer, the administration abruptly announced plans to resume family detention.
As I wrote back in December, this reversal has less to do with any "crisis" at the border, and more about effective private prison lobbying for new, family-style concentration camps.
By late spring, the construction of the new facility at Dilley should be complete. It already represents a drastic departure from the refugee camp in Artesia. Managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, the South Texas Family Residential Center has its own promotional website with promissory images of the spacious classrooms, libraries, play areas and lounges that will eventually be available to refugees in long-term detention.

Many advocates have expressed concerns about the Dilley facility as well. Its management company, C.C.A., is the same firm that ran the Hutto detention center, and it has been at the center of other significant controversies in recent years. In 2006, federal investigators reported that conditions at a C.C.A. immigration jail in Eloy, Ariz., were so lacking that “detainee welfare is in jeopardy.” Last March, the F.B.I. started an investigation of C.C.A. over a facility the company ran in Idaho, known by inmates as the “Gladiator School” because of unchecked fighting; in 2010, a video surfaced of guards watching one inmate beat another into a coma. Two years ago, C.C.A. executives admitted to fraud in their government contracts at the prison, including 4,800 hours of falsified business records.

The management contract at Dilley was also created with unusual terms. In their hurry to open the new facility, officials for the Obama administration bypassed normal bidding procedures and established Dilley under an existing contract for the troubled C.C.A. jail in Eloy. Although the Dilley camp is nearly 1,000 miles away from Eloy, all federal funding for the new camp in Texas will flow through the small town in Arizona, which will keep $438,000 of the annual operating budget as compensation. Eloy city officials say they do not expect to monitor, or even visit, the Dilley facility.
Good times. I really have no other editorial commentary on this that differs from my post in December. The article is a long-read, but it keeps making the same point over and over: family concentration camps exist in the United States today.

BTW, the title of the post is Spanish for Arbeit Macht Frie, the German phrase (Work Makes You Free) that hung over the entrance of Auschwitz.  Hopefully CCA won't plaster this at the gates of the Dilley Concentration Camp when it opens this spring.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

S&P: Steal and Prosper

S&P Pays Fine, Does Not Admit Guilt:

Nearly a decade after credit ratings agencies became a symbol of a financial crisis they helped create, one of the industry’s biggest players faces a costly reckoning.

Standard & Poor’s, a ratings agency accused of inflating its assessment of mortgage investments that spurred the 2008 crisis, announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to pay $1.37 billion to settle civil charges from the Justice Department and from 19 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia.

The settlement, which does not require judicial approval, signals that the investigation of crisis-era misdeeds has entered a final stage.

The S.&P. settlement, on the heels of banks and other financial institutions collectively paying more than $40 billion to end federal and state investigations, was among the government’s few remaining items of unfinished business from the crisis. No other ratings agency has faced a Justice Department lawsuit, though prosecutors continue to investigate actions by Moody’s.
As you'll remember, the ratings agencies were direct, criminal enablers of the Great Swindle leading to the Great Recession (S&P, Moody's and others were, in the structures and careers in Burglary, Wall Street's Tipsters).  With this announcement, S&P has announced itself free and clear of the entire mess, without having to admit any guilt either.
For S.&P., the settlements provide some peace in a process rife with animosity. After years of lowball offers and invective — S.&P. contended the Justice Department’s case was “retaliation” after it cut the stellar AAA credit rating of the United States in 2011— it was unclear if the ratings agency would ever back down.

But in a statement of facts with the settlement, the company acknowledged that “the voluminous discovery provided to S.&P. by the United States to date” does not “support its allegation” that the Justice Department acted out of spite. S.&P. agreed to withdraw that allegation.
And Holder, clinging to his job in his waning days as AG, said with a straight face:
“The settlement we have reached today not only makes clear that this kind of conduct will never be tolerated by the Department of Justice, it also underscores our strong and ongoing commitment to pursue any company or entity that violated the law and contributed to the financial crisis of 2008,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Except when we don't. But if we do, it will always be in civil court, where these sociopaths in suits can pay the fine out of petty cash and never admit any wrongdoing.

In a wonderful role reversal, some of the clowns on the Street are even asserting it's the government who's shaking them down now.
Such outcomes — $1 billion is now a floor, not a ceiling for a settlement — have led Wall Street lawyers to criticize what they call a government shakedown.
Well, I guess if anyone would know a shakedown...amiright?
And yet, some lawmakers complain that the civil lawsuits are a slap on the wrist for companies that helped ignite the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Not one top executive at S.&P., or any major Wall Street firm, was charged criminally for the misdeeds during the era.
And I repeat myself. For the fact remains, only the threat of incarceration in the Big House (maximum security prison) would ensure this kind of lunacy would never happen again. From a deterrent perspective, it has a way of concentrating the mind.

But when the final chapter is written, the Wolves of Wall Street will have the last laugh, as they pay their fines, don't admit any wrongdoing, break open the scotch and cigars, and get ready for the next scam to perpetrate on the American (and global) financial markets.