Category Archives: Crime

Lethal private prisons for male border-crossers


They’re a legacy of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and the corporations running them were major campaign contribution bundlers for Hillary Clinton until their role was exposed by The Intercept in July.

Why Hillary? It’s not just out of loyalty to her spouse. Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, is an outspoken advocate for ending the nation’s mass incarceration program and has sponsored legislation to end corporate prisons in the federal justice system.

Clinton only formally backed off from the private prison lobby in October, when she tweeted “Protecting public safety. . .should never be outsourced or left to unaccountable corporations.”

But notice the weasel word unaccountable in her declaration, potentially leaving the door open for “accountable” corporations, whatever those might be.

Now, why that adjective “lethal” in the headline?

Because the subjective of this two-part interview for Democracy Now!, Seth Freed Wessler, is the author of “This Man Will Almost Certainly Die,” a major investigative report for the Nation on deaths in the corporate prisons used to house men whose only offense has been to cross the U.S. border without permission.

And where are these prisons? From the Nation, a map lays it out:

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And now for the interviews.

From Democracy Now!:

“This Man Will Almost Certainly Die”: The Secret Deaths of Dozens at Privatized Immigrant-Only Jails

From the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Seth, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain the title, “This Man Will Almost Certainly Die.”

SETH FREED WESSLER: That title comes from a quote that was left in one of the medical files I obtained through an open records request. I obtained 9,000 pages of documents. And in those documents, from one of these prisons, there was a medical doctor who left his normal medical notes, but he also left a series of notes railing against the system that he had—he worked in, inside of one of these private federal prisons, private federal prisons used only to hold noncitizens convicted of federal crime—a sort of segregated system of prisons. In these files, he left a series of notes where he was railing against this prison system, basically saying that it wasn’t providing prisoners, or wasn’t allowing him to provide prisoners, the kind of care that as a medical doctor he believed he should be able to provide. These records tell the stories of 103 men who died inside this federal subsystem of prisons.

If you’re convicted of a crime in the United States, a federal crime, and you’re a noncitizen considered a low-security prisoner, you’re likely to be sent to a different prison from all of the rest of—from citizens. And those prisons are nearly the only prisons that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has privatized, has contracted out to private companies—GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation.

And what I found is that the federal government is applying a different and less stringent set of rules to these prisons. And that, in the context of medical care, is leading to stripped-down kinds of medical clinics with lower-trained, lesser-paid, less expensive workers. And in dozens of cases, prisoners held inside are facing medical neglect. In 25 cases I looked at, doctors who reviewed the files said these prisoners likely would have lived had they received adequate medical care.

And the second part:

Seth Freed Wessler on Uncovering the Deaths of Dozens at Privatized Immigrant-Only Jails

From the transcript:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the epic battle you had to get these records. How—what kind of resistance did you come up across? And when you say 103 deaths, what period of time are we talking about here?

SETH FREED WESSLER: So, I had filed an open records request, a Freedom of Information Act request, several years ago. And I thought that I was going to get documents from that request. I talked to people in the BOP’s FOIA office, and it seemed that it was moving. But a year passed and then two, and I realized that I wasn’t going to get any of these documents. I had asked for the medical records of people who had died. It took filing a lawsuit in federal court to compel the federal government to compel the Bureau of Prisons to move. And last year, I started to receive these files—which were later unredacted, in significant part—that told the stories of men who had died. The files also included the internal investigations and death reports for each of these men who died. And in many cases, the prisons themselves, the private contractors themselves, acknowledged in these reports that there had been failings.

In one case, the prison company, Management and Training Corporation, contracted to have a after-action report conducted, in anticipation of litigation. That litigation never happened. In fact, this family didn’t know that their—the mother, who’s in Mexico, didn’t know that her son had died for nearly a year. And when I called her, when I found her and I talked to her, she still didn’t know that her son had been locked up for illegal re-entry. That is, she said to me, “I thought he had done something terrible to land in a federal prison in the United States.” But, in fact, I told her why he was locked up.

This is a man who arrived at the prison very rapidly. It was very clear that he was entering into a state of real distress, hallucinating. He said that voices—he was hearing voices that told him to break a window. And he received no substantive mental healthcare, and then he killed himself in this prison, even after he wrote on an intake form that he had been taking drugs for mental illness, that he had committed—attempted suicide in the past, and a medical—a low-level provider saw that he had tried to cut himself previously.

Sleep deprivation, tasers lead to false confessions?


Two new studies cast doubt on police-obtained confessions of criminal suspects, the first in case of those deprived of sleep before or during the interrogation process, and the second in the case of those who have been subjected to taser shocks.

First, from the  Michigan State University newsroom:

Sleep deprivation linked to false confessions

Sleep-deprived people are much more likely to sign false confessions than rested individuals, according to a groundbreaking study that has important implications for police interrogation practices.

The odds of signing a false confession were 4.5 times higher for participants who had been awake for 24 hours than for those who had slept eight hours the night before.

Led by Kimberly M. Fenn, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, the study is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is the first direct evidence that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that a person will falsely confess to wrongdoing that never occurred,” said Fenn. “It’s a crucial first step toward understanding the role of sleep deprivation in false confessions and, in turn, raises complex questions about the use of sleep deprivation in the interrogation of innocent and guilty suspects.”

False confessions in the United States are thought to account for 15 percent-25 percent of wrongful convictions. And past research has indicated that the interrogation of unrested, possibly sleep-deprived suspects is commonplace.

For the study, conducted in Fenn’s Sleep and Learning Lab, 88 participants completed various computer activities and a cognitive test during several laboratory sessions over a weeklong period. Participants were given several warnings not to hit the “escape” key because “this could cause the computer to lose valuable data.” Participants were monitored during the tasks.

On the final day of the experiment, half of the participants slept for eight hours while the other half stayed awake overnight. The next morning before leaving the lab, each participant was shown a statement summarizing his or her activities and falsely alleging the participant had pressed the escape key. Participants were asked to sign the statement, check a box confirming its accuracy and sign their name.

The results were striking: 50 percent of sleep-deprived participants signed the false confession, while only 18 percent of rested participants signed it.

Further, sleep deprivation had a significant effect on participants who scored lower on the Cognitive Reflection Test, which is related to intelligence. Those participants were much more likely to sign the false confession.

To protect against the harmful effects of false confessions, Fenn and her co-authors recommend interrogations be videotaped, giving judges, attorneys and jurors added insight into a suspect’s psychological state.

Suspects also can be given a quick and easy test to determine sleepiness prior to an interrogation. Participants in the MSU-led study were given the publicly available Stanford Sleepiness Scale; those who indicated a higher level of sleepiness were significantly more likely to sign the false confession.

“A false admission of wrongdoing can have disastrous consequences in a legal system already fraught with miscarriages of justice,” the authors conclude. “We are hopeful that our study is the first of many to uncover the sleep-related factors that influence processes related to false confession.”

Fenn’s co-authors are Steven Frenda of the New School for Social Research, Shari Berkowitz of California State University, Dominguez Hills; and Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine.

The second comes from the Drexel University newsroom:

Taser Shock Disrupts Brain Function, Has Implications for Police Interrogations

More than two million citizens have been Tased by police as Taser stun guns have become one of the preferred less-lethal weapons by police departments across the United States during the past decade. But what does that 50,000-volt shock do to a person’s brain?

Despite widespread adoption by law enforcement – stun guns are now used in 17,000 police departments – little is known about exactly how the shocks affect individuals’ cognitive functioning, or, more specifically, how receiving an electric shock from a Taser might affect the ability of a suspect to understand and waive their Miranda rights.

New research from a first-of-its-kind human study by Drexel University and Arizona State University reveals that the burst of electricity from a stun gun can impair a person’s ability to remember and process information. In a randomized control trial, participants were subjected to Taser shocks and tested for cognitive impairment. Some showed short-term declines in cognitive functioning comparable to dementia, raising serious questions about the ability of police suspects to understand their rights at the point of arrest.

Read the rest, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

A legal Icarus lashes out a a corrupt justice system


In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth to which Minos, king of Crete, consigned the monstrous Minotaur to devour his enemies. Daedalus and Icarus were forced to flee after Daedalus plotted with Ariadne to help Theseus escape the monster.

Daedalus devised wings made of feathers mounted in wax, so he and his son could fly from the island, telling his son he must fly neither to low, lest the sea’s moisture render the wings useless, nor too high, lest the sun’s heat melt the wax.

Icarus, needless to say, flew tie, dying in a plunge into the sea after the wax had melted.

William S. Lerach was a legal Icarus, a San Diego class action attorney raised in an impoverished household in Pittsburgh, he specialized in shareholder litigation, recovering billions for investors in Enron, and served as a passionate advocate for his profession and for the public interest.

When Congress moved to radically restrict his profession, Lerach was outspoken, as Wikipedia notes:

While testifying in Congress in 1995 against the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America) which Congress passed by over-riding the veto of President Clinton, Lerach warned at the hearing: “In 10 or 15 years you will be holding another hearing about a debacle in the securities market that will make you remember the S&L mess with fondness.”

But Lerach may have flown to close to the sun when he took on Vice President Dick Cheney for his actions at Halliburton, and in 2007 he was arrested by the Bush administration’s Justice Department and plead guilty to a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and making false declarations under oath related to his involvement in a kickback scheme, a scheme which to esnl‘s own knowledge was commonly practice by class action lawyers.

He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Lerach suspects his prosecution was political, given that the Bush administration almost never demanded criminal convictions of crooked banksters and corporate executives, the usual targets of Lerach’s lawsuits.

Disbarred after completely his prison term, Lerach lives in La Jolla, and according to one account, is worth nearly a billion dollars.

While he no longer practices law, he remains a passionate advocate, decrying changes in the criminal justice system and law enforcement that fall most heavily on people of color. And much more.

He has a lot to say in this address given to an audience at the University of California at San Diego, and there’s nothing he says we don’t agree with.

From University of California Television:

American Law: Instrument of Progress or Weapon of Oppression? William Lerach — A Life In The Law

Program notes:

Former litigator William S. Lerach explores the chasm between the ideals and the reality of the American legal system, one that promises equal access and accountability but often shields the financial elite from civil liability and criminal prosecution. Drawing on his extensive experience with class action lawsuits, Lerach shows how major court decisions have skewed toward defendants over time, even when evidence confirmed their participation in illegal activity. Lerach also condemns recent judicial decisions that have spared police officers from punishment for incidents that have led to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans. This is the first in a new series from UC San Diego — “A Life in the Law: Practitioners Reflecting on Law and the Legal Process on American Life.”

And now for something completely different. . .


It’s a mystery with, as yet, no solution.

There’s an artist somewhere in Europe who’s filling the private and public art galleries of the world with sophisticated fakes, bronze statues — busts primarily — of gods and rulers from ancient Rome and Greece.

The forger is skilled, using ancient metal, presumably from bronze coins, and his work is superficially impeccable, as in this bronze bust of the Roman emperor Augustus exposed [PDF] as a fake by German archaeologist Stephan Lehmann of the Archaeological Museum of the University of Martin Luther, Halle-Wittenberg:

BLOG Spanish master

To expose the fakes, Lehmann has turned to Europe’s most powerful particle accelerators, the only instruments capable of revealing critical details without damaging the sculptures.

The following documentary in English from Deutsche Welle Documentaries looks at the world of forgeries of ancient bronzes, including the complicated egos of the forger’s victims and the collusion of governments and dealers who have little interest in exposing the hazards of a trade that generates hefty revenues for both [and for those of you who came by earlier today and found the video “removed by user,” they changed the link and we have it up again]:

The Mystery Conman

Program note:

For years, a talented fraudster smuggled counterfeit antiques onto the art market. No one knew who the person was but workshops in southern Europe aroused suspicion, especially one in Spain. Experts in Germany have therefore named the fraudster the “Spanische Meister” or “Spanish master.” The documentary follows archeologist Stefan Lehmann from Halle near Leipzig, who’s been on the shark’s tail. Around 40 counterfeits have been discovered so far, but he thinks it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Lehmann hasn’t made himself popular – the subject of counterfeiting tends to get swept under the rug within the art trade and museums. A Swiss collector is the first one to break the silence. He gave Lehmann access to a bronze head of Emperor Augustus, which he bought for several hundred thousand dollars on the New York art market. It’s an exciting case for Lehmann – will his examinations prove that the head is fake? Auction houses and galleries know exactly what they’re selling according to Christoph Leon, an art dealer from Basel who’s working with Lehmann. He says the market is full of fakes because the global financial market invests in antique sculptures so there’s a lot of money at stake. This film follows the trail of the dirty dealings and gives an insight into the unknown world of the antiques trade.

It’s hard not to root for the forger, who is deftly picking the pockets of the one percent by playing on their pretensions.

After all, the forger with the heart of gold has been a staple of film and fiction. But all too often it’s the public’s pockets that are picked, if the form of tax writeoffs given wealthy donors who pass on their fakes to public museums.

And we have to admit that our favorite TV show during our college years was a wonderful series starring A-list stars who profited handsomely from, among other things, peddling forgeries to the wealthy booboisie.

Quote of the day Ted Cruz in a nutshell [Nut’s hell?]


From journalist and author Gary Leech, writing for Counterpunch:

Perhaps nothing captures the imperialist arrogance of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz more succinctly than his campaign’s statement declaring, “What is best for America is best for the world.” In addition to the obvious fact that billions of people around the world might disagree with Cruz on this point is the fact that it is not at all clear that the Republican presidential candidate’s proposed policies are even best for most Americans. But given his victory this past week in the Iowa caucus, Cruz’s ultra-conservative views can no longer be ignored while mainstream and progressive pundits busy themselves dissecting the bombastic rhetoric of the far less scary Donald Trump.

In contrast to most candidates that run for president, Ted Cruz has a clear vision for the future of the country. The problem for many Americans is that it is a terrifying vision. It is a vision that is imperialist, racist, sexist, classist and homophobic. For instance, Cruz proposes building a giant wall across the US-Mexico border in addition to using high-tech measures to keep out “illegal” immigrants while allowing corporate labor needs to dictate the flow of “legal” immigrants into the country. In addition to strengthening the military to ensure US hegemony around the globe, he also vows to boost US military support for Israel and to withhold funding from the United Nations if it “continues its anti-Israel bias.”

On the domestic front, Cruz is calling for a flat tax that will benefit the rich and gut government social spending. He has also vowed to curtail women’s rights by stating that he will order the attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on his first day as president. And he opposes same-sex marriage, declaring that “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.” Finally, Cruz would not only fail to address climate change, which he views as a hoax, he would promote expanded oil and gas production. Given that these policy proposals make Cruz one of the most conservative presidential contenders in decades, it would behoove us to take a closer at them.

Psychedelics linked to reduced spousal abuse


Psilocybin [shrooms], LSD, and other psychedelic drugs [previously] have been shown to provide the most effective agents in reducing chronic severe depression and stopping smoking, and may be useful in fighting alcoholism.

Now comes word that they may also play a role in reducing spousal abuse.

Laws banning psychedelic use, even by researchers, were enacted under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, mainly because their use was associated with the antiwar movements of the area, and with young people who were opting out [mostly unsuccessfully over the long run] of the rat race, as negotiating the corporate maze was then known.

But lots of subsequent use has demonstrated that the bans were failure, since the drugs are still readily available in most places. And with research restrictions slowly being eased, dramatic evidence of their therapeutic potential is emerging.

The latest development, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health

Evidence in a study led by researchers at the University of British Columbia along with University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health Associate Professor Peter S. Hendricks, Ph.D., suggests hallucinogens such as psilocybin or LSD may have therapeutic potential for reducing intimate partner violence, or IPV.

Hendricks says the identification of risk and protective factors for IPV is an important goal for public health research.

“A body of evidence suggests that substances such as psilocybin may have a range of clinical indications,” he said. “Although we’re attempting to better understand how or why these substances may be beneficial, one explanation is that they can transform people’s lives by providing profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences that highlight what matters most. Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters.”

The study looked at 302 men ages 17-40 in the criminal justice system. Of the 56 percent of participants who reported using hallucinogens, only 27 percent were arrested for later IPV as opposed to 42 percent of the group who reported no hallucinogen use being arrested for IPV within seven years.

From the 1950s through the early 1970s, thousands of studies reported on the medical use of hallucinogens, mostly LSD. Due to the classification of the most prominent hallucinogens as Schedule I controlled substances in 1970, research on health benefits was suspended, causing many of these studies to be forgotten. However, research with hallucinogens has experienced a rebirth.

“Recent studies have shown that psilocybin and related compounds could revolutionize the mental health field,” Hendricks said. “However, additional research is needed. This study suggests that hallucinogens could be a useful avenue for reducing IPV, meaning this topic deserves further attention.”

Class cleansing, history, race, and the Super Bowl


A short but notable segment from Democracy Now! how issues of the issues of class and race are integral to America’s most iconic sporting event.

No Super Bowl in recent decades has evoked their spectral present more than the game’s 50th extravaganza, held in San Francisco, the nation’s most expensive city to inhabit, yet a city haunted by the issues of race and class.

It was, after all, San Francisco that brought the nation its first drug law, created in 1875 to repress a hard-working Chinese population by banning the use of opium, the drug which helped numb the pain brought on by long hours of physical exertion.

The San Francisco ordinance, quickly adopted by most other California cities with large Asian populations, didn’t halt sales of the drug; instead driving it underground and causing the price to spike.

Nor, as any visitor to modern San Francisco can attest, did it succeed in driving out its Chinese residents.

[The nation’s prohibitions of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin were all based directly on overt racist hysteria, as noted here.]

The San Francisco Bay Area was also the birthplace of the most prominent African American militants of the mid-20th Century, the Black Panthers.

And it was the Panthers who were, remarkably, celebrated in Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show by one of the nation’s most popular singers.

But before the game was held, another cleansing of San Francisco took place, this time one based on class and not race.

And with that by way of preface, from Democracy Now!:

Beyoncé Wins the Super Bowl: Pop Legend Invokes Black Panthers, #BlackLivesMatter at Halftime Show

From the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin joins us from Washington, D.C., sports columnist for The Nation. His latest article, “The Streets of San Francisco: ‘Super Bowl City’ Meets Tent City.”

Thanks so much. His books include The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, which he co-wrote with John Carlos. Your response to all that happened last night, Dave?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, there’s on the field and off the field. I mean, on the field, you had the Denver Broncos exhibit one of the great defensive performances in Super Bowl history. Off the field, what you had was really an unprecedented sweep of the homeless before a Super Bowl contest. And, you know, every Super Bowl in the host city has a narrative that exists outside the game. In New Orleans, it was “How will the city recover after Hurricane Katrina?” In New York, if you remember—we discussed this, Amy—it was the sweep and harassment of sex workers before the big game that took place in the Meadowlands.

And in San Francisco, it’s the fact that you have this city of only 800,000 people that has a homeless population of 10,000. Sixty-one percent of the homeless in San Francisco were working at the time they lost their homes. And one-third of these 10,000 people are children. And yet, the response from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was: You better get off the street. You better get gone, because we’re about to have a party for the 1 percent. We’re about to have a Woodstock for the wealthy and celebrate the Super Bowl and celebrate our conspicuous consumption. There’s no greater symbol of this year’s Super Bowl, to me, than the fact you could go to the game and buy a delicious hot dog with real gold flakes sprinkled on top, so you could eat gold with your hot dog while people are literally hungry outside the most unequal and, by some metrics, the wealthiest city now in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what happened inside, at halftime, Dave Zirin? Can you talk about not only what Beyoncé—

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —did there with her song, the homage to the Black Panthers—

DAVE ZIRIN: It was too short.