Category Archives: Public service

Obama administration’s private prison payoff


The whole notion of letting private corporations run American prisons is abominable, going back to 1852 when California opened the first such institution, the now state-run San Quentin Prison.

Privatization failed to gain traction, and governments ran prisons, which, after all, are extensions of the governments’ judicial systems, until Ronald Reagan took over the White House.

Reagan, an avid proponent of turning public institutions into centers for private profits, inaugurated a building boom, with privately owned and operated prisons proliferating like noxious weeds across the country.

The prison contractors have emerged as the nation’s most potent lobbying force, reported the Washington Post in April, 2o15:

The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar. They now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. Private companies house nearly half of the nation’s immigrant detainees, compared to about 25 percent a decade ago, a Huffington Post report found. In total, there are now about 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds.

>snip<

The Justice Policy Institute identified the private-prison industry’s three-pronged approach to increase profits through political influence: lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and building relationships and networks.

One current presidential candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson, won the New Mexico governorship on a platform which included the promise to privatize all prisons in his state.

From the Sentencing Project:

Gary Johnson’s platform during his initial 1994 run for governor of New Mexico included a pledge to privatize every prison in the state. By the time he left office in 2003 44.2 percent of the state’s prisoners were in privately run facilities.

And the Obama administration jumped on the bandwagon, no doubt with the prompting of his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who since decamping to win the job of mayor of Chicago has ruthlessly privatized public housing, schools, parking meters, nursing services, and more.

It’s no wonder that private prisons are an American corporate success story: With only five percent of the planet’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the global incarceration population.

Mapping the Prison/Industrial Complex

This map, from the federal Bureau of Prisons, shows the locations of prisons currently run by private corporations on behalf of the notional government:

BLOG Prisons

Another map, this time from The Private Prison Project, shows the locations of state and federal prisons run by the three largest private prison corporations:

BLOG Prisons all

Federal prisons mushroom, violence reigns

So how effective are private contractors at running their prisons?

A just-released review of private federal prisons by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General concluded:

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP [Bureau of Prisons — esnl] institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions.  Our analysis included data from FYs [fiscal years — esnl] 2011 through 2014 in eight key categories: (1) contraband, (2) reports of incidents, (3) lockdowns, (4) inmate discipline, (5) telephone monitoring, (6) selected grievances, (7) urinalysis drug testing, and (8) sexual misconduct. With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined.

And just how much more violent are private prisons compared to prisons run by Uncle Sam?

One chart from the Inspector General’s report says it all:

BLOG Prisons assaults

A massive release of documents acquired by The Nation revealed a stunning lack of concern:

[N]ew records show that BOP monitors documented, between January 2007 and June 2015, the deaths of 34 inmates who were provided substandard medical care. Fourteen of these deaths occurred in prisons run by CCA. Fifteen were in prisons operated by the GEO Group. The BOP didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment or to written questions before deadline.

The records and interviews with former BOP officials reveal a pattern: Despite dire reports from dozens of field monitors, top bureau officials repeatedly failed to enforce the correction of dangerous deficiencies and routinely extended contracts for prisons that failed to provide adequate medical care.

The Obama administration greases the skids

And that brings us to the latest boondoggle, reported by the Washington Post:

As Central Americans surged across the U.S. border two years ago, the Obama administration skipped the standard public bidding process and agreed to a deal that offered generous terms to Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison company, to build a massive detention facility for women and children seeking asylum.

The four-year, $1 billion contract — details of which have not been previously disclosed — has been a boon for CCA, which, in an unusual arrangement, gets the money regardless of how many people are detained at the facility. Critics say the government’s policy has been expensive but ineffective. Arrivals of Central American families at the border have continued unabated while court rulings have forced the administration to step back from its original approach to the border surge.

In hundreds of other detention contracts given out by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, federal payouts rise and fall in step with the percentage of beds being occupied. But in this case, CCA is paid for 100 percent capacity even if the facility is, say, half full, as it has been in recent months. An ICE spokeswoman, Jennifer Elzea, said that the contracts for the 2,400-bed facility in Dilley and one for a 532-bed family detention center in Karnes City, Tex., given to another company, are “unique” in their payment structures because they provide “a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents.”

The rewards for CCA have been enormous: In 2015, the first full year in which the South Texas Family Residential Center was operating, CCA — which operates 74 facilities — made 14 percent of its revenue from that one center while recording record profit. CCA declined to specify the costs of operating the center.

Prisons and presidential politics

Marco Rubio was the private prison industry’s favorite son, the source of both their largess and of legislation that gained them even greater profits, as the Washington Post reported last year:

Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.).

And while Hillary Clinton has made some statements about reining in the trend, as with so many things, her promises may well prove a facade, and the Intercept reported in June:

The chief executive of the largest private prison company in America reassured investors earlier this month that with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, his firm will be “just fine.” Damon Hininger, the chief executive of Corrections Corporation of America, was speaking at the REITWeek investor forum.

Private prisons have received a great deal of criticism this election cycle, first with Bernie Sanders campaigning to end for-profit incarceration, followed by Clinton taking up a similar pledge.

After The Intercept revealed that the Clinton campaign had received campaign donations from private prison lobbyists, a number of activist groups confronted Clinton, leading her to announce that she would no longer accept the money and later declaring that “we should end private prisons and private detention centers.”

But Corrections Corporation is apparently not concerned. Asked about prospects under Trump or Clinton, Hininger argued that his company has prospered through political turnover by taking advantage of the government’s quest for lower costs.

A call to action: Children prey to chemical mayhem


BLOG Kids

As folks who’ve read this modest little blog know by now, one of our most passionate concerns is the vulnerability of children to chemicals that we spew almost unchecked into their environments.

Only now are we discovering that many everyday compounds, from plastics to fire retardants and soaps powerful alter the development of growing bodies, and especially nervous systems.

As you will read in the following statement by some of the nation’s leading healthcare providers:

The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

First, the announcement of the statement from the University of Maryland:

An unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, medical experts, and children’s health advocates, including Devon Payne-Sturges, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, agree for the first time that today’s scientific evidence supports a link between exposures to toxic chemicals in food and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders.  The alliance, known as Project TENDR, is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals to protect brain development for today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and other maladaptive behaviors, and learning disabilities.

Prime examples of the chemicals and pollutants that are contributing to children’s learning, intellectual and behavioral impairment include:

  • Organophosphate (OP) pesticides
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants
  • Combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

“The public health disaster in Flint, Michigan has reminded the American people and our leaders the importance of preventing children’s exposures to neurotoxicants in our environment. But lead is not the only neurotoxicant to which we are routinely exposing our children,” says Payne-Sturges, one of the authors of the consensus statement. “We must address the cumulative exposures to multiple chemicals in our air, water, food and consumer products that harm brain development. We are all exposed to multiple chemicals and we know now that these have synergistic effects and our children are the most sensitive to those effects.”

Dr. Payne-Sturges, who is part of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the UMD School of Public Health, helped draft the Project TENDR statement on air pollution risks and contributed expertise on cumulative risk assessment to the scientific consensus.

“This is truly an historic agreement. It’s the first time so many leaders in public health, science, and medicine agree on the message from the scientific evidence: that toxic chemicals are harming our children’s brain development,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, TENDR Co-Director and environmental epidemiologist at UC Davis. “Ten years ago, this consensus wouldn’t have been possible, but the research is now abundantly clear.”

“This national problem is so pressing that the TENDR scientists and medical experts will continue their collaboration to develop and issue recommendations aimed at significantly reducing exposures to toxic chemicals that are harming children’s brain development,” says Maureen Swanson, TENDR Co-Director and director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “Calling for further study is no longer a sufficient response to this threat.”

Project TENDR is a joint endeavor of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) and the University of California Davis MIND Institute (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders).

And the statement itself, as published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Read the full statement, with links, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Recession kills, and the victims are mostly male


Today we’ll consider research on suicides and the Great recession.

Our first and newest study comes from the Research Society on Alcoholism [via Newswise] and reveals a noticeable increase in the correlation between higher alcohol consumption and male suicides during tough economic times. There was no change for women:

Prior research has shown a link between the impact of contracting economies, especially as reflected by the unemployment rate, and suicide mortality risk. This study assesses changes in the rate of heavy alcohol use among suicide decedents, for both genders, during the 2008-2009 economic crisis.

Researchers obtained data for suicide decedents ages 20 years and older from the National Violent Death Reporting System, a surveillance system that records detailed accounts of violent deaths. Individuals participating in the 2006-2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveys alcohol use, comprised the comparison group. The data were examined to see whether changes in acute intoxication – a blood alcohol content equal to or greater than 0.08 grams per deciliter – in the deceased group before (2005-2007), during (2008-2009), and after (2010-2011) mirrored changes in heavy alcohol use in the living sample.

Results indicate that acute alcohol use contributed to suicide, particularly among men, during the economic downturn. Male suicide decedents experienced a significantly greater increase (+8%) in heavy alcohol use at the onset of the recession than men in the non-suicide comparison group (-2%). Among women who died by suicide, the rate of heavy alcohol use was very similar to that of the general population. The authors suggest that women may show resilience – or men show vulnerability – to the dangerous interaction of alcohol with financial distress.

In an June 2014 report published in Social Science & Medicine, Rutgers sociologist  Julie Anne Phillips discovered another fascinating correlation — men committed suicide at higher states in states with higher levels of women in the workforce:

BLOG Suicides

In yet another study, researchers found another interesting change in Great Recession suicides in the U.S., as reported in the May 2015 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine [emphasis added]:

Suicide circumstances varied considerably by age, with those related to job, financial, and legal problems most common among individuals aged 40–64 years. Between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of suicides where these circumstances were present increased among this age group, from 32.9% to 37.5% of completed suicides (p o0.05). Further, suffocation is a method more likely to be used in suicides related to job, economic, or legal factors, and its use increased disproportionately among the middle-aged. The number of suicides using suffocation increased 59.5% among those aged 40–64 years between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18.0% for those aged 15–39 years and 27.2% for those aged >65 years (p<0.05).

In yet another study, sociologists from Rutgers and the University of Wisconsin found a clear correlation between suicides and home foreclosures. In other words, the banksters who made all those dirty loans were killing people. As Jason N. Houle and Michael T. Light conclude in their report published in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, “Rising home foreclosure rates explained 18% of the variance in the middle-aged suicide rate between 2005 and 2010.”

Changes in suicide and foreclosure rates: all 50 US states plus Washington, DC, 2004–2010.

Changes in suicide and foreclosure rates: all 50 US states plus Washington, DC, 2004–2010.

And on to Europe, first with a Greek exception

All studies of suicides during the Great Recession reveal that the greatest increases have been among middle aged males, with the notable exception of Greece, where cuts in aid to the elderly, both in terms of direct payments and in medical care assistance, have led to a dramatic increase in suicides among the oldest male cohort, as revealed in this graph from a report published 25 March 2015 in the open access edition of the British Medical Journal:

Suicide rates by sex and age group in Greece [2003–2012].

Suicide rates by sex and age group in Greece [2003–2012].

Perhaps the most fascinating piece of research comes from a 6 October 2014 article [open access] in the European Journal of Public Health, looking at changes in suicide rates in 20 EU countries from 1981–2011.

Researchers found that two factors accounted for much of the increase in male suicide rates: Unemployment and debt. Two factors had no impact on the suicide rates: Unemployment benefits and antidepressant pharmaceuticals.

Another decisive variable was whether or not a country has an active labor market program [ALMP] and, if so, whether the program was well funded or not.

ALMPs consists of state-run employment offices, job training programs, and subsidies either to private sector employers or through work programs operated by the state.

All in all, much like the programs implement by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the U.S. during the Great Depression.

So what kind of impact does an ALMP have?

Consider these two charts from the report:

Trends in male suicide and the unemployment rate, by ALMP, 2006–10. Notes: Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus are excluded due to small sample size. High/Low is measured as above or below the median level between countries of the within-country means (i.e., US$135 per person per annum) of spending on active labour market programmes. Source: WHO Health for All European Mortality database 2013 edition; OECD 2013 edition

Trends in male suicide and the unemployment rate, by ALMP, 2006–10. Notes: Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus are excluded due to small sample size. High/Low is measured as above or below the median level between countries of the within-country means (i.e., US$135 per person per annum) of spending on active labour market programmes. Source: WHO Health for All European Mortality database 2013 edition; OECD 2013 edition

The authors summarize their findings at the end of their report:

  • Suicide increases in Europe during the great recession have been concentrated in men, but large variations exist across nations and over time.

  • Unaffordable housing was not significantly associated with suicides; in contrast, additional job losses and household indebtedness were stronger determinants of population suicide rises.

  • Economic risk factors significantly increase suicide rates among men of working age but not among those >65 years of age.

  • Where active labour market programmes (ALMP) and social capital were relatively high, there was no elevated risk of suicide during the recent recession.

Headline of the day: Good boy, now go to jail


From United Press International:

Holder: Snowden’s actions a public service, but he must be punished

Edward Snowden’s surveillance program revelations were a public service but he must still face punishment, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Quote of the day: Corporatizing the university


From Avery J. Wiscomb’s “The Entrepreneurship Racket” in the latest Jacobin, a fascinating dissection of the American university’s turn towards the entrepreneurial doctrine and the exploitation of research and students for the private rather than the common good:

Today, the culture of entrepreneurialism in higher education claims both students and faculty’s creative energy and ideas at their source, and when challenged insists this is what students and faculty really want, or what they really need.

This is a perversion of the values of education, especially when students are paying for the privilege of having their labor appropriated while at university, and many are going deep into debt to do it. Entrepreneurship in higher education masks increasingly exploitative and super-exploitative types of institutional practices.

As Jeffrey J. Williams asked in the Winter 2016 issue of Dissent: What is innovation for? And for whose interests? Similarly, we should ask what good is the entrepreneurial spirit in higher education, if it brings us exploitation? Innovation has become a buzzword that points to a corporate ethos and co-opts the positive rhetoric of change for its own ends; while entrepreneurialism indicates a deeper and more intractable installation of business values, remaking our universities through its physical places as well as policies.

More and more universities are turning to the creative labor of students and faculty as a source of funding, transforming higher education into a research service for the tech industry. We need to foster a different spirit of innovation in the university — one that serves the shared social welfare of students and faculty and recaptures the ideals of education.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds itchy feet to the fire


Leonard N, Chanin is a real mofo. That is, he works for Morrison and Foerster, a law firm representing some real mofos. But we’re calling him a mofo because his new employer’s web handle is http://www.mofo.com, right [wink wink]?.

From his mofo webpage:

Leonard Chanin is Of Counsel in the Financial Services group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. A recognized expert in the field of consumer financial protection with extensive experience in regulation and supervision of the myriad statutes affecting retail banking, Mr. Chanin counsels financial institutions on consumer financial services law issues. Mr. Chanin regularly advises clients on issues relating to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Truth in Lending Act, Electronic Fund Transfer Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Truth in Savings Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Before rejoining Morrison & Foerster, Mr. Chanin served as the Assistant Director of the Office of Regulations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There, he headed the agency’s rulemaking team by supervising nearly 40 lawyers responsible for promulgating rules and regulations implementing consumer financial protection legislation. He also provided legal opinions to Bureau supervisory and enforcement offices on federal consumer financial protection laws.

It was in his previous post with Uncle Sam that Chanin managed to ignore alarm bells about hinky loans and allowed the American financial ship of state to sail onward into iceberg that was the start of Great Recession in 2008.

And that’s what got Sen. Warren really steamed up when Chanin appeared before the Senate Banking Committee for a long-delayed hearing called by Republicans to discuss financial regulations.

By the time Chanin left his hot seat squirmathon, he’d been subjected to a though Elizabethan grilling, and it was wondrous to behold.

From Senator Elizabeth Warren:

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Banking Hearing on Consumer Finance Regulations

Program notes:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Q&A at an April 5, 2016 Senate Banking Committee hearing titled, “Assessing the Effects of Consumer Finance Regulations.”

A fascinating new tool for exploring the past


From the Georgia Institute of Technology comes a new tool for an animated exploring the spread of ideas through millions of pages from nearly 2,000 newspapers in hundreds of America cities between 1 January 1836 through 31 December 1922.

More than that, you can see the newspaper pages where the ideas appeared.

But you’re not limited to ideas. You can also used the website to track down what your ancestors were doing way back when, something we’ve spent a few hours doing to our endless fascination.

The site also tracks words appearing in advertisements.

To see the actual newspaper pages, simply click on the dots appearing after you’ve made your search.

First up, a video from Georgia Tech:

Going Viral Looked a Lot Different 100 Years Ago

Program notes:

Researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia have looked at how ideas when viral 100 years ago. They used data science techniques to analyze 10 million newspaper pages published between 1836 and 1924 and animated the data on a free website http://www.usnewsmap.com

And more details from the Georgia Tech newsroom:

Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic National Convention with a speech in which he called for a new currency standard based on silver rather than gold. Over the next few years, his “Cross of Gold” ideas spread across the country, with thousands upon thousands of newspaper mentions.

But it took 120 years and a collaboration between Georgia Tech data scientists and University of Georgia historians to see what the spread of that idea had actually looked like. Starting in Chicago, site of the convention, “Cross of Gold” moved to the populous East Coast, then jumped to the West Coast before filling in the less populated areas.

“Going viral” may have taken longer in the 19th century, but the principle was much the same.

Researchers tracked Cross of Gold’s spread using U.S. News Map, a database of more than 10 million newspaper pages that is helping researchers see history with spatial information that hadn’t been available before. Using digitized newspaper articles and cutting-edge search technology, the project is helping researchers see the nation’s history in new ways.

“Every historical development has a spatial component to it, and often one that is central to explaining the ‘how’ and the ‘why,’” noted Claudio Saunt, chair of the Department of History at the University of Georgia. “With this new search engine, we now have the ability to see where newspapers were writing about a subject, and how interest in that subject changed over time. It’s a powerful tool for historians, and one that can shed new light on the past.”

A free service, the database is available at USNewsMap.com. It is based on data from approximately 10 million pages published in nearly 2,000 U.S. newspapers between 1836 and 1924. The newspapers represent what was happening in nearly 800 U.S. cities. More pages are being added all the time, though some states still have not contributed digital newspaper data and are therefore not represented on the project’s map.

To create the database behind the search engine, text from the newspaper pages was scanned by universities around the country, and each word indexed, explained Trevor Goodyear, a research scientist in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). The application uses Apache Solr database software, a document database that allowed GTRI researchers to efficiently store and index the large volumes of text and associated metadata.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading