Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome to this collection of original articles I’ve written over the last couple of years for students, practitioners, and anyone else interested in the criminal justice system in the United States.

I’m only sporadically adding content at this point, but what’s here may be helpful in finding specific information for a paper you’re writing or a project you’re working on. If not, get in touch with me and I’ll gladly steer you toward sources that might be of help.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there!

Bob

 

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, of course, and they can even be entertaining at times (I especially liked 7 and 8). Too often, though, conspiracy theorists take their silly ideas a step too far.

Sandy Hook “Truthers,” in particular, spread an extraordinarily vile brand of lie that hurts people already harmed by tragedy. They insist that Sandy Hook was some type of government plot to take away citizen’s gun rights, which is just foolish nonsense. I’ve even been confronted by some of these misguided souls on Twitter who have insisted to me that Sandy Hook never happened at all and that I was participating in a conspiracy to spread government lies.

Yeah, that’s right. Government lies.

Grace McDonnell was killed at Sandy Hook

Grace McDonnell was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012

Children died at Sandy Hook, and the government had nothing at all to do with it. In fact, all of the ridiculous claims by Sandy Hook Truthers have been easily debunked. For whatever reason, though, the Truthers have persisted in their efforts and are hurting people in the process, including one mother of Sandy Hook victim, Grace McDonnell.

According to a Huffington Post article, one Truther recently stole a memorial sign at a playground named in honor of Grace and then contacted the child’s mother to tell her that her dead daughter never existed in the first place. 

Peace Sign Stolen From Conn. Playground Honoring Sandy Hook Victim

I hate to give any type of audience or attention to these obviously disturbed people, or even acknowledge their existence at all, but they’re taking away energy and focus from the real issues that we need to address. We need to be developing ways to avoid these types of tragedies by effectively intervening with people experiencing serious mental health crises, not getting bogged down in nonsense about Sandy Hook being a hoax.

Not only was Sandy Hook not a hoax, I would argue that it’s nearly impossible for the government to pull off any type of large-scale hoax without everyone quickly finding out about it. They’re just not that good, and any people involved would have an incredibly hard time keeping something like that secret.

So, enough already. Let these parents grieve and, if you buy into these nutty theories, find yourself some help.

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This kind of stuff just makes me sick. I try really hard to be objective when writing about police misconduct, but this one got right under my skin.

Here are the details on this case, according to the local Fox affiliate in Milwaukee:

It was February 20th, 2013, and Deputy Quiles was working the night shift on patrol at General Mitchell International Airport. As he pulled out onto Howell Avenue to make his rounds, he T-boned a passing car and sent it spinning into a tree.

“Very scary,” Weyker [the driver of the other car] recalls.

Her spine was already fused with steel. Now, she had a fractured neck to go with it.

“It was a miracle I wasn’t paralyzed,” she said.

As rescue workers tended to Weyker, police and Sheriff’s deputies started asking questions.

“One asked if I had anything to drink that night,” she said. “And I told them a few sips from a friend’s drink.” A deputy noted a light odor of alcohol on her breath. He said her speech was slurred. And her eyes looked red and glassy.

“I explained to him my eyes were red and glassy because I was crying,” she said.

Instead of doing their jobs by fully investigating the accident and what caused it, the deputies jumped to the immediate conclusion that Weyker was drunk and had been at fault.

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Tanya Weyker

The article goes on to explain what happened next, according to Weyker’s mother and her attorney:

“She was in traction and just sitting there. She was crying and said they accused her, they arrested her and accused her of something she didn’t do,” [Weyker’s mother] said.

Her lawyer, Todd Korb, says the arrest is surprising, since there was virtually no evidence that she was drunk. “I can’t say it is necessarily a cover up, but it is suspicious,” Korb said.

Drunk driving defense expert Andrew Mishlove says it’s questionable if deputies had cause to arrest her at all. “She was the suspect right from the start,” he said.

If deputies had cause to arrest her, he says, it’s only because of the statements made by the deputy involved in the crash.

You would hope and expect that since there was scant evidence of any wrongdoing by Weyker, the deputy involved in the crash would clear things up by, at the very least, giving an accurate statement about his role in the crash.

Deputy Joseph Quiles

Deputy Joseph Quiles

But again, no:

In his official report, Deputy Quiles wrote that he stopped at the stop sign and looked both ways before pulling out. He told a Milwaukee police officer that he never saw any headlights, even though Weyker’s Camry had lights that come on automatically. “I knew I was innocent this whole time,” Weyker declared.

The truth might never have surfaced were it not for video from a nearby airport surveillance camera. It shows what investigators say is Deputy Quiles’ squad car traveling west on Hutsteiner Avenue, then continuing onto Howell without making a complete stop, as Quiles claimed in his report. The Sheriff’s Office knew about the video just two days after the crash. But no one told Weyker.

So, the deputy not only lied about what happened, but he also allowed an innocent person to take the blame for what he himself caused. On top of all that, the County did nothing whatsoever to help Weyker:

Instead, the County sent letters blaming her for the crash and threatening legal action if she didn’t pay for the damage.

Of course, if Weyker was drunk, it would have been easy to pin the blame on her. But less than a month after the crash, test results showed she had no alcohol in her system. And by July, her drug test came back negative too. Five months after the crash, it was clear Weyker had been stone cold sober.

But still the case didn’t go away.

“I don’t think it is fair at all,” Weyker said.

Five more months passed before a prosecutor finally looked at the case and declined to file charges. But even then, Weyker says, she was left in the dark.

“No one called me.”

“She had to live with this hanging over her head for way too long,” Mishlove said.

And, if you thought the deputy involved has since been fired or received any significant consequences, again you would be wrong. He did receive a brief suspension for “damaging County equipment,” but is otherwise milking the situation for all it’s worth:

Deputy Quiles has not worked in more than a year since the crash. He has exhausted his injury pay and has now filed for permanent duty disability for injuries he suffered in the crash he caused. His application is still pending before the County’s Employee Retirement System.

All of this is happening, despite the fact that reports written at the time of the crash indicate Deputy Quiles suffered only minor injuries and was “treated and released” at Froedtert Hospital.

To summarize, then: A law enforcement officer–who swore an oath to protect and serve his community–illegally runs a stop sign, seriously injures someone, blames that person for the accident, causes her to be arrested and charged with a crime, and then only tells the truth once video evidence showed that he was indeed at fault.

Nice bit of police work there.

And, if the officer was somehow confused about what he was supposed to do in this situation, it’s right there in the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department Code of Conduct. In fact, it’s the very first one on the list. The very first one:

A police officer acts as an official representative of government who is required and trusted to work within the law. The officer’s powers and duties are conferred by statute. The fundamental duties of a police officer include serving the community, safeguarding lives and property, protecting the innocent, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.

If you find any of this concerning, contact Milwaukee County Sheriff, David A. Clarke, and let him know how you feel.

David A. Clarke Jr., Sheriff
821 West State Street, Room 107
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(414) 278-4766

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Blissfully unaware of the Streisand Effect, A thin-skinned Illinois mayor chose to sic his city’s police force on some local citizens last week over a parody account that poked fun at him on Twitter.  The mayor was apparently upset that someone had created what was obviously a fake twitter persona, @Peoriamayor, and was tweeting about drug use and infidelity, and otherwise making stupid comments that anyone with an ounce of common sense would recognize as political satire. The mayor himself reportedly contacted his chief of police to report the situation, and, as you might expect, the chief was convinced that a crime had occurred.

Despite the the fact that the account’s creator had added a statement indicating the account was satirical, the chief reportedly said, “I don’t agree it was obvious [that the account was fake], and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.” A warrant was requested, a judge signed off on it, and a raid of the account creator’s home ensued. Three people were taken into custody, and a small quantity of marijuana was found at the house.

Charges of impersonating a public official are pending.

In the wake of all this, a hilarious stream of fake Twitter accounts has been created, including @NotPeoriaMayor:

Not Jim Ardis (NotPeoriaMayor) on Twitter 2014-04-20 10-30-06

Aside from the First Amendment implications (satire is generally considered protected speech)–and the fact that Peoria’s mayor has made himself look like a petty, vindictive, bully (which he may well be)–the police have been drawn into what is arguably a political matter.  The mayor had other remedies he could have pursued, including just ignoring the inanity of it all, but instead chose to bring the power of the state, via law enforcement, against his political enemies. That’s hardly the ethos of a free and vibrant democracy.

Even outrageous speech by Larry Flynt, the pornography purveyor who famously lampooned Jerry Falwell by distributing a fake liquor ad implying that Falwell had a sexual encounter with his own mother in an outhouse, was deemed to be protected.

Falwellhustler

Short of libel or slander, parodies of public figures have long enjoyed free-speech protections. According to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University:

Satire is a centuries-old type of literature that uses humor and imitation to attack and ridicule individuals’ moral and character flaws, such as vice, unfairness, stupidity or vanity. A parody is also an attack on folly, but it takes the form of a contemptuous imitation of an existing artistic production — usually a serious work of literature, music, artwork or film — for satirical or humorous purposes. Satire and parody have served for generations as a means of criticizing public figures, exposing political injustice, communicating social ideologies, and pursuing such artistic ends as literary criticism. Satirists usually find themselves subjected in turn to criticism, contempt and, sometimes, lawsuits. The First Amendment protects satire and parody as a form of free speech and expression.

And, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hustler Magazine versus Falwell, Justice Rehnquist wrote that:

The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are “intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.” Associated Press v. Walker, decided with Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 164 (1967) (Warren, C. J., concurring in result). Justice Frankfurter put it succinctly in Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 673 -674 (1944), when he said that “[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures.” Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,” New York Times, supra, at 270. “[T]he candidate who vaunts his spotless record and sterling integrity cannot convincingly cry `Foul!’ when an opponent or an industrious reporter attempts [485 U.S. 46, 52]   to demonstrate the contrary.” Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 274 (1971).

Public officials definitely don’t have to like what other people say, but they have to allow it. When the government starts picking and choosing what speech it finds acceptable, and what it doesn’t, and then using force to squelch what it deems unacceptable, we’ve got a start on becoming just a more well-resourced version of North Korea.

Update (4/21/14): Popehat posted a very funny (and satirical, just to be clear) guest post from the Honorable Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Illinois, that I just had to share.

Update (4/23/14): Well, the mayor came out swinging at a city council meeting Tuesday evening, accusing the press of “spinning” their coverage of what he insists was a legitimate attempt to “protect his identity.”  Meanwhile, members of the city council questioned the mayor’s actions and bemoaned the negative national attention they’ve brought to Peoria. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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I spend a lot of time (maybe too much time) dwelling on the challenges and failings of our criminal justice system. I try to balance that out by highlighting some of the positives as well, but that only gets us so far. Our system could do a lot of things right — practically everything right, in fact — and it still wouldn’t outweigh some of the more serious violations, misconduct, and breaches of trust that occur all too frequently.

One troubling example is the misuse or abuse of informants as part of federal criminal investigations. I’ve written, for example, about the ATF’s use of dubious tactics to get guns off the streets, including the use of confidential informants who were underage, developmentally disabled, or who were otherwise considered vulnerable to manipulation. The ATF’s current director was recently grilled by congress about these practices, but who knows if that will result in any meaningful changes or not.

In their zeal to catch the bad guys, it seems, cops can sometimes lose sight of their obligation to protect those who help them. And, it can be very difficult to hold the government accountable when that happens.

This is another one of those stories.

Norma’s tale (not her real name) reveals the lengths federal agents will go to when faced with society’s demand to fight crime at nearly any cost. Norma’s story is about the impacts on real people when US law enforcement bends–or perhaps even breaks–rules or laws in order to coerce vulnerable populations (undocumented immigrants in this particular case) into acting as confidential informants.

undocumented-immigrant-informant-to-DEA-whatisusa.info_

Norma was brought to the US from Mexico illegally by her mother as a five-year-old child. She grew up here in a poor and abusive household. And, for unknown reasons, was not included in her family’s application to obtain legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (the rest of her family was granted legal status). At 16, she ended up running away from home  to escape the abuse, but just landed in more trouble instead.

With few other options, she got involved in a drug smuggling operation with her boyfriend at the time, who was eventually arrested at the border by federal authorities. Norma was confronted by a DEA agent at that point and given what sounded like a golden opportunity: help us and you’ll be granted citizenship.

Norma jumped at the chance, and she’s been paying for it ever since.

From 1989 until 2010, Norma worked as a confidential informant, helping the DEA investigate high-level drug trafficking in South Texas and other states around the country. She participated in some pretty dangerous operations that literally placed her life in jeopardy, all in the hopes that she would be granted permanent status one day and eventually be allowed to live in relative peace. To live some version of the American Dream, in other words.

According to this account, the dangers, temptations, and sacrifices she faced were quite real:

[Norma] was called on to assist in various operations where she was used as bait in drug deals, pretending to make a purchase and close the deal — one of the ways the DEA found and captured drug traffickers. Norma says her life repeatedly was put at risk.

She remembers vividly the first trip she made as a C.I. She was sent with seven pounds of heroin from the Texas border to California. The DEA paid her a reasonable amount, although it wasn’t the 25 percent of the recuperated money that she says she was promised.

“I felt like I was living in a fairy tale,” she says, “after not having anything to eat and then seeing all of this abundance.”

She says the biggest operation she participated in was when she and other federal agents transported a shipment of 23 pounds of heroin in two vehicles. They seized $130,000 and caught the traffickers, but she says she wasn’t given credit for the bust or the money. She says her payments for her work were between $500 and $1,500 on average.

Norma says she was denied several payments after drug busts, claiming that she was called a “wetback” and that the agents told her she was a “criminal with no rights and that the only options I had were to return to Mexico or work for them,” she says.

Instead of doing as they had promised, though, the DEA provided Norma only with a string of temporary visas that required her continued cooperation in order to be renewed. She did just what the DEA asked, until, after 20 years, she finally realized that the promise of citizenship was an empty one. She had apparently been a pawn in the DEA’s chess game against the drug cartels, and little more. If she didn’t continue to help them. she was expendable.

In fact, when she tried to extricate herself from the dangerous work of informing, she was threatened by the DEA with deportation as thanks for her years of service.

Interview with Norma (in Spanish)

She was actually deported at one point, simply because she’d been labelled a “troublemaker” for complaining to one of the DEA agents with whom she had worked.  She continues to fight for what she’s earned to this day.

And, according to Norma’s attorney, this type of treatment is not an isolated event:

Federal government agencies use and abuse undocumented confidential informants for years, trample their rights with impunity, promise them permanent residency and never deliver on it…And they know they don’t have to deliver on it. But they keep pressuring them with that promise so they will keep cooperating.

I think it’s easy to see what the government is attempting to do in cases like this, and it does have its own internal logic. It seems they’re applying the consequentialist notion that using (and even abusing) confidential informants like Norma is crucial to fighting the greater evil of drug smuggling.

This is the same type of false dilemma, though, that’s used to justify a wide range of bad behavior by governments (eavesdropping by the NSA/GCHQ, intrusive security theater by the TSA, etc.) that supposedly protects us from even worse consequences.

FalseDilemma

It is perfectly reasonable to expect federal agents to a) aggressively investigate and arrest drug traffickers, and to b) also treat confidential informants fairly by, at the very least, being honest with them and following through on what’s promised. It’s not an either/or proposition. Doing both is entirely possible.

Ultimately, people are not pawns, and someone’s immigration status, mental health status, or similar vulnerability should not make them a target for this type of coercive and highly manipulative treatment, no matter how noble the ultimate goal might be.

For an even more in-depth look at this story, and to hear Norma’s first-hand account of her work with the DEA, check out Snap Judgment’s latest episode, The Undocumented Informant.

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Last week, the Department of Justice released its report about the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force practices, which have been much in the news lately.

Last month, APD officers shot and killed James Boyd, a mentally ill man who was involved in a standoff  with officers that was captured on one officer’s helmet cam. Video of that shooting has sparked considerable controversy about the APD’s apparent tendency toward using excessive force, even against people who posed little or no direct threat to officers.

Video: APD releases HelmetCam footage of shooting

The DOJ’s investigation, initiated in 2012, takes a broader look at the department’s overall practices. Its conclusions are direct, damning, and represent just the type of straight talk and analysis necessary to begin the process of bringing APD into compliance with the law and with the best interests of New Mexico citizens.

As it turns out, concerns about the Boyd shooting may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of improper use of deadly force by APD officers. According to the DOJ report (PDF):

Albuquerque police officers too often use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms. To illustrate, of the 20 officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities from 2009 to 2012, we concluded that a majority of these shootings were unconstitutional. Albuquerque police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others. Instead, officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force. (emphasis added)

The use of less-than-lethal force by APD officers was little better. According to the report, officer misconduct in this area represented a pattern of abuse that was described as “systemic.”  A lack of effective training, policy development, and appropriate oversight all contributed to incidents of improper use of force in a wide range of situations, including against those involving mentally ill suspects and defendants.

Justice Dept. accuses Albuquerque PD of ‘unjustified force’

In their overall summary of findings regarding the APD, the DOJ had this to say:

We have reasonable cause to believe that officers of the Albuquerque Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including unreasonable deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment….

The report provides a number of examples in support of its claim that excessive force was used by APD officers. Many of these involved the use of Tasers and other less-than-lethal weapons that were deployed in ways that were improper, harmful, and unnecessary.

For example, one case involved a 60-year-old man, initially armed with a knife, who had made a threat against another man while intoxicated. The APD sent 47 officers to the scene, shot the man with five “bean bag” rounds, launched a flash bang grenade at him, shot him with a wooden baton round, deployed a police canine against him, then tased him repeatedly until he collapsed.  All of that happened after he had dropped the knife.

A judge, who later reviewed the case, wrote that:

“…no reasonable person could believe that an inhibited, slow-moving, 60-year-old individual, who made no physical or verbal threats, and wielded no weapons, could constitute a threat to the safety of any of the forty-seven armed and shielded police officers who stood over twenty feet away.”

In another incident detailed in the report, officers tased and physically assaulted a mentally disabled man who was literally incapable, due to his disability, of complying with APD officer’s commands. As it turned out, the man had wandered away from a group home where he had been living. He had the mental capacity of a five-year-old child.

APD officers also tased and assaulted individuals who were incapacitated due to a drug overdose, or who were so intoxicated that they were proned out on a couch unable to move, or so mentally ill that they were not capable of rational thinking or decision making. In one case, officers were called simply to check on the welfare of a mentally ill young man, who had done nothing illegal, and ended up kicking, choking, and arresting him after he declined their attempts to interact with him, which he had every right to do.

DOJ Investigates APD

Example after example makes clear that the APD is not a police force in any sense, but an aggressive, out-of-control, occupying force bent on imposing its will on the citizenry, even upon the law-abiding citizens in their jurisdiction. The DOJ report goes on to document factors, such as the lack of effective training for officers, a lack of oversight by supervisors and other leaders in the organization, failure to properly document use of force incidents, including very serious ones, such as shootings – all of which contributed to a culture of violence and illegality in the APD.

As part of the background for this report, the DOJ offered up this succinct statement that summarizes my personal feelings about policing in general:

A well-functioning police department has the trust of the residents it protects, functions as a part of the community rather than insulated from it, and cultivates legitimacy when the public views it as engaging with them fairly and respecting the rule of law.

Police departments are not separate from the communities they serve. They do not exist to control the population. Police departments are integral elements of community life that exist for the sole purposes of protecting and serving the citizenry. They are under the direct control of duly elected representatives, and they are fully accountable to the community and anyone who visits or travels there.

Gun

The DOJ report provides a starting place for rectifying the deep and systemic flaws in the APD.  It also serves as an object lesson for police departments everywhere that wish to avoid descending into the type of embarrassingly autocratic, overly aggressive, and flagrantly illegal behavior demonstrated by the APD.

Read the full report for yourself here, and leave a comment below.

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Shooting-7600-E-Roosevelt-Blvd-DC-14-02-018292

The Philadelphia Police Department released the below video of a gun battle that took place in the hallways of a motel last month in the Rhawnhurst neighborhood of the city.

According to the Philly Police Blog:

On March 31, 2014, at 12:28am, 2nd District officers responded to a radio call for a shooting inside the Roosevelt Motor Inn located at 7600 Roosevelt Boulevard. When police arrived an employee stated he heard gunshots coming from a hallway. Soon after the gunshots an unknown black male ran past the front desk armed with a handgun and fled through the parking lot then south on the Roosevelt Boulevard. Surveillance video recovered depicts a group of black male running through the hallways shooting at each other. No complainant’s were found and no one was found injured.

I can’t be sure, but I think these guys believe they’re playing the real-life version of GTA. One of these idiots even tries to pull off a trick shot around a blind corner (starting at about 1:25 in the video).

Check it out for yourself.

Shooting 7600 E Roosevelt Blvd DC# 14 02 018292

Have a safe weekend!

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In late March, Texas Governor Rick Perry sent a letter to the Department of Justice (PDF) bemoaning the fact that his state would have to comply with key provisions of federal legislation intended to reduce sexual violence in prisons and jails.  This federal legislation–the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)–was passed back in 2003, and ten years of effort have been put into researching and refining rules related to its implementation.

Image courtesy of tiverlucky FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverlucky FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now it’s time for states to come into compliance with the law, and Perry has taken the opportunity to play politics with its mandates instead of doing the right thing and making his prisons and jails safer for his communities.  The governor’s arguments against PREA implementation are not only myopic and disingenuous, but are also couched in the type of snark and sarcasm that so often passes for political discourse these days.

Let’s see what he had to say.

Point #1

The governor’s letter begins with this false claim:

The rules [of PREA] appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails.

In fact, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), which was created by the PREA legislation, sought input from correctional officials at all levels of the system for years before implementation of the law began. According to the NPREC:

The NPREC was a bipartisan panel created by Congress as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. The Commission was charged with studying federal, state and local government policies and practices related to the prevention, detection, response and monitoring of sexual abuse in correction and detention facilities in the United States. Consistent with the Act, the Commission’s recommendations are designed to make the prevention of rape a top priority in America’s jails, prisons, lockups, juvenile facilities, and other detention facilities. The commission submitted its report to the President, Congress, The Attorney General, The Secretary of Health and Human Services and other federal and state officials on June 23, 2009.

Representatives from Perry’s own state department of corrections have even gone so far as to praise the federal government’s efforts to gather information about local prison and jail operations as part of developing implementation rules:

…during one of several public comment periods, Texas corrections department head Brad Livingston wrote to the Department of Justice in 2010, “it is apparent the Department of Justice gave careful consideration to the comments submitted by many interested parties during 2010, the TDCJ has few issues relating to the proposed national standards.”

Far from being created in a vacuum, the opposite appears to have been the case. To claim now that the state cannot comply because of a lack of input by correctional experts is disingenuous, to say the least, and an outright falsehood in the worst case.

Point #2

The governor goes on to contend that his state is leading the effort to reduce sexual assaults in prisons through its Safe Prisons Program:

Since 2001, TDCJ [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] has started the Safe Prisons Program, created and tested zero tolerance policies, added additional video surveillance, established a PREA ombudsman and developed comprehensive sexual assault training for staff and offenders.

The sad fact is that Texas prisons are among the least safe in the country today. Based on data collected from 2009 to 2011 as part of PREA, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found one correctional unit in Texas as having the highest rate of sexual assault in the United States, and five other Texas prisons or jails as being particularly violent as well – a higher number than any other state in the survey.

Point #3

Next, the governor asserts that he is under “threat of criminal penalties” if he does not certify that all jails and prisons in his state are in compliance with PREA’s requirements by May of this year. This is another disingenuous statement, given that he does have other options under the law. According to the National PREA Resource Center:

Pursuant to the PREA statute, the governor has three options: 1) submit a certification that the state is in full compliance; 2) submit an assurance that not less than five percent of its DOJ funding for prison purposes shall be used only for the purpose of enabling the state to adopt and achieve full compliance with the PREA standards; or 3) accept a five percent reduction in such grants.

He is looking at losing funding if he doesn’t comply, but he could choose to simply assure that a portion of federal funding his state currently receives for prison operations could be used to bring facilities into compliance. That doesn’t sound like a threat. It sounds like a reasonable measure to help states improve their practices.

1687022_-rick-perry-05-jl-10-11-2010

It’s pretty clear that all this is just political grandstanding. Instead of taking his obligations seriously in this area, Perry is choosing to turn his correctional system into just another opportunity to score political points with his base. Ironically, he is also choosing to operate a correctional system that is incredibly dangerous, not only to the inmates it confines, but to the public at large, including his political supporters.

One of the driving forces behind PREA is the idea that the chances of successful inmate rehabilitation are significantly reduced when inmates are subjected to sexual violence while incarcerated. Considering that Dallas and Houston are perennially among the top ten cities with the highest rates of crime in the country,  as is the state of Texas overall, you would think that rehabilitating offenders, and reducing the likelihood of them engaging in repeated criminal behavior, would be a high priority.

Further, research on the benefits of preventing sexual violence in correctional environments also make clear that such efforts are important, not only on humanitarian grounds, but also because they can result in significant cost savings as well:

Prevention dollars, if appropriately targeted, save therapeutic intervention dollars. To capture these “savings,” however, inmate safety must be a top priority. Prioritizing safety requires the establishment of reasonable standards of safety and safety benchmarks for prisons, followed by measuring performance on safety accurately and reliably and reporting performance data in ways consistent with standards of transparency and accountability. Safe, humane prisons can be expected to yield immediate savings by avoiding the costs of treating the consequences of physical and sexual assault, and longer term savings if the people leaving prison are less impaired with emotional and psychological difficulties created by the prison environment.

Instead of wasting money on programs that apparently don’t work to reduce sexual violence in prisons (the Safe Prisons Project), and wasting time complaining to the DOJ about having to comply with PREA, the governor should set his sights on taking responsibility for what he is allowing to occur in his jails and prisons.

I’m just glad I don’t live in Texas.

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yelling

I recently posted the below on Medium.com, a blogging site with a ton of interesting and compelling content. You can check out some of my other submissions there by following this link.

I’m a gun owner. I’m also someone who has circumambulated the entire 360 degrees of the gun rights issue, from adamant supporter to adamant opponent and back again. In my early days in the military, I was a staunch defender of gun rights. I owned and shot firearms regularly and felt very strongly that service to my country included defending all elements of the Constitution, especially the Second Amendment.

After leaving the service, and after seeing firsthand some of the destruction and pain caused by gun violence, I took my first turn toward support of gun control. I reasoned that if there were fewer guns, it naturally followed that there would have to be less gun violence. I bought into the logic that guns were the problem, not people. I also believed that in modern society, with its well-established safety infrastructure, guns were merely a relic from the past that were no longer necessary.

I’m also a peace-loving person at heart. I have no intention of ever hurting anyone, let alone using a firearm against another human being. That, more than anything else, lulled me into a belief that my ideas of peaceful co-existence were the best way forward.

I believe now that I was wrong.

As I’ve moved into middle-age, and watched the back and forth between the pro- and anti-gun factions over the years, I’ve taken the final turn back toward where I started. What I realized is that neither side has a lock on the truth about guns, violence, or human nature. In their desire, however, to “win” the argument over the limits to gun ownership, both sides have ramped up the rhetoric and have engaged in the type of group polarization that does little to solve anything.

In their zeal to convince the undecided that fewer or more restrictions on gun ownership should be adopted, each side has moved ever closer to the fringes, further away from each other, and ever farther from reasonable solutions. The debate is no longer about solutions, in fact, it’s about the perceived shortcomings of the other side.

Gun owners get branded as uneducated rednecks hellbent on shooting up the countryside, and gun control supporters are labelled as soft-headed liberals with a victim mentality. Try starting a reasonable discussion about guns and gun control from that perspective. It’s a setup for a yelling match in which neither side hears nor cares what the other side is saying.

And that’s exactly what’s occurring now. Ad hominem attacks are just a diversion from the real issues, and a recipe for paralysis.

For what it’s worth, here’s where I’ve landed: Even though it may sound contradictory in the extreme, I’m a peaceful person who chooses to legally own and legally carry a handgun. I’m not a trigger-happy cowboy by any means—far from it—but I’m also not anyone’s victim. I don’t hope to ever use my firearm, but I’m also prepared to do so in defense of my own life or that of a loved one, if reasonable and necessary.

I will always choose first to run from danger, if at all possible, and call the police to deal with the threat. But, I also won’t count on that as the one and only option. If I can’t flee, and my life is in jeopardy, I will do what I have to do to neutralize the threat, including using a firearm. It’s just that simple.

I also refuse to abdicate my constitutional rights regarding firearm ownership just because guns make some people uncomfortable or even fearful. I subscribe to the libertarian ideal that government power and authority should be limited to only what is absolutely necessary. I view taking away my right to use reasonable force to defend myself and my loved ones as an unreasonable intrusion on my liberty.

Those who disagree with me on all of this on the basis of logic are, of course, free to do so. I’ve stopped caring about the contradictions in my choice to simultaneously embrace peace and to arm myself. In a real sense, it’s no contradiction at all. Police officers make the same choice (or at least they should), and entire countries do, too. Many non-warring nations have standing armies, which is an entirely prudent and reasonable choice in my opinion.

I do support reasonable limitations on gun ownership, including universal background checks. But I don’t support wholesale restrictions on the types of firearms a qualified person can own or possess, and I certainly don’t agree that the only way to ensure a safe society is to unreasonably limit the access of law-abiding citizens to gun ownership. That no longer makes any sense to me.

To make meaningful progress, though, we need to talk about these ideas. We need to hear each other out and work together on this. I have a right to arm and defend myself, and you have a right to feel safe, too. Let’s talk about what all that means and how we can best make that happen.

We need to discuss these issues without the anger, the hyperbole, and the unreasonable expectations that seem to be the norm. Gun-rights and gun-control advocates need to view each other as well-intentioned people with valid concerns. Both groups need to find common ground to reasonably discuss how we can move forward as a country, both safely and in a way that recognizes the constitutional rights of gun ownership enshrined in our founding documents.

I think it’s entirely possible, and I think it’s time to have a reasonable discourse for all our sakes.

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Handcuffs are probably one of the most basic and ubiquitous pieces of police equipment around today. They’re carried used not only by thousands of police officers around the world, but by private security officers, correctional officers, magicians, teachers at some schools, and, yes, lovers.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We apparently even have a National Handcuff Day, celebrated on February 20th each year to mark the issuance of the modern handcuff patent in 1912 (how’s that for a phony, made-up corporate holiday?).

Handcuffs are so common, in fact, that we normally pay little attention to them at all, unless perhaps you’re wearing a set for some reason. But, who invented them and why, and how have they evolved to become what we recognize today?

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