From the beginning, the federal decade-long crackdown on prescription drug abuse has run an unsettling risk: that...
The Senate confirmed Gil Kerlikowske to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allowing the White House "drug czar" to take on his new post overseeing the Border Patrol, the Los Angeles Times reports. Kerlikowske came to the White House as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the job commonly known as “drug czar,” after serving as chief of police in Seattle from 2001 to 2009. He will take over an organization under fire on several fronts, including secrecy surrounding incidents in which agents shot people suspected of throwing rocks at them from the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Legislators have criticized Customs and Border Protection officials for not fully disclosing when border agents are allowed to use deadly force, and what disciplinary actions, if any, have been taken against agents who violated existing policies. In his confirmation hearing Jan. 15, Kerlikowske promised that if confirmed he would make the agency more transparent. “I have not been in a law enforcement agency in which the specifics of the use of force were not made available ... to the general public, and I would work very hard to see that that is done” with the Border Patrol, Kerlikowske said.
At his first Board of Corrections meeting as director of the Oklahoma Corrections Department, Robert Patton said tackling the rising prison population is a top priority, reports The Oklahoman. Patton, who worked more than two decades for the Arizona Department of Corrections, started in Oklahoma in mid-February. He has established a population management team to look at ways to reduce inmate numbers.
Patton is trying to make sure the state is processing inmates through the parole process adequately. “So, in other words, if the courts have sentenced you to a certain sentence where you can earn credits or whatever it is to say you can be released this certain date, are we making sure that you are released on that date,” Patton said. Many Corrections Department records are kept on paper, and Patton acknowledged one way to improve the offender management system is to move to a computer-based model. “Every penny you spend in technology increases the efficiency of your agency,” Patton said. “Right now, I’m looking for quarters under the couch, but through appropriate planning and through appropriate budgeting I think we can address those things.”
Last year, four alleged leaders of rival California prison gangs worked together to coordinate a hunger strike. They were protesting long-term, indefinite incarceration in solitary confinement. All of the men were in solitary when they launched the strike. One, Todd Ashker, has been in solitary for more than 20 years. On the first day of the strike, 30,000 state prisoners refused their meals. The story of how the four prisoners coordinated the hunger strike, and the larger issue of how solitary confinement has become a more long-term and widely used punishment in the past three decades, is told by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine.
Wallace-Wells tells NPR the strike was five years in the making: It "was a long process. [The leaders] were very wary around one another at first, but they are each in their own way political and both Ashker and Sitawa Jamaa in particular had been reading revolutionary texts for years. In their own way, each of them had come to see their fight as fundamentally with the system itself rather than fundamentally with each other. ... Also, prisoners are ingenious, and they have figured out how to shout through toilet drains in their own cell to people in other cells and nearby parts of the prison. They figured out how those drain networks go."
Arrests for panhandling and peddling in New York City's subways have tripled so far this year when compared with 2013, an indication that Police Commissioner William Bratton is taking on the quality-of-life issue as promised, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officers have arrested 274 panhandlers or peddlers through March 2, compared with 90 through the same period in 2013. The total number of arrests, crime complaints and stops for suspicious activity in the transit system have decreased in the same time frame.
"Late last year they identified a quality-of-life issue in the subway," said Sgt. Brendan Ryan, an NYPD spokesman. "They did a review of entire system and they continue to address it." Those who have followed Bratton's career said his focus on the subways should not come as a surprise. "He always talks about this and for right reasons," said Richard Aborn, president of the nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. "One of the things that cracking down on farebeating does is lets you work with these criminals before they commit higher level offenses. It's an opportunity to intervene."
Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association executive vice president, aimed squarely for the media in a speech yesterday to the Conservative Political Action Conference, saying government and media elites were teaming up to lie to Americans, reports Politico. “Political dishonesty and media dishonesty have linked together. They’ve joined forces to misinform and deceive the American public,” LaPierre told a well-receiving crowd at the conservative confab. “Let’s be straight about it right here this afternoon: The political and media elites are lying to us.”
Citing the IRS scandal, government surveillance, Obamacare, Benghazi and other conservative talking points, LaPierre accused the media of dropping the ball on its responsibilities. “Rather than expose government scandal and abuse like they used to, the media elites whitewash it all. ‘Move on,’ they tell us, ‘there’s nothing to see here,’” he said. “One of America’s greatest threats is a national news media that fails to provide a level playing field for the truth. Now it’s all entertainment, ratings, personal celebrity, the next sensational story and the deliberate spinning and purposeful use of words and language, truth be damned, to advance their own agenda.” He added that the media have “never been honest about the NRA, they hate us, just for saying out loud and sticking up for what we believe, as if we have no right.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday advanced a bill intended to reduce recidivism of federal inmates and help them transition back into the communities. The vote was 15-2, with Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) opposing it, reports MainJustice. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) voted "present" and said he was concerned that the bill's methods to identify inmates with a lower risk of reoffending could exacerbate racial and socio-economic disparities in the prison system.
Leahy also was critical of the growing federal prison population, noting that almost one-third of the Justice Department's $27.4 billion budget request for the year starting October 1 would go to prisons instead of funding prosecutors and law enforcement. "Because of the money that's going into prisons ... there's fewer resources for federal prosecutors, for drug agents, for FBI agents. There's less support for state and local law enforcement," Leahy said. The bill approved by the committee is co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who said it would call for computer-based tools to judge an inmate's likelihood of reoffending but it would also call for human oversight.
Here's are some things correctional officers must put up with, says the Denver Post: Prisoners fling bodily waste and attack without warning. Psychotic outbursts fill halls with howls. A man who upset the wrong clique had a pencil driven though his ear. Guards say they harden themselves to survive inside prison, but some can't snap out of it at the end of the day. Some seethe to themselves. Others commit suicide. Depression, alcoholism, domestic violence and heart attacks are common. "You're not normal anymore," said Hondray Simmons, 36, an Iraq war veteran working in the Colorado State Penitentiary.
Guard woes are so epidemic in Fremont County, a hub for the booming prison industry, that an enterprising therapist chose this area to launch an emotional-rescue campaign, the nation's first. Prison guards work in "an unrecognized war zone," said Caterina Spinaris, 53, who left a lucrative psychological counseling practice in Denver six years ago. Now she counsels brittle men and women at her Desert Waters Correctional Outreach center, a mile from the high security federal "Supermax" prison. From across the nation, 168 correctional officers, including several on the brink of suicide, have called or sent e-mails asking for help, Spinaris said. When she arrived, guards from the 13 area prisons shunned her counseling. Then in 2005, she set up a toll-free "Corrections Ventline" that lets guards anonymously blow off steam before they head home.
Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman of Nashville's Davidson County Drug Court preaches the truth to his lost flock every week, evangelizing with a style that recalls a little of the Old Testament and a little of the New: Do right and you will be praised. Do wrong and he’ll let you know, The Tennessean reports. “If you think I believe you, you’d better go jump over the moon because I don’t believe a word you’re saying,” he chides one young woman. “Not one word.”
His flock, 200 people squeezed into a gymnasium every Tuesday evening, are current and recovering drug addicts. When he demands the truth, it’s no idle threat. “You get straight with some people around here, you might not wind up in jail,” he continues. “You don’t and you’re going to go back because I’m not going to put up with it.” About 95 percent of the court’s $1.5 million budget is funded by the state. An additional $70,000 in federal grant money is passed on to the court from Nashville Metro police. The program is widely hailed, boasting a success rate of more than 60 percent. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, even heroin users typically take a little more than a year to complete the program.
Joey Ray Carabajal was convicted in Williamson County, Tx., of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to two years in prison. Last week, says the Grits for Breakfast blog, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted habeas corpus relief because a lab determined that the "thick purple liquid" he had was not an illegal drug.
The appeals court said a lower court established that "no reasonable trier of fact would have convicted him in light of the new evidence, which demonstrates that he is actually innocent." Comments the blog: "Maybe prosecutors ought to actually have the drugs tested before shipping defendants off to prison."