July 16, 2013

Quick Hits

As usual, when I disappear for a few weeks, things start to pile up. Here’s a few interesting things that passed through my field of vision in the recent past.

Good News on Private Prisons?

I’ve written before about the evil of privatizing prisons, replacing one of the state’s core functions (under anybody’s idea of how big the “state” should be) with businesspeople in pursuit of a healthier bottom line. Shockingly, it turns out that when the bottom line is in play, things at the prison actually go to shit. It’s gotten so bad that several states have backed out of their contracts (via).

Admittedly, it’s hard to ignore stuff like this:
Idaho cut ties with the corporation on Wednesday, which turned the state’s largest prison into a violent hellhole inmates called ‘Gladiator School.’ Earlier this year, CCA was caught understaffing the prison and using prison gangs to control the population. The company admitted to falsifying nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records to squeeze more money out of the state for nonexistent security work. Shift logs at the prison showed the same security guards working for 2 to 3 days at a time without breaks.
Similar conditions popped up in Mississippi and Texas (in two different facilities). My cynical side thinks that the only way the private prison movement gets turned back is when it turns out they actually cost more than doing it the old fashioned way. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to be.

Your Militarized Police Force

Radley Balko has written for years about abusive police tactics and the Fourth Amendment, first over at Reason and more recently at Huffington Post. In the current issue of the ABA Journal he provides an overview of the rise of militarism in American police forces and how it manifests itself every day. He writes:
Today in America SWAT teams violently smash into private homes more than 100 times per day. The vast majority of these raids are to enforce laws against consensual crimes. In many cities, police departments have given up the traditional blue uniforms for “battle dress uniforms” modeled after soldier attire.

* * *

But it isn’t just drugs. Aggressive, SWAT-style tactics are now used to raid neighborhood poker games, doctors’ offices, bars and restaurants, and head shops—despite the fact that the targets of these raids pose little threat to anyone. This sort of force was once reserved as the last option to defuse a dangerous situation. It’s increasingly used as the first option to apprehend people who aren’t dangerous at all.
Read the whole thing, and don’t forget the various statistical tables and what not spread throughout. The explosion in the number of SWAT teams (and their deployment) over the past few decades is staggering. Balko makes a pretty good argument that the growth is driven by money, particularly a federal grant program with the name Byrne attached to it (unfortunately).

Oh, and they shoot dogs too. Lots of ‘em.

Judicial Idiocy, With a Prosecutorial Assist

Courtroom misbehavior has to really be of the prime variety to surprise me anymore these days, but this situation certainly meets that high standard.

Let’s set the scene – a courtroom in Texas, where a criminal trial is underway. A prosecutor in the gallery (not the one actually trying the case) gets a text, suggesting a line of questioning for the prosecutor to pursue. She scribbled the text “word for word” and has her investigator run the not up to the prosecutor. Now, guess who sent the text?

The trial judge.

That’s right. The judge presiding in a criminal case gave advice to the prosecution appearing before her in that case! Even worse – or at least equally bad – is that the other prosecutor, used as a conduit for the message, didn’t think twice about passing it on. The only positive note is that the investigator reported the judge, probably at the risk of losing his own job.

But the absolute icing on the cake of idiocy? That conduit prosecutor who passed on the note? She’s a judge now, too. Of course she is!

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