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An urban ag co-working space grows in Brooklyn

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We Put People In Prison For Way Too Long

Mother Jones

If you want to talk about mass incarceration, here’s the most important fact to know: 90 percent of all American inmates are kept in state and local prisons. Unless you have some specific reason, you should pretty much ignore all statistics about the federal prison system.

This is not Keith Humphreys’ main point in his Wonkblog post today about mass incarceration, but it might as well be. If you look at state lockups, here’s the basic data for why most folks are incarcerated:

Drug offenses make up only about 15 percent of the total inmate population. And since it’s common to plea down to a minor drug offense from a more serious offense, even this probably overstates the number of people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. So if we want to reduce the prison population, decriminalizing drugs won’t make much of a dent. Instead, we need to focus on our response to violent crime:

In the eyes of many politicians, activists and most of the voting public, tough punishment of nonviolent drug offenders is the main driver of mass incarceration in general and disproportionate imprisonment of people of color in particular. But in his new book “Locked In,” criminologist John Pfaff challenges that assumption, attributing mass incarceration primarily to violent crime and the public policy response to it.

….Given the outsize role of violent crime in mass imprisonment, what should be done about it? Pfaff favors “cutting long sentences for people convicted of violence, even for those with extensive criminal histories, since almost everyone starts aging out of crime by their 30s.” He also advocates for relying less on prison altogether and expanding community-based anti-violence programs that have strong evidence of preventing violence in the first place.

Our main reaction to the violent crime wave of the 70s and 80s was not just to lock up more people, but to lock them up longer. A lot longer. However, there’s little evidence that longer sentences do much to deter crime, and as Pfaff says, once prisoners get into their 30s there’s not much evidence that keeping them locked up prevents very much crime. My horseback guess (I haven’t read Pfaff’s book) is that we could cut the average sentence for violent crimes in half and it would have only a minor effect on crime rates. Partly this is because we overshot the sweet spot for reducing crime by a lot in the 70s and 80s, and partly it’s because criminals these days aren’t as violent as they were in the past.1

Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest lifts in all of politics. Even now, no one wants to be “soft on crime,” and it’s inevitable that if we did reduce sentences, some of the prisoners would go out and commit more crimes. All you need is a few examples of that to run some devastating TV ads, and there’s no question that these examples would be out there. Pfaff has the right idea, but it’s unlikely to get an audience anytime soon.

1Yes, because of reduced lead poisoning. Really.


We Put People In Prison For Way Too Long

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The Feds Just Handed the Private Prison Industry a Big Score

Mother Jones

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Three months after the Department of Justice announced that it would phase out its use of private prisons, the Department of Homeland Security has gone in the opposite direction. In a report finalized on Thursday, a subcommittee of the DHS’s advisory council recommended that Immigration and Customs Enforcement continue to use facilities run by private prison companies to detain undocumented immigrants.

The council, which was tasked with reviewing ICE’s use of for-profit facilities, noted concerns about the agency’s ability to oversee private detention centers as well as reports of substandard medical care in some private facilities. But it concluded that the already widespread use of privately run detention centers, combined with their lower cost made it unrealistic to seriously consider eliminating their use. ICE reports that it costs $144 per day to keep a detainee in a private detention center while it costs $184 per detainee per day in ICE facilities.

“Much could be said for a fully government-owned and government-operated detention model, if one were starting a new detention system from scratch,” the committee wrote. “But of course we are not starting anew.” ICE will review the report and implement any appropriate changes, according to a department spokeswoman.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered the advisory council to undertake the two-month review in August, after the Justice Department declared that it would reduce or end its contracts with private prison companies. The DOJ announcement came on the heels of a Mother Jones investigation into a troubled Louisiana prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, the major private prison company that recently rebranded as CoreCivic. Private-prison stocks plunged following the announcement.

But the for-profit prison industry’s slump now appears temporary. The election of Donald Trump caused private prison stocks to soar, and CoreCivic has continued to sign lucrative contracts with both ICE and the Department of Justice. If Trump follows through on his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, it would require ICE to significantly expand its detention capacity, likely by turning to private prison companies.

According to the DHS committee’s new report, for-profit detention allows ICE to “respond to surges in migration flows” by expanding its detention capacity. “Capacity to handle such surges, when policymakers determine that detention will be part of the response, cannot reasonably be maintained solely through the use of facilities staffed and operated by federal officers,” the report stated. Last month, Johnson announced he had authorized ICE to acquire new detention space following a roughly 25 percent increase in undocumented immigrant arrests between August and October.

But the deals this fall were moving so quickly that some ICE officials worried there would be no time to ensure that the new detention spaces conformed to certain quality requirements or regulations adopted as a result of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the Wall Street Journal reported. ICE is now pursuing a deal with CoreCivic to reopen the company’s 1,129-bed Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico as an immigration detention center, even though the Bureau of Prisons shut down the prison this year following a series of inmate deaths and repeated citations for deficient medical care.

The DHS committee’s report comes less than week after the death of a 36-year-old Guatemalan woman at the Eloy Detention Center, a CoreCivic immigrant detention facility in Arizona. Raquel Calderon de Hildago was arrested near Tucson by Border Patrol officers the day before Thanksgiving. She died on Sunday after having a series of seizures. Calderon was third person to die in ICE custody in the last two months and the 15th person since 2003 to die after being held at Eloy.

Marshall Fitz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and member of the DHS advisory council, disputed the council’s main conclusion that ICE’s continued use of private prison is inevitable. “The review undertaken by the subcommittee points directly toward the inferiority of the private prison model from the perspective of governance and conditions,” he wrote in a footnote in the report. “Any shift away from such reliance would take years, carry significant costs, and require congressional partnership…but I disagree that these obstacles require our deference to the status quo.”

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The Feds Just Handed the Private Prison Industry a Big Score

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Trump Says He’ll Imprison Clinton’s Lawyers, Too

Mother Jones

After Donald Trump called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed during Sunday’s presidential debate, some Trump surrogates suggested that he was simply joking, and his running mate Mike Pence said his remarks had been taken out of context. But at a Wednesday rally in Lakeland, Florida, Trump promised that no, he really did intend to throw Hillary Clinton in prison if elected—and to prosecute her lawyers for good measure.

In his afternoon speech outside an airplane hangar off I-4 in the center of the swing state, Trump offered his toughest words yet for the former secretary of state. “Hillary Clinton bleached and deleted 33,000 emails after a congressional subpoena,” he told the crowd. “So she gets the subpoena, she gets the subpoena, and after—not before, that would be bad—but after getting the subpoena to give over your emails and lots of other things, she deleted the emails. She. Has. To. Go. To. Jail.”

Trump didn’t stop there. He also wanted the people who advised her to delete the emails to be charged, arrested, and jailed. “And her law firm, which is a very big and powerful law firm, which is the one that said, ‘Oh, they’ll determine what they’re giving,’ those representatives within that law firm that did that, have to go to jail,” Trump said.

The rally was the third stop in a three-day swing through the Sunshine State, where Clinton has taken a small but steady lead during Trump’s October collapse. Supporters packed onto the tarmac to wait for Trump’s campaign plane to pull up, and some passed out from the heat before and during the event. When a woman who had collapsed earlier in his speech returned to the crowd to hear the ending, Trump praised her durability and took a shot at the National Football League’s concussion policy. “Uh! Uh!” he said. “A little ding in the head you can’t play the rest of the season.”

The prospect of prosecuting Clinton was a through-line of the event. Trump supporters donned “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts, and one attendee wore black-and-white stripes with a Hillary mask. When Rep. Dennis Ross, a Florida Republican who spoke before the plane had arrived, was interrupted with a chant of “lock her up!”, he promised to help make it a reality. “When he becomes president, we’ll work on that,” Ross said.

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Trump Says He’ll Imprison Clinton’s Lawyers, Too

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We Have Effective Treatment for Hepatitis C. So Why Don’t States Give It to 100,000 Inmates?

Mother Jones

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Less than 1 percent of inmates with hepatitis C are receiving treatment in state prisons, according to a new study by prison officials, doctors, and researchers. It’s largely because prisons can’t afford the drugs they need to fight the dangerous liver disease that spreads through blood and bodily fluids.

Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease, including HIV and tuberculosis; about 17 percent of the prison population in America is suffering from it, compared with 1 percent of the general population. New treatments have been developed but are extremely expensive, so over the last two years, inmates in Tennessee, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania have sued for access to the drugs.

The study, published in Health Affairs, comes on the heels of those lawsuits. It was conducted by researchers at Yale University in collaboration with the Association of State Correctional Administrators, which includes the heads of corrections agencies in every state as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Researchers collected data from 41 states about hepatitis C infections and treatment in prisons. They found that more than 106,000 inmates in state prisons had the disease as of January 2015, and of those, only about 950, or less than 0.9 percent were being treated.

Prison officials who helped conduct the study have blamed the high cost of treatment. In 2013, new drugs were released that have proved very effective, curing the infection in 90 percent of cases in a few months. (Previous treatment options cured roughly half of cases, took much longer, and resulted in debilitating side effects.) But the cost of the new drugs can be prohibitive: A 12-week course of medication can range from $54,600 to $94,500, depending on the particular drug.

Some government agencies can get discounts. The federal prison system receives 24 percent off, while the Department of Veterans Affairs may have a discount of 50 percent, the researchers found. But state prisons aren’t so lucky. Many of them get a discount of less than 10 percent, and one state gets no discount at all. As a result, state prison officials say they must make tough choices about whom to treat.

Treating hepatitis C patients “requires resources and discounts we don’t have,” A.T. Wall, director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “What we desperately need are less costly drugs and more funding.”

Corrections departments in 16 states reported spending at least 10 percent of their total budget for drugs on hepatitis C medication. But states could actually save money in the long run if they invest in treatment right away, the researchers noted. When left untreated, patients with hepatitis C may need a liver transplant, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they can spread the infection to others. To get the drugs for less money, the researchers encouraged state prisons to partner with qualified health centers that can receive discounts through a federal program.

Thomas Castelli, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing inmates in Tennessee, said in a statement, “Incarcerating people under conditions that erode their health, safety and human dignity amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which not only has devastating long-term effects for those individuals, but which undermines the purported purpose of a rehabilitative criminal justice system.”

Health Affairs

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We Have Effective Treatment for Hepatitis C. So Why Don’t States Give It to 100,000 Inmates?

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This Is What’s Missing From Journalism Right Now

Mother Jones

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This June, we published a big story—Shane Bauer’s account of his four-month stint as a guard in a private prison. That’s “big,” as in XXL: 35,000 words long, or 5 to 10 times the length of a typical feature, plus charts, graphs, and companion pieces, not to mention six videos and a radio documentary.

It was also big in impact. More than a million people read it, defying everything we’re told about the attention span of online audiences; tens of thousands shared it on social media. The Washington Post, CNN, and NPR’s Weekend Edition picked it up. Montel Williams went on a Twitter tear that ended with him nominating Shane for a Pulitzer Prize (though that’s not quite how it works). People got in touch to tell us about their loved ones’ time in prison or their own experience working as guards. Lawmakers and regulators reached out. And lots of people offered thoughts similar to this, from New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum:

That’s a great sentiment, and we agree! But it also takes us to a deeper story about journalism and today’s media landscape. It starts with this: The most important ingredient in investigative reporting is not brilliance, writing flair, or deep familiarity with the subject (though those all help). It’s something much simpler—time.

Journalism often involves parachuting into a subject. We jump in, we learn as much as we can really fast, and we pass that on to our readers. That’s why journalists rely so much on quotes: We’re not usually experts at what we’re covering, so our job is to ask the right questions of the people who are.

But this kind of reporting doesn’t get you far when experts are biased, have vested interests (e.g., virtually anyone in politics), or simply don’t exist. On those kinds of stories, reporters do have to build up their own expertise. They need to immerse themselves in a topic, long enough for the accretion of detail to morph into insight.

There was a point when that kind of long game was a part, to some degree, of every newsroom. Reporters had beats so they could learn about an institution or a community over time. The good ones would accumulate a body of knowledge, and a b.s. detector to cut through the spin. The lucky ones would get to dive deep, chase a big lead, and spend months on a project. Sure, this was the exception, not the rule. But it was something news organizations knew they had to do to earn the public trust that would let them stay in business.

That started to change in the 1990s, when merger mania sucked many independently owned newspapers and TV stations into publicly traded corporations, with the resulting pressures to deliver big returns for shareholders. It kept going in the 2000s, when digital advertising sucked the profits out of news, and it got worse as hedge funds and private equity investors wrung extra “efficiencies” out of already diminished newsrooms. And it continues today, with venture capitalists and billionaire power players the latest to seek a payday—or political influence—by reshaping media in their image.

The first casualty with each of these rounds of retrenchment has been the long game. Veterans who’d built up the expertise to deliver insight were pushed out. Beat reporters were replaced by contractors on the hook for 5, 7, 10 posts a day. Those remaining were ordered to do “more with less” (or told, by cheery actors with robotic smiles, that artificial intelligence would soon do their jobs). (If you haven’t yet, let John Oliver depressingly, hilariously break it down for you.)

Stories that truly reveal something about the way power works are not going to happen in this framework. They take time (way more time than can be justified economically) and stability. They take reporters and editors who can trust their jobs will be there, even if money is tight or powerful folks are offended. They are driven by a desire for journalism to have impact, not just turn a profit.

Take our prison story. Shane started writing about criminal justice for Mother Jones four years ago, after he returned from being held hostage in Iran. (Let that sink in—how he used that horrible experience to help the rest of us understand what prison really is.) His first big piece, in 2012, was the result of spending several months investigating solitary confinement. Shortly afterward, he came on board as a staff reporter. That’s important: MoJo used to be a magazine written mostly by freelancers, but in recent years we’ve prioritized hiring full-time journalists, with the wraparound support of a real newsroom.

This stability and support is what made every one of our breakthrough investigations possible. It let our Washington bureau chief, David Corn, do the months of dogged reporting on Mitt Romney’s economic record that led to the 47 percent scoop in 2012. It enabled Josh Harkinson to dig into Trump’s white-supremacist fan base and discover the avowed racists among his delegates earlier this year. And it’s what has allowed us to do four years of in-depth reporting on mass shootings and the gun industry, investigations that have helped change the nature of that debate.

Shane’s prison project took more than 18 months. That included four months in the prison and more than a year of additional reporting, fact-checking, video production, and legal review, including work by more than a dozen other people on the MoJo staff. And that was the only way we could have gotten that story: By definition, incarceration is invisible to most people, and that’s doubly true for private prisons. Recordkeeping is spotty, public disclosure is limited, visits are difficult. The only people who can describe what really goes on inside are prisoners, guards, and officials, all of whom have a strong interest in spinning the story. To get at the truth, we had to take time, and go deep.

And we had to take considerable financial risk. Conservatively, counting just the biggest chunks of staff time that went into it, the prison story cost roughly $350,000. The banner ads that appeared on the article brought in $5,000, give or take. Had we been really in your face with ads, we could have doubled or tripled that figure—but it would have been a pain for you, and still only a drop in the bucket for us.

MoJo did have support from three foundations for our criminal justice reporting. That’s amazing—but foundation grants only go so far. They are typically limited in time (a few years, tops) and scope (focusing on a particular issue or initiative). And they are finite: All of our foundation support put together accounts for roughly 15 percent of MoJo’s annual revenue.

How else, then, to pay for this kind of work? If you’ve been reading our stuff for a while, you know what we believe the answer must be: support from readers. It makes up 70 percent of MoJo’s budget, and it’s what has kept us independent, strong, and able to withstand the pressure (including lawsuits from billionaires) to let go of controversial stories. And based on your response to Shane’s piece, a lot of you totally get it.

But in order to really keep investing in the long game, we—and, we hope, you—will have to do something different. We’ve talked about how fickle ad revenue is. But fundraising is pretty boom-and-bust too.

Typically, nonprofits like us run big pledge drives that seek, frankly, to scare you into giving—”donate right now, or this VERY BAD THING will happen!” It’s not an approach that respects your intelligence, it makes for a bad user experience (lots of emails and online ads), and it doesn’t really match up with the work you want us to do. Because that work is not something you can do in fits and starts. It’s not about responding to an immediate crisis (or for that matter seizing a short-term opportunity—let’s hire a bunch of people and fire them in six months). The real work is about putting reporters on the beat, day after day, month after month.

So starting now, we’re undertaking a new experiment—scary, but exciting—in how we pay for MoJo’s journalism. And we’ll try to make the case with facts and logic (just like our journalism), not sensationalism and panic.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want us to play the long game, the most powerful thing you can do is to do the same. In other words, become a sustaining donor with a tax-deductible gift that renews every month. We don’t have an endowment or reserve fund sitting around somewhere, or advertising profits we can squirrel away. Support from you is the only reason we can do the work.

If you join us as a sustaining donor, you’ll be part of making the next prison project, the next gun violence investigation, the next 47 percent story happen. You’ll keep reporters on the beat, fact-checking those in power. If that sounds right, you can start your monthly support here.

But if you’re the kind of person who likes to nerd out on the mechanics—or really wants a look at the books before deciding to invest—let’s break it down some more.

In the past, our three big fundraising pledge drives typically raised between $125,000 and $200,000 each. Last year, we did better: Readers dug deep and gave $260,000 to help us pay down the legal bills we faced after winning a lawsuit from a billionaire political donor. Then you rose to the challenge again in December and April, pitching in a combined $415,000. And in the month since Shane’s piece published, we’ve had an extra spike in donations and subscriptions.

But banking on raising money in these kinds of fits and starts is a huge risk—and there are clear limits to how much of it we think we can do without being incredibly pushy with emails and ads on the site. Plus there’s little room to grow—and grow, at a time of crisis in both journalism and our politics, we must.

Here’s the other approach. If, before the end of our next scheduled pledge drive in September, we can find just 2,000 readers who value our reporting enough to each pitch in $15 a month, we’ll generate $30,000 in new monthly revenue, or $360,000 over the course of the next 12 months. That’s enough to fund a big project like Shane’s—every single year. And we hope we can get there largely with the argument you’re reading right now, instead of blanketing the site with fundraising ads or filling your inbox with panicky emails.

Is that a fantasy? Well, right now, hundreds of thousands of people are sustaining donors to public radio and television. At MoJo, we currently have about 2,000 sustainers who give about $28,000 a month. But there are some 185,000 of you who subscribe to the magazine, 250,000 who subscribe to our email newsletters, 1.2 million who follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and between 9 million and 10 million of you who come to our website every month. If 0.02 percent of the people who visit the site by the end of September sign up as sustainers, we’ll meet our goal. We have no idea if it will work—and if it doesn’t, we’ll have to pull out all the stops to figure out something else—but everything we know says it’s the right way to go. And if it does work, we will have proven something really important about how to keep in-depth journalism alive.

Are you in? Start your tax-deductible, monthly gift today.

We promised no panic or sensationalism, and we’ll stick with that. But we can’t overstate how urgent this is: Reliable, monthly contributions represent our best shot—and, we believe, your best shot—at ensuring a stable foundation for the watchdog reporting our democracy desperately needs. If you join in, you’ll be part of a big experiment that others can emulate: As you’ve seen with our previous posts on the business of media, we’re committed to transparency and sharing what we learn with our peers.

So let’s see if we can do this thing. We’ll keep you updated here, and we’d love your thoughts on whether this is the right direction and how to refine our approach. Let us know in the comments, on Twitter and Facebook, or at fundraisingteam@motherjones.com.

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This Is What’s Missing From Journalism Right Now

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A Damning Federal Report Just Confirmed Our Worst Fears About Private Prisons

Mother Jones

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Federal prisons run by private prison companies aren’t just less safe and less secure than than their publicly run counterparts. They’re also inadequately supervised by the federal Bureau of Prisons, which has outsourced the incarceration of 12 percent of its inmates to three giant for-profit prison companies, while allowing gaps in oversight that endangered inmates and put their rights at risk.

That’s the takeaway from a damning new report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The report, released Thursday, examined how the BOP monitored its contracts with three of the nation’s largest private prison companies: Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. For $639 million, these corporations run the country’s 14 private federal prisons, incarcerating around 22,660 people as of December—mainly low-security immigrants serving short sentences.

The inspector general’s findings corroborate years of reports documenting violence in private prisons, including Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer’s immersive investigation of a CCA prison in Louisiana.

Compared to federal prisons of similar sizes, locations, and security levels, the private facilities had a 28 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults, and more than twice as many inmate-on-staff assaults per capita between 2011 and 2014. Prison officials also found nearly twice as many weapons and eight times as many cellphones in private prisons as compared to BOP prisons, per capita. The inspector general also found that private prisons went on “lockdown” much more frequently, confining inmates to their quarters “often in response to a disturbance or incident that threatens the secure and orderly running of the prison.” The number of private prison lockdowns: 101; in BOP-run prisons: 11.

The inspector general found that least two private prisons dealt with overcrowding by automatically assigning new inmates to “special housing units”—isolation units, including solitary confinement, usually used to discipline inmates. There, they were subject to special restrictions, including “controlled movements; limited access to programs such as education or vocational programs, as well as work details; and limited telephone calls.” (According to wardens at the facilities, they had no choice. Vacant beds in solitary created the appearance of extra space at their facilities, so the BOP assigned them more inmates—and the prisons were not allowed to refuse them.)

BOP monitors, who are charged with ensuring that the private prisons are following federal policy and fulfilling the terms of their contracts, did not verify whether inmates were receiving basic medical care, according to the report. One facility went without a full-time doctor for eight months, in violation of its contract—even though the monitor reported it as being in compliance. Monitors also are not instructed to verify that private companies are conducting regular searches of housing units and visiting areas, nor are they required to confirm that the prisons are employing enough staff.

Private facilities did have fewer positive drug tests and sexual-misconduct incidents than BOP prisons, though the inspector general noted that limited or faulty data existed in both of those categories. In its response to a preliminary copy of the report, GEO Group’s executive vice president wrote that the higher incident numbers in private prisons could be explained by more diligent incident reporting than in public prisons.

The companies also claimed that elevated violence in private prisons could be attributed to their “homogenous foreign national population”—largely Mexican—resulting in a “high number of gang affiliations,” according to GEO and CCA. “Any casual reader would come to the conclusion that contract prisons are not as safe as BOP prisons,” wrote Scott Marquardt, president of MTC. “The conclusion is wrong.”

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A Damning Federal Report Just Confirmed Our Worst Fears About Private Prisons

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Why This GOP Convention Is the Most Dangerous One Ever

Mother Jones

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“Lock her up! Lock her up!”

This is when the Republican National Convention turned dangerous. Hundreds of Republican delegates on the floor of the convention during the official proceedings were shouting that the opposing candidate, Hillary Clinton, should be thrown in jail. The GOPers weren’t merely urging her defeat in November. They were demanding she be treated as a criminal and sent to the hoosegow. This moment marked the culmination of a meme on the right: that Clinton is not a legitimate leader and that her election would not be legitimate. By embracing this theme and placing it center stage at Trumpalooza, Donald Trump and the GOP were undermining, if not threatening, democratic governance.

It’s not news that the Trump movement has been laced with violence and extremism—and it has hit a fever pitch at the convention this week. On Tuesday night, minutes after the “lock her up” chants, defeated GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson linked Clinton to Lucifer (because of a college paper she wrote on leftist organizer Saul Alinsky). And on Wednesday morning, the news broke that a prominent Trump supporter, Al Baldasaro, had declared on a radio show that Clinton deserved to “be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Baldasaro had repeatedly spoken at Trump rallies during the primary campaign, and when the New Hampshire GOP delegation cast its votes for Trump during the roll call vote on Tuesday evening, he stood next to Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, as Lewandowski enthusiastically read off the tally for Trump. And Trump once referred to Baldasaro as “my favorite vet.” So here we have a top Trump champion advocating murderous violence.

The call for Clinton’s execution is not as shocking as it should be. (Some Trump voters are down with this.) Hillary’s demonization has been the central organizing principle of the convention. (On Tuesday night, there were far more anti-Clinton speeches than pro-Trump presentations.) Delegates trot about Cleveland wearing “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts and badges. Vendors tell me these are the best-selling merch. On the floor, delegates wave “Hillary for Prison” signs, and no convention staffers stop them. Trumpers routinely state as a fact that Clinton has committed treason—they need not explain how: Benghazi, the emails, the Clinton Foundation, whatever—and ought to be punished for her crimes. The only reason she is not, they say, is that President Barack Obama and the corrupt federal government are protecting her. It’s all one big evil plot.

Within the ranks of Trump Nation, Clinton’s guilt has long been a given. In 2014, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, tweeted, “Hillary must be brought to justice—arrested, tried and executed for murder.” At a pro-Trump rally he helped organize in Cleveland on Monday, Stone, after saying he had just met with Trump staffers, declared that Clinton had mounted a cover-up in the death of Vince Foster, a White House aide who committed suicide during the Bill Clinton presidency. Stone stated as a fact that she had ordered Foster’s body secretly moved from the White House to a park outside Washington. (The official investigations of the time concluded that Foster had killed himself in this park.) “We demand the prosecution of Bill and Hillary Clinton for their crimes,” Stone shouted, to the cheers of the crowd. He declared the Clintons had committed “treason.”

At this event, Alex Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and 9/11 truther, decried Hillary Clinton as part of a secretive global conspiracy seeking world domination. He shouted his catch phrase: “The answer to 1984 is 1776.” This was essentially a message of violence—a warning that citizens might have to take up arms against the governing elite to prevent tyranny. In other words, if Clinton triumphs, be ready to lock and load. (This has long been a deeply held notion on the right: We must keep our guns in case one day it is necessary to fight the wicked federal government.)

Trump has encouraged all this. By regularly referring to Clinton as “Crooked Hillary,” he signals that she deserves indictment and that a Clinton victory in November will not be acceptable. He has denounced the “rigged system” over and over. Well, what happens when a “rigged system” yields an outcome in which a “crooked” politician who ought to be imprisoned ends up in the White House? How can Trump and his followers abide by that? How could any patriot stand by and allow such a travesty to occur?

Trump’s convention has given voice to the most extremist portions of the right. It has sharpened the partisan divide. It has cast Clinton as a figure who cannot be allowed to take the White House—even if somehow she collects more votes (or the “rigged system” says she collects more votes). Trump has established a term sheet for this election that establishes an alarming dichotomy: If he wins, the process worked; if she wins, the game is corrupt and the results cannot be trusted. This is a perilous moment. There is talk of killing a presidential nominee and a foundation is being set for delegitimizing an election. And the convention is only halfway over.

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Why This GOP Convention Is the Most Dangerous One Ever

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Shane Bauer Talks About His Four Months Working in a Private Prison

Mother Jones

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In December 2014, Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer started work as a corrections officer at a Louisiana prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s second largest private-prison company. Here, he talks about what he saw during his four months on the job and what it taught him about life inside a for-profit prison. Read his full story here.

Mother Jones: How did you get the idea for this project?

Shane Bauer: The first time I thought about it was while talking to another reporter about writing about prisons. We were talking about Ted Conover’s Newjack, about his experience working as a guard at Sing Sing. I thought, “I should try that at a private prison.” There isn’t a lot of reporting on private prisons because they are not subject to the same public records laws as publicly run prisons and it’s pretty hard for journalists to get inside them. They’re a corner of the American prison system that we don’t know a lot about.

Why Mother Jones sent a reporter to work as a private prison guard

MJ: You got a job as a guard at the Corrections Corporation of America’s Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana. How hard was it to get the position?

SB: Not hard. I filled out an application online. I filled it out honestly with my real information. There was a list of prisons around the country that they needed people for. I clicked a handful of them, and within a couple weeks I was doing phone interviews and getting job offers. One reason I picked Winn was because it was in Louisiana. Louisiana has more prisoners per capita than anywhere in the world. It seemed like killing two birds with one stone, getting inside a Louisiana prison and a CCA prison. Winn was also the oldest medium-security private prison in the country.

MJ: When you got to Winn, what was your training like?

SB: I went through four weeks of training. We did some physical training, very little, and watched some videos. We were tear-gassed. Generally, somebody would get in front of the class and read from a book on policies like the use of force. A lot of it was spent sitting in the classroom doing nothing because there often weren’t teachers. There were whole days where the cadets would just sit and talk to each other. Maybe we’d have an hour or two of training. I really began learning the job once I started work.

MJ: You were assigned to a unit called Ash. What was your job there?

SB: Ash was a unit of eight dorms. Each dorm had up to 44 men in beds lined up right next to each other in one giant room. The inmates would go out to eat, and sometimes they would go out to a small yard for recreation. But most of the prisoners were in there almost the whole day. So there was a lot tension. A lot of people were frustrated at being stuck in there all day. I was a floor guard. It was just me and one other guard managing these 350 prisoners.

MJ: Shortly after you got to Winn, one prisoner told you that “Inmates run this bitch.” What did he mean by that?

SB: I think he meant that the prison administration didn’t have control over the prison. He and other inmates talked about the way Winn was run like it was a joke. I would ask prisoners who’d been to public state prisons how it compared and they would commonly say there’s was no structure there compared to other places.

MJ: What kinds of things did guards do to get by and make the best of the situation?

SB: Guards would rely on inmates to fill in the gaps since there weren’t enough guards to do all the things that we needed to do. Sometimes inmates would stand outside of a unit and warn us if higher-ups were coming. There was one corrections counselor who had a couple of inmates that she would use as bodyguards because she worked in an office where there weren’t security cameras. Sometimes we had to give out call-out passes—passes for prisoners to go places like school or the gym—and a lot times we would just give them to a prisoner to hand out.

MJ: How did Winn handle medical care and mental health care for prisoners?

SB: Prisoners regularly complained about medical care at Winn. I met a prisoner who had no legs and no fingers. He had lost them within the past year to gangrene. His medical records showed that he had made at least nine requests to see a doctor in that time. He would go to the infirmary and get sent back; the staff was suggesting that he was faking it. He said he showed the warden his feet, which were turning black and dripping with pus. But CCA had to pay to take a prisoner to the hospital, which costs a lot of money, especially when you consider it made $34 a day for each prisoner.

There was one full-time social worker for 1,500 inmates at Winn, and a part-time psychiatrist and part-time psychologist. The social worker said they typically would get to see any given inmate once a month. Another option available for prisoners with serious problems was suicide watch. If a prisoner said he was suicidal, he would get put on suicide watch, which essentially is a solitary cell.

MJ: Toward the end of your time at Winn, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) stepped in and temporarily took over the prison. Why’d that happen and how did things change when the state came in?

SB: Right about when I started working there, a prisoner escaped. Then there were a lot of stabbings and the state started paying attention to what was happening at Winn. Then there was another rash of stabbings. Some buses showed up one day with guards and wardens from public prisons around Louisiana, and they took over. The message seemed to be, “We’re gonna need to show you how to run this prison.” Everything felt different when they were there. The prisoners reacted really differently to them. Normally there was a constant testing of boundaries with the guards, but when these DOC guards came in, they’d say something and everyone did it.

MJ: Why did you quit your job as a guard?

SB: I had recently been offered a promotion. Shortly after that, my colleague James West came down to shoot some video for the story. One night he was filming the prison and he was spotted by a guard. A checkpoint was set up and he was arrested. When he got out about 24 hours later, we packed up and took off right away, and a few days later I called in and resigned.

MJ: After you left, you obtained some documents from the DOC that mentioned the concerns they had asked CCA to address at Winn. Did those echo what you had seen there?

SB: Yeah. The DOC outlined many things that I saw and wrote about—about there not being enough staff, either security staff or medical staff. There were also some things that surprised me: The state said CCA had charged inmates for state-supplied toilet paper and toothpaste and even charged them to use toenail clippers.

MJ: What happened at Winn after you left?

SB: A few weeks after I left, CCA said it would be giving up its contract for Winn. Then it was taken over by another company called LaSalle Corrections. A lot of the same prisoners and staff are still there.

MJ: A big part of your story is how being a prison guard affected you. What did your experience teach you about what it’s like to be a corrections officer?

SB: Even though I went there as a journalist and my main intention was to report on the prison, I got swept up in the mentality of being a guard. I felt in danger a lot of the time, so I was constantly trying to figure out how to manage prisoners. At first I tried to be on good terms with them. Later, I tried to show them they couldn’t push me around. I quickly felt like I was hardening.

As far as what it taught me about being a guard, it’s hard to generalize because you have guards in places like California who are unionized and make a lot more money and have more power in their facilities. Winn was the other extreme, where guards were making nine bucks an hour and didn’t have anything but a radio to protect themselves or break up fights. From what I experienced, it was a pretty crazy job, especially if you’re living off of $9 an hour.

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Shane Bauer Talks About His Four Months Working in a Private Prison

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How I Got Arrested While Reporting on a Private Prison

Mother Jones

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Read Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer’s firsthand account of his four months spent working as a guard at a corporate-run prison in Louisiana.

One of the best parts of my job at Mother Jones is teaming up with colleagues to shoot and produce video for our investigations. In March 2015, I traveled to Louisiana to work with Shane Bauer, a reporter who was in his fourth month as a guard at Winn Correctional Center, a medium-security private prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

It was Friday the 13th, around 7:45 p.m. The night was warm and overcast when I set out to collect “B-roll” of the prison, a 20-minute drive from Winnfield, the nearest town. Between the prison and the Kisatchie National Forest was a wide, unfenced field. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was prison property. I walked into this open field with a telephoto lens, intending to get a shot of Winn from about 1,000 feet away.

Why We Sent a Reporter to Work in a Private Prison

Then I stepped deep in mud. I used my iPhone flashlight to check out the muck. About two minutes later I saw searchlights coming from the direction of the prison. I walked back to my rental car parked on the side of the road. A powerful light swept the trees, emanating from a prison patrol vehicle that pulled up about 150 feet behind me. I called out “Hello? Hello?” and waited for an answer. When no one addressed me, I got into my car and drove away.

I wound my SUV back through the dark forest—and straight into several police cars and prison vehicles blocking the road outside Winn. I stepped out of the car and was surrounded by three sheriff’s deputies and five or six men dressed in black from head to toe. I saw their faces as they passed in and out of the light from their headlights and flashers. Shane had told me about them: They were members of the prison’s Special Operations Response Team (SORT), the tactical squad called in to restore order when things got out of hand.

I handed over my Australian driver’s license. In my panic, I told the cops I’d stopped to go to the bathroom beside the road. I quickly realized things were getting serious, and I told them I was a photographer working in the area.

Police body camera footage that I later obtained captured part of my arrest (and gloriously, for a videographer, from two angles). “What kind of pictures you got there?” asked the main arresting officer, Winn Parish deputy Kelly Fannin, a paunchy man with a white mustache.

“They’re my pictures,” I replied. I knew they probably couldn’t look at the images on my cameras or memory cards without a search warrant. I don’t remember acting this defiant at the time, but there it is, on video. Still, I wore a worried grin on my face and I sounded scared.

“Now, wait a minute. Let me explain something: What you took here don’t belong to you,” Fannin said, stabbing the air with his finger. “When you come here in this country, when you get around a prison, you don’t fuck around, okay?”

With my camera gear now strewn on the road by the SORT officers, my profession seemed obvious. But the cops and guards were amped up like I was a big catch. I heard them talking repeatedly about the threat of ISIS and the possibility that I was an actual terrorist. “An Australian with a Texas license plate in Louisiana runs some red flags,” Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan later joked to CNNMoney.

Fannin demanded my camera’s memory card. His temper was rising: “Let’s have it.”

“No, sir, I’m not going to show you that,” I said.

“I will take everything you’ve got!” he said.

I reached down to grab my camera from the pile of gear, setting off a bout of tussling and yelling. “Whoa, come here!” Fannin grabbed my arm in a stiff grip.

“You can’t take my camera,” I protested. “I know that.” The cops said they would get a search warrant. But, Fannin warned, “If you don’t want to give it to me, I will take it. It’s just that simple.”

“Do you want me to charge you for going on that property?” he continued. “And put you in jail tonight and show you what a jail is?”

“I mean, no sir, I do not want that,” I replied.

Going through my gear, the officers pulled out an aerial drone I’d brought along—a discovery that ratcheted up the tension even more. Never mind that it was broken and I was planning to return it to Amazon.

Deputy Tommy Chandler told me to “go ahead and turn and put your hands behind your back.”

“I’m cooperating,” I said.

“No, you ain’t,” he shot back.

After a Miranda warning, I was put in the back seat of a patrol car next to a police dog in a cage. The door slammed.

The deputies’ body cameras continued to roll after I was taken into custody. “We’ll just book him for trespassing,” one said. “I know what it was: He was out here looking for kangaroos!”

“Apparently they’ve got different laws over there in New South Wales, Australia,” an officer can be heard saying. “Welcome to the Free State of Winn!”

The footage also shows one of the prison’s SORT members scrolling through the contents of my camera, without a warrant, while the deputies looked on. The Winn Parish sheriff later said he was “not aware” of anyone searching my belongings; his office declined to comment further for this article. CCA’s spokesman said that the company was “not aware of the camera footage or what it contains.” Yet months later, Winn’s former assistant chief of security emailed Shane what looked like a photo of a screen showing an image of him. The image’s geolocation data suggested it had been created on the premises of the sheriff’s office. There’s only one place the original image of Shane could have come from: my memory card, which contained a video of him that I’d made shortly before my arrest.

I arrived at the Winnfield jail sometime around 10pm. I was charged with simple criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. (In Louisiana you can be charged with trespassing even if you didn’t know that you were on private land.) The computer system couldn’t compute the address on my Australian drivers’ license, which gave one guy plenty of time to brag about how he once made it with an Aussie girl with hairy armpits.

The Corrections Corporation of America, by the numbers

“Are kangaroos good for hunting?” the old jailer asked me. “Perhaps we’ll all have to go there when Hillary Clinton becomes president.” After I was made to strip and show my asshole (just to make sure I wasn’t carrying any contraband), I was put in handcuffs and leg shackles and made to wait in a small office surrounded by three or four guards.

I mostly observed my right to remain silent. But I also wanted to be a good cultural ambassador, so I told them kangaroos are eaten for meat and sometimes are regarded as pests that need to be shot. They seemed to like that.

Maybe it was the stress, or the adrenaline, or the accents, but I understood only every fourth or fifth word the cops and prison orderlies were saying to me. The bewilderment was mutual. I do know that I was threatened with an FBI investigation, immigration detention, and deportation. I asked to speak to a lawyer, but that never happened. I was allowed to call my editor, who started working like hell to get me out.

A couple of hours later, around midnight, my mugshot was snapped and my fingerprints were taken. My arrest records indicate that CCA said that night that it wanted trespassing charges filed against me. The jailer finally led me to a small cell separated from rest of the prisoners. The sheriff had told me earlier that, “They’d whoop you bad.” A 23-year-old named Alex was put in there with me, but he was too out of it to really talk, apart from telling me everything was gonna be okay. My standard-issue orange jumpsuit swam on me. “I wish I could keep it and wear it out in Brooklyn,” I thought.

The next morning, I felt grateful to be protected by prison bars. “Hey girl, hey girl,” someone shouted from the next cell. “You ever slept with a man? Do you want to?” It wasn’t an invitation; it was a threat.

This went on sporadically for hours. “No one’s letting us rape that girl’s hole.” I was scared I might do something to really out myself—I’m gay. I was hoping that just as being an Aussie threw a curve ball at the cops’ ability to identify a real terrorist, it also might scramble their gaydar.

Sheriff Jordan, a big man with a comb-over who liked to make jokes, came by to tell me the judge had denied me bail. It was Saturday, which meant it would be two days before I could get a hearing. Worse, it meant two nights of threats and snoring and unpredictable meals and gawking. I asked if I could call my parents. “Tell them we didn’t shoot you at dawn,” Jordan said.

I tried to start reading the the third volume of Game of Thrones, taken from the jail bookshelf. I wrote a letter. A prisoner sang a top 40 tune, but in a slow, sad baritone—”So baby now, take me into your loving arms, kiss me under the light of a thousand stars…” The prisoners and guards all began to call me “Australia.”

I started to resign myself to several days in this shithole, even though Jordan told me Mother Jones‘ lawyer had been “hollering” down the phone line, a fact that made him displeased.

Then suddenly, at about 4:30 p.m., I was shackled again and taken to be interrogated by two state police officers, a local deputy, and—you’ve got to be kidding me—a Homeland Security agent. These new guys already knew everything about me, and seemed bored that I was just a journalist. “Write all the exposés about CCA you like,” one told me. After about 45 minutes, I shuffled from the room with promises that the judge would soon set bond.

About five hours later, I heard that I’d made bail—for $10,000. “How cool are drones! I really want one!” said an officer, a professed camera buff, as he took stock of my equipment and processed me out of the jail. “Send me a copy of the article when it’s done.”

The old jailer came down to say good-bye. “I’m so sorry you had to see that,” he said. “Some of these places I wouldn’t put my dog in.” I thought about my cellmate Alex and wondered about the people who would never see the outside of Louisiana’s criminal justice system. I felt good to be walking free, unscathed.

Everyone shook my hand as I left to meet the bail bondsman, who turned out to be the son of the local lawyer hired to kick-start my defense, the fabulously named Bobby Culpepper. (Culpepper died suddenly several months later at age 74. My case was eventually concluded by a criminal defense lawyer named Marty Stroud.) The bondsman drove me to a gas station at the edge of Winnfield where Shane and his wife Sarah were waiting for me, tired yet relieved. We embraced, then we got the hell out of there.

News of my arrest broke not long after we left town, first in the local paper (the Winn Parish Enterprise called me a “renowned international journalist,” which I will treasure forever), then in CNNMoney, the Washington Post, and Gawker. I didn’t comment publicly, but the police account of was over-dramatized: The sheriff claimed I’d run from my vehicle toward the prison’s fence, which never happened. “You don’t go to a prison at night. You don’t violate the law when you’re doing a story,” Sheriff Jordan told CNNMoney. CCA issued a statement about Shane and me. It said that trespassing “is a security threat that we take very seriously” and noted that a drone “could be used to transport contraband or provide detailed imagery in a way that could create a security risk.”

Seven months later, I entered a no contest plea on a criminal trespass charge and paid a $500 fine. The alternative was to face down a maximum sentence of 30 days in prison and a trial that could have potentially compromised our investigation. The court then dismissed the conviction under a state law that allowed me to have my criminal record expunged.

I recall one prisoner yelling out to me during my night in orange: “You’re gonna get Winnfield on the news.”

We did. I’m really proud of our work.


How I Got Arrested While Reporting on a Private Prison

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