The prison problem also extends to jails, which hold defendants awaiting trial and prisoners sentenced for minor offenses. A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit focused on justice policy, reports that America's local jails, which hold roughly 731,000 people on any given day, are holding more people even though the crime rate is going down. Jails disproportionately detain people of color longer and for lesser crimes. The report also finds that jails are less likely to give inmates the rehabilitation and mental-health support that could keep them out of prison.
"I observe injustice routinely. Nonetheless even I—as this report came together—was jolted by the extent to which unconvicted people in this country are held in jail simply because they are too poor to pay what it costs to get out," writes Vera president and director Nicholas Turner. He described poor detention practices in which the mentally ill, homeless, and substance abusers are routinely jailed for bad behavior and described the practice as "destructive to individuals, their families, and entire communities."
The 46-page report paints a devastating portrait of American jails. Here are a few quick takeaways:
1. The number of people going to jail is going up while crime rates are falling: In 1983, roughly 6 million people were admitted to a local jail. That number grew to roughly 11.7 million in 2013. Meanwhile, crime rates have been dropping. See Vera's chart:
Jail admissions rates include people who've gone to jail more than once—recidivism is a separate, but related issue—but even factoring that in, more people are going to jail. The report speculates that this is tied to arrests for drug crimes: In 1983, drug defendants and inmates made up less than 10 percent of local jail populations but by 2002 they accounted for 25 percent.
2. Jail time is getting longer: Once people land in jail, their average stay has increased nearly 65 percent, from 14 days to 23. This statistic doesn't distinguish between pretrial detention and those serving actual jail terms, but, as the report notes, "the proportion of jail inmates that are being held pretrial has grown substantially in the last thirty years—from about 40 to 62 percent—it is highly likely that the increase in the average length of stay is largely driven by longer stays in jails by people who are unconvicted of any crime."
3. People who go to jail often work less and earn less after getting out: Spending any time in jail can, and usually does, significantly alter someone's ability to lead a normal life upon release. Plus, many jail inmates have to pay fees for laundry service, room and board, and even booking fees. Even if they're later found innocent, they still must pay those bills, leaving many former defendants indebted to the system.
Consider Kevin Thompson, a Georgia man who had been jailed once and was jailed again for not paying $838 in traffic fines, court fees, and probation fees to a private probation company.
4. Lack of money is the main reason defendants sit in jail: The report comes to a depressing, if not surprising, conclusion: "Money, or the lack thereof, is now the most important factor in determining whether someone is held in jail pretrail. Almost everyone is offered monetary bail, but the majority of defendants cannot raise the money quickly or, in some cases, at all." This leads to situations where people are stuck in jail for minor offenses. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report found that in about 19,000 criminal cases in New York City, many people couldn't afford bail set at $1,000 or less. In some cases, the accused pled guilty early to get out of jail, even if they were innocent.
5. Society's race problems are amplified by the local jail dynamic: The Vera report notes that about 38 percent of felony defendants will spend their entire pretrial periods in jail, but only one in 10 were denied bail in the first place. The rest, many of whom are African American men, simply can't afford to post bail: "Black men appear to be caught in a cycle of disadvantage: incarcerated at higher rates and, therefore, more likely to be unemployed and/or in debt, they have more trouble posting bail."
Advocates for less government snooping suffered a blow Tuesday when a federal judge in California ruled that a group of citizens can not sue the National Security Agency to stop the "upstream" collection of their data.
US District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the plaintiffs in the case, Jewel v. NSA, failed to prove that they have the right to sue because they could not prove that their individual information had been collected and prepared for analysis. Further, White wrote, "even if Plaintiffs could establish standing, a potential Fourth Amendment Claim would have to be dismissed on the basis that any possible defenses would require impermissible disclosure of state secret information."
Essentially, because the plaintiffs can't say specifically how their data was collected by the government, this aspect of their case won't go forward. The reason they can't offer specifics is because, even after the Snowden leaks, the exact workings of the NSA surveillance program remain undisclosed. And even if the plaintiffs could show those specifics, the NSA could swat down their suit by claiming that the case would compromise state secrets.
EFF will keep fighting the unlawful, unconstitutional surveillance of ordinary Americans by the U.S. government. Today's ruling in Jewel v. NSA was not a declaration that NSA spying is legal. The judge decided instead that "state secrets" prevented him from ruling whether the program is constitutional.
It would be a travesty of justice if our clients are denied their day in court over the “secrecy” of a program that has been front-page news for nearly a decade. Judge White’s ruling does not end our case. The judge's ruling only concerned Upstream Internet surveillance, not the telephone records collection nor other mass surveillance that are also at issue in Jewel.
We will continue to fight to end NSA mass surveillance.
Measles is making a comeback: The extremely contagious and potentially deadly disease was eliminated in the United States in 2000, thanks to a highly effective vaccine and laws requiring kids to be vaccinated before starting school. But in recent years, it has become easier for parents to opt out—and vaccination rates are slipping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a major spike in cases in 2014, and 2015 might be even worse—in just over a month, there have been 102 cases (and counting) reported across 14 states, mostly connected to December's Disneyland outbreak.
As we reported yesterday, Anne Schuchat, an assistant surgeon general and the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, stressed that measles could get "a foothold in the United States and [become] endemic again" if people don't get vaccinated.
Overall, national vaccination rates seem high: The median rate of coverage for the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, administered to most before entry into kindergarten, was 94.7 percent for the 2013-14 school year. But, as Schuchat points out, the rate is lower in communities where unvaccinated families tend to cluster. In some areas, low rates might have more to do with access to clinics than with beliefs about vaccinations.
"The national estimates hide what's going on state to state. The state estimates hide what's going on community to community. And within communities there may be pockets," Schuchat said. "It's one thing if you have a year where a number of people are not vaccinating, but year after year in terms of the kids that are exempting, you do start to accumulate."
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declaredthat measles had been eliminated in the United States. Now it's making a comeback, in large part due to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
This year's outbreak—more than 100 cases reported across 14 states—follows a dramatic rise in measles cases in 2014: 644 cases across 27 states. In light of the the potentially deadly disease's return, public health officials are expressing concern about rising vaccine exemption rates. Citing the risks of not vaccinating, Anne Schuchat, an assistant surgeon general and the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, stressed that measles could get "a foothold in the United States and [become] endemic again."
Every state requires children to get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine before they enter kindergarten. (The vaccine is usually administered in two doses after a child's first birthday.) All states offer medical exemptions for kids with allergies, cancer, or compromised immune systems. Most offer religious exemptions as well. And now a growing number of states—20 as of this year—permit personal belief exemptions (PBEs) that allow parents to not to vaccinate for reasons of philosophy or conscience.
Nonmedical vaccine exemptions—the rules that allow parents to opt their kids out of required vaccines based on beliefs—are on the rise. Over the past four school years, there's been a 37 percent increase in exemptions filed. Between the the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, the rate of exemptions for incoming kindergartners jumped 30 percent. The CDC reports that 85 percent of people who go unvaccinated do so for personal or religious beliefs.
According to a 2012 study led by Saad Omer, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University, allowing PBEs leads to fewer kids getting vaccinated. Opt-out rates in states with PBEs are more than double those in states with religious exemptions alone. These vaccination gaps result in higher rates of diseases like measles and whooping cough, especially in states where PBEs are easily obtained.
"We do know that states that have philosophical exemptions tend to have not only high rates of exemption but also high rates of disease," Omer says. But some states grant exemptions more readily than others. In states such as Colorado, a parent's signature is all that is required. But in states like Arkansas, parents must first establish why they are seeking an exemption or receive counseling from a health care provider. "We have found that the more difficult the requirements are, the lower the rate of exemption and the lower the rate of disease," Omer says.
Looking at data from 1991 to 2005, Omer's team found that states with easy exemption procedures had whooping cough rates up to 90 percent higher than states that made it more difficult to get exemptions.
"States that have philosophical exemptions tend to have not only high rates of exemption but also high rates of disease."
Last year, nationwide vaccination coveragewas at about 95 percent, and the median national rate of childrenwith PBEs was 1.7 percent. Thatmight not seem so bad. Yet because unvaccinated kids are often clustered together, one transmission of a highly contagious disease like measles can put many people at risk and set off a series of outbreaks like those happening now.
These "clusters of vaccine refusal" put two groups at risk, Omer explains. First are people who are not vaccinated, which may include infants and children with compromised immune systems. The other is people who have gotten their shots but did not get immunity—something that affects about 1 in 10 vaccine recipients, even with the most effective vaccines."Even when it is a good vaccine and someone has done the right thing and gotten their kid vaccinated, there is still a chance that they will be unprotected," Omer says. "So, their risk not only depends on their own vaccination status—but also what is happening around them."
As Schuchat noted earlier this week, "The national estimates hide what's going on state to state. The state estimates hide what's going on community to community. And within communities there may be pockets. It's one thing if you have a year where a number of people are not vaccinating, but year after year in terms of the kids that are exempting, you do start to accumulate."
Drone Porn®: This one was bound to happen. A registered trademark covering video and "electronic, electric, and digital transmission of voice, data, and images, all in the field of adult entertainment." (See also: "Drone Boning"—definitely NSFW.)
Loan By Drone®: Predatory lending meets Predators with "payday advances, payday loans, short term loans, installment loans, title loans, title pawns, check cashing and stored value card services delivered via drone." The business doesn't appear to have started yet, but there are already places that will loan you drones or the money to buy them.
Drones Gone Wild®: "Entertainment services in the nature of an ongoing reality based television program." Thankfully, there doesn't appear to be any reality TV project with this name yet, but there are some interesting YouTubevideos.
DroneRepellent®: This idea for "computer software and hardware for use in diverting unmanned aerial vehicles from airplanes" seems like a pretty solid idea, especially considering some of these recent close calls. The trademark holder, Infatics Inc., also has a service helping people track and control their small drones.
Game of Drones®: Though it also encompasses educational services "in the field of unmanned aerial vehicle use," this trademark is currently being used to selll quadcopters designed to "resist fire, water and extreme impacts."