James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Amnesty International Calls for End to Solitary Confinement of Angola 3

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 9:58 AM PDT

Amnesty International has issued a press release, action alert, and detailed report on the case of the Angola 3, which has been extensively documented in Mother Jones (here, here, and here). The press release, issued yesterday, concerns the two members of the Angola 3 who remain in prison and have now entered their 40th year in solitary confinement.

The US state of Louisiana must immediately remove two inmates from the solitary confinement they were placed in almost 40 years ago, Amnesty International said today.

Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, were placed in "Closed Cell Restriction (CCR)" in Louisiana State Penitentiary - known as Angola Prison - since they were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. Apart from very brief periods, they have been held in isolation ever since.

"The treatment to which Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been subjected for the past four decades is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US's obligations under international law," said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

The action alert urges readers to sign a petition to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The twelve-page report describes the apparent miscarriages of justice involved in Woodfox and Wallace's original murder conviction. It then asks, "Why are they still in isolation?" and goes on to explain:

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Federal Prison Director Defects to Private Prison Company

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 6:12 PM PDT

Less than a month after retiring from his post as Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Harley G. Lappin has been hired to a top positon at the nation's largest private, for-profit prison contractor, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In a move that has gone virtually unnoticed by the press except on the business pages, Lappin, who had run the BOP since 2003, has been named CCA's Executive VP and Chief Corrections Officer. According to a company press release, his responsibilities will include "the oversight of facility operations, health services, inmate rehabilitation programs, [and] purchasing."

Lappin announced his retirement in March, a few days before making public his arrest, the previous month, on DUI charges in Maryland. In a memo apologizing to BOP employees, Lappin admitted to a "lapse in my judgment...giving rise to potential embarrassment to the agency," but he refused to acknowledge a direct link between his arrest and his retirement. The announcement of his appointment to a leadership position at CCA came just over three weeks after his effective retirement date of May 7.

Taking advantage of two concurrent 30-year trends--toward mass incarceration and toward privatization of government services--CCA has grown to a $1.6 billion company that operates 66 facilities in 20 states, with approximately 90,000 beds. It has become notorious for its poor treatment of prisoners, and for numerous preventable injuries and deaths in its prisons and immigrant detention centers. About 40 percent of CCA's business comes from the federal government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the Bureau of Prisons. As BOP director, Lappin would have overseen government contracts with CCA worth tens of millions of dollars. CCA spends approximately $1 million annually on lobbying on the federal level alone.

A press release from the invaluable Private Corrections Working Group notes that Lappin's quick trip through the government-to-industry revolving door is hardly unique in the Bureau of Prisons' history: "Lappin joins another former BOP director already employed with CCA, J. Michael Quinlan, who was hired by the company in 1993. He retired as director of the BOP in 1992, several months after settling a lawsuit that accused him of sexually harassing a male BOP employee. While settling the suit, Quinlan denied allegations that he made sexual advances to the employee in a hotel room."

New Terrorist Threats: Greenpeace and a Dead Elephant

| Tue May. 17, 2011 1:30 PM PDT

The ongoing surveillance of environmental groups by state and federal governments under the rubric of rooting out terrorists (which I wrote about last week) can have its comical side. This was the case with one dispatch uncovered by the Public Intelligence [PDF] site.

Florida anti-terrorist watchdogs, operating in the interests of "domestic security," issued Intelligence Report 6, August 2010, labeled SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. It begins as follows:

This report is being created as an intelligence product for Region 5 of the Domestic Security Task Force. If you or your agency has any information or notice any trends that you would like included in this weekly report please contact the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange...

The report begins with a short account of two mosques expanding. There don't appear to be any imminent dangers here, but unpredictable situations can always occur.

Of more general interest, Florida intelligence professionals are keeping an eye out for terrorist disruptions following the death of a local zoo animal:

[A]n Asian elephant named Dondi died unexpectedly at the age of 36 at Southwick Zoo outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Although Dondi lived in Boston over the summers, she preformed [sic] at Flea World in Sanford, Florida in the winters. The group In Defense of Animals (IDA) has filed a complaint with the USDA to urge an investigation into the death.

An anti-terrorist analyst notes that this is of some interest because: "ARFF has held numerous demonstrations at the Sanford Flea Market to protest on behalf of Dondi, whom they wanted to be retired and moved to a sanctuary. Currently there are no known protests surrounding the death of Dondi."

The report then proceeds to the more serious matters at hand:

During the week of 9 August 2010, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise will be heading to Gulf of Mexico for a three month expedition to "document the true impacts of the BP Deepwater Disaster."

Greenpeace feels that "BP has devoted inadequate resources to the oil spill response, withheld information from the American public, and denied access to spill sites". The Arctic Sunrise will leave from Tampa, Florida and visit the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas prior to going to the oil spill site. During the expedition, they will be examining the effects of the spill as well as looking for oiled marine life.

Analyst Notes: Although there are no known threats associated with this expedition at the time this report was created, aggressive tactics utilized by the Arctic Sunrise in the past may increase the likelihood of unforeseen incidents occurring. Since the beginning of the Gulf spill, Greenpeace have taken numerous actions against BP, including shutting down 40 BP stations throughout London, England in late July 2010. Members of the organization dropped off letters to each station and on their way out pulled a safety switch which cut off power to the station. They also covered BP signs with posters reading "Closed: Moving Beyond Petroleum."

The report ends with the following warnings and provisos:

If you have or receive any information regarding a possible threat or have questions or comments please contact the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange (CFIX).

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED

PUBLIC AND MEDIA RELEASE IS NOT AUTHORIZED

DISSEMINATION TO AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

NOTE: The accuracy of this information is based solely on the sources from which it was derived.

Green Is the New Red: The Crackdown on Environmental Activists

| Wed May. 11, 2011 8:31 AM PDT

One morning back in 2002, Will Potter, a young newspaper reporter on the metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, heard three heavy knocks on his apartment door. When he opened it, two FBI agents flashed their badges. They told Potter he could either come outside and talk with them, or they would visit him at work.

Downstairs in the alley, the agents brought up a demonstration that Potter and his girlfriend, Kamber Sherrod, had participated in a month earlier. They had joined in an animal rights leafleting campaign in the high-class suburb of Lake Forest, dropping flyers on the doorsteps of houses around the home of an executive in an insurance company that covered an animal testing laboratory. Both were arrested, along with numerous others, and charged by the local police with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The charges weren't serious, but the agents warned Potter of other possible consequences if he didn't cooperate with them.

"He told me I could help them by providing more information about the other defendants and other animal rights groups," Potter told me in an interview in Washington. "I had two days to decide." Potter has described in writing what happened next: "He gave me a scrap of paper with his phone number, written on it underneath his name, Chris. 'If we don't hear from you by the first trial date,' he said, 'I'll put you on the domestic terrorist list.'"

Potter was stunned. "I felt as if I was staring blankly ahead," he said, "but my eyes must have shown fear. 'Now I have your attention, huh?,'" Chris said. The agent went on to tell him, "'after 9/11, we have a lot more authority now to get things done and get down to business. We can make your life very difficult for you. You work at newspapers? I can make it so you never work at a newspaper again.'"

No Budget Cuts for Federal Prisons

| Wed Apr. 13, 2011 1:53 PM PDT

In the midst of an epic budget battle, the White House and Republicans in Congress appear to agree on one point: Federal prisons need more money.

With more people and a higher percentage of the population locked up than any other country, the United States would seem more than ripe for cuts in both its incarceration rate and its prison spending. A number of states have initiated such measures, and a growing chorus of critics on the right and left are decrying the devastating costs--fiscal and otherwise--of mass incarceration. Yet the Obama Administration’s combined budget requests for FY 2011 and FY 2012 call for a full 10 percent increase over 2010 levels in funding to the federal Bureau of Prisons, to more than $6.8 billion. The increase, says the BOP, is necessary to accommodate a still-growing federal inmate population. And the latest budget deal reached with Republican leadership indicates that this particular category of discretionary spending will emerge from the budget battles comparably unscathed.

There is ample precedent for an expansion of federal prisons under a Democratic administration. According to analyses by the Sentencing Project and the Pew Center on the States, the growth rate in the BOP’s population has far outstripped that of the states (which itself has increased by than 700 percent in the past 40 years). Federal growth was most dramatic during the Clinton years, when a host of new offenses were federalized: Since 1995 alone, the number of federal inmates has more than doubled, to over 211,000. More than half of these prisoners are serving time on drug charges, and another 10 percent are held on immigration violations. In all, more than 72 percent are nonviolent offenders with no history of violence, and 34 percent are first-time nonviolent offenders.

What’s more, the federal government is now bucking a state trend toward decreasing inmate levels and closing prisons. The Pew Center found that in 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, the overall state prison population fell for the first time in 38 years. States as tough on crime as Texas, Georgia, and Florida are now pushing reforms that range from lighter sentences to early release programs—all under the leadership of Republican governors. In contrast, the BOP population continues to rise, with an increase of 11,000 projected this year, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.

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