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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Another Dubious Execution Under Rick Perry?

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EST
2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry

Update: On Monday afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Skinner's execution to review how changes in the state law on DNA testing requests affect cases like his.

"Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it."

This was the statement of none other than George W. Bush, Texas governor. He said it in June 2000, about granting a last-minute reprieve to death row inmate Ricky McGinn, who was seeking DNA testing of forensic evidence he claimed might exonerate him. (It didn't, as it turned out, and McGinn was executed several months later.) Bush was running for president when he made his decision to delay the execution to allow for DNA testing.

Today, Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry faces an almost identical decision with the case of Hank Skinner—the main difference being a greater likelihood that Skinner might actually be innocent of the crime for which he has been sentenced to death. Skinner, who is scheduled for execution on November 9, was convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons. He insists he was passed out from intoxication at the time, and that the real perpetrator was probably Busby's uncle (who has since died). At the time of his trial, Skinner's lawyers chose not to have certain items tested, they said, because his DNA would likely be everywhere in the home he shared with the victim. But since 2000, Skinner has been arguing that there's a chance DNA evidence could exonerate him.

Abu Ghraib on the Allegheny?

| Wed Sep. 28, 2011 5:42 PM EDT

A story out of Pennsylvania reveals the extreme abuse to which some U.S. prisoners are subjected. Yesterday, a suspended prison guard from the State Correctional Institution (SCI)-Pittsburgh was arrested on charges that he sexually or physically assaulted more than 20 inmates–and the district attorney has signaled that there are more arrests to come. As the AP reports:

The 92 criminal charges filed Tuesday include several counts each of institutional sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and official oppression — which amounts to covering up the crimes or allegedly threatening others to do so. The criminal charges mirror allegations contained against [corrections officer Harry] Nicoletti and officials at the state prison in Pittsburgh in two civil rights lawsuits filed by inmates in recent months…

The lawsuits, one filed in 2010 and another on behalf of an anonymous inmate last week, allege the systematic abuse of inmates — especially those convicted of child sex-crimes, or believed to be homosexual —by Nicoletti and other inmates at his direction. The lawsuits say the abuse occurred over the past two years in the prison’s F Block, a reception area where new prisoners are housed for a few days for medical testing and to receive other supplies before they’re moved to permanent cells.

Among other things, Nicoletti is charged with raping inmates, threatening them with other sexual acts, and with having inmates contaminate the food and bedding of his alleged targets with urine and other bodily fluids.

According to the criminal complaint, one of Nicoletti’s victims was a transsexual male who developed female breasts due to hormone treatments. Nicoletti fondled that inmate before raping him, while shouting racial and sexual epithets, including calling him a “weird freaky monkey,” the complaint said.

9/11 Didn't Upturn the Constitution, the War on Crime Did

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Long before the war on terror, there was the war on crime. And as much as 9/11 was a watershed event, our response to the attacks, and the resulting erosion of civil liberties, finds longstanding precedent in America's criminal justice system.

In an article titled "Exporting Harshness: How the War on Crime Helped Make the War on Terror Possible," Georgetown University law professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. argued against the widely accepted notion that "the war on terror represents a sharp break from the past, with American values and ideals 'betrayed,' American law 'remade.'" Forman continued, "I suspect it is both too simple and ultimately too comforting to assert that the Bush administration alone remade our justice system and betrayed our values." Instead, he wrote, "our approach to the war on terror is an extension—sometimes a grotesque one—of what we do in the name of the war on crime.…

As the world's largest jailer, we are increasingly desensitized to the harsh treatment of criminals. We have come to accept such excesses as casualties of war—whether on crime, drugs, or terror. Indeed, more than that, we no longer see what we do as special, different, or harsh. Certain practices have become what David Garland calls "the taken-for-granted features of contemporary crime policy." In part for this reason, despite the mounting evidence regarding secret memos, inhumane prison conditions, coercive interrogations, and interference with defense lawyers, the Bush administration's approach to the war on terror went largely unchecked and unchanged. (H/T Prison Law Blog)

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