MoJo Author Feeds: Shane Bauer | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en When I Was a Prisoner in Iran, I Came to Fear the Sound of Hillary Clinton's Voice <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I rarely think about <a href="">being a prisoner in Iran</a> anymore. I've been free for more than four years. It's been a long time since the sounds of hard soles on a cement floor would remind me of my interrogator or I would suddenly need to bolt from a restaurant because I couldn't take the throngs of people after so much time in a prison cell.</p> <div class="sidebar-small-right"><strong>Kidnapped by Iran:</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">Read Shane Bauer's account</a> of how he was captured and held by Iran for more than two years.</div> <p>Last Saturday, I was dripping coffee on myself during an early morning drive when I heard that <a href="" target="_blank">four Americans were being released</a> from Iran as part of a prisoner swap. Suddenly, my eyes welled up. I could feel the knot of excitement and confusion that had turned in my gut when my plane from Tehran hit the tarmac in Muscat, Oman, in September 2011. I pictured the way my and my friend Josh's families looked small in the distance, their little hands waving, as we taxied toward them. I remembered the force that pulled me&mdash;running!&mdash;down the stairs of the airplane and how, at the bottom, I laughed and cried at the same time. Everyone else did too.</p> <p>I was elated for these men and their families.</p> <p>Later, the joy was tempered by an old, familiar frustration. While scouring the internet for updates on the four Americans, I read that shortly after their release, Hillary Clinton <a href="" target="_blank">called for new sanctions</a> on Iran for testing two ballistic missiles last year. I was shocked. The prisoners had not yet been let out of the country. Why would she provoke Iran when their freedom was still on the line?</p> <p>I remembered sitting in my cell in 2009&mdash;I think I was trying to memorize a family tree from Greek mythology or something equally random&mdash;when I heard then-Secretary of State Clinton's voice from a television in a neighboring cell. I ran to the door and pressed my ear into its little window. She was commanding Iran to release us immediately. My heart sank. I imagined my interrogator bringing me into his padded room, blindfolded, and ranting about how Iran would not be bossed around by America, "The Great Satan." I came to fear the sound of Clinton's voice. Whenever I heard her publicly slam Iran about something, I would mentally prepare for at least another couple of months in prison.</p> <p>Though I didn't know it at the time, I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Many of our family members grew frustrated with their meetings with her and White House officials. My wife, Sarah, who was released a year before Josh and I were, shared this frustration. Once, during a meeting with us in the prison, Swiss Ambassador Livia Leu, who represented American interests in Iran, broke from her usual reassuring demeanor and said, "They will never respond to your government demanding they release you. They need to <em>talk</em> to the Iranians."</p> <p>Then there was Salem Al Ismaily. He was the envoy from Oman, the country most responsible for our eventual release. "No one wanted dialogue to happen," he said to me recently. "Not Iranians. Not the US." Our freedom was part of a larger calculus for Oman. Sitting at the mouth of the Persian Gulf just a couple hundred miles from Iran, Oman's government believed that if tensions between Iran and the United States escalated to the point of military conflict, it would damage its economy&mdash;or worse. Salem believed that if he could get the two countries to negotiate over our case, it would provide an opening for talks on Iran's nuclear program. To call what ended up happening in our case "negotiation" would be a stretch: It mostly took the form of Salem flying between Washington, DC, and Tehran to convince each side to do something, or sending messages to the White House through Sarah after her release.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/shane-josh-sarah630.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Shane Bauer, left, Josh Fattal, and Sarah Shourd after meeting with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October 2011 </strong>AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt</div> </div> <p>This was not gratifying work. On one occasion, Sarah passed on a message from the Iranian government to Special Assistant to the President Dennis Ross, saying that if President Barack Obama would write a letter to then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad describing a general wish to improve relations between the two countries&mdash;without naming specific measures&mdash;then Iran would release us. Ross called it a "non-starter." The two sides didn't speak directly to each other, but it was through this channel that the groundwork for nuclear talks were ultimately laid.</p> <p>During Salem's efforts to free us, he was repeatedly frustrated by Clinton. "Why can't your Hillary just keep quiet?" he blurted to me once, in a break of his characteristic poise, on a visit to Evin Prison. It was a paternalistic sounding outburst, but the stakes were high. He believed he was going to be bringing us home with him on that occasion. He said he was so close to convincing the Iranians, but they backed out at the last minute after another blustery statement by Clinton.</p> <p>So far as we know, the extent of Clinton's role in our ordeal was limited to making public demands and speaking to our families. In fact, there isn't evidence of much action from the US government on our case. Two years ago, I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the State Department, CIA, and FBI for records on our case. I received some records only after suing. <a href="">The lawsuit</a> is ongoing, but the records I have received over the last year indicate State Department officials did little beyond meeting with our families and receiving news reports from staffers.</p> <p>Thankfully, the United States' relationship with Iran has improved since then. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly speaks regularly with his Iranian counterpart. A monumental agreement over the nuclear issue is in place and the international sanctions on Iran's oil and finances have been lifted. The tension is easing, and the release of these four Americans is further proof of that.</p> <p>For years, Iran has operated a revolving door of American captives; one gets released and then another is picked up. Amir Hekmati was arrested just days before Josh and I were released. The charges against these captives are inevitably bogus and the reasons for their detention are always political. My interrogator was frank about that: After two months of blindfolded interrogations, he told me he knew I was innocent, but that our release was dependent on political negotiations<em>. </em>The correct term for people in that situation is "hostages."</p> <p>It's too soon to say whether the era of Iranian hostage taking is over. The unjust imprisonment of innocent people will always be Iran's responsibility, and it's up to its government to end it. But we don't need to make things worse. Right after these four Americans flew out of Iran, the Obama administration announced it would be <a href="" target="_blank">applying new sanctions</a> on Iran&mdash;the same sanctions Clinton had called for. It had been planning to do this, it turns out, for some time, something the former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic nominee was likely aware of. To be sure, these sanctions, which target just a few individuals and small companies that send crucial technologies to Iran, are nothing like the ones that were just lifted. The old ones cost Iran $30 million a day, draining its economy and weighing on the lives of regular Iranians, many of whom oppose their government. But these sanctions send the wrong signal. There may have been a time when they would have made sense as a way of putting pressure on Tehran. But if our goal is to move forward with Iran, the day after such a breakthrough is the wrong time.</p></body></html> Politics Hillary Clinton International Wed, 20 Jan 2016 19:07:09 +0000 Shane Bauer 294371 at First These Cops Shot 140 Bullets at a Black Couple. Then They Complained About Reverse Racism. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today, a federal judge threw out a yearlong case centering on a peculiar claim: When non-black cops shoot and kill black people in Cleveland, they face stiffer repercussions than black cops who kill black people. Nine police officers&mdash;eight white, one Latino&mdash;claimed that they were subjected to "reverse discrimination" and "mental anguish" after a controversial 2012 incident in which they killed two unarmed African Americans in a fusillade of nearly 140 bullets. The suit, filed just days after a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, alleged that the officers were singled out due to their race and were unfairly punished while the state investigated the shooting. Their claim of victimization, ruled Judge James Gwin in response to the city's request for summary judgment, was "illogic."</p> <p>The events behind the case occurred on the night of November 29, 2012. According to the Ohio Bureau of Investigation's report on the incident, a plainclothes officer named John Jordan saw a black man and a black woman sitting in a parked car in East Cleveland. He suspected they were "involved in illegal drug activity," so he called in the vehicle's license plate. The dispatcher told him it was "clean," but Jordan decided to search the vehicle anyway, he later admitted to investigators. When the car's driver, 43-year-old Timothy Russell, drove away, Jordan followed and pulled him over for failing to use a turn signal. When the officer got out of his unmarked car, Russell took off.</p> <p>Another officer saw Russell's car speeding by. As it passed, he heard a loud bang, which he later said sounded like a gunshot. He sped after the car and other police cars soon joined in pursuit. The chase lasted 25 minutes and at one point involved at least 62 police cars. All the while, the suspects' car backfired intermittently. Some officers noticed this but did not radio this information to others.</p> <p>The police finally cornered the car in a middle school parking lot. After shouting for Russell to stop the vehicle, an officer fired at both Russell and his passenger, 30-year-old Malissa Williams. In the space of 18 seconds, 13 cops fired nearly 140 rounds at the car. One officer, Michael Brelo, emptied the magazine of his Glock 17, reloaded, jumped onto the hood after everyone else stopped shooting, and shot through the windshield at least 15 times, firing a total of 49 rounds. Russell and Williams were each shot more than 20 times. Both were unarmed.</p> <p>Public reaction to the shooting, which occurred more than a year and a half before a white police officer killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was muted. Russell and Williams' deaths did not spark any mass protests, just a smattering of critical newspaper columns and a press conference from church leaders calling for justice.</p> <p>Following the shooting, the 13 officers who had shot Russell and Williams were given three days of paid leave to "recuperate and adjust emotionally." As required by the police department's policy on officers who have used deadly force, they were then put on restricted duty and stationed in the police gymnasium for a 45-day "cooling off period." They remained there for another year while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation looked into the shooting, a process that included gathering forensic evidence, interviewing more than 130 officers, reviewing <a href="mailto:">dash-cam</a> and surveillance videos, retrieving the officers' text messages and phone records, and creating an animated reenactment of the shooting.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/russell-protest630.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Protesters in Cleveland carry a sign with photos of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams following the acquittal of Michael Brelo in May. </strong>AP Photo/John Minchillo</div> </div> <p>None of the 13 officers, including the nine plaintiffs, were fired or suspended. The <a href="" target="_blank">Ohio Bureau of Investigation found</a> that the shootings were the result of a "systemic failure in the Cleveland police department," but it absolved the individual officers of wrongdoing. Brelo, who is not a plaintiff in the discrimination case, eventually faced voluntary-manslaughter charges and was <a href="" target="_blank">acquitted in May</a>, sparking protests. (The Cleveland police department did not respond to a question about whether he is still on the force.) His case prompted a <a href="mailto:">Department of Justice investigation</a> that found that the Cleveland police force "engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment." In November 2014, the city reached a <a href="" target="_blank">$3 million settlement</a> with Russell's and Williams' families.</p> <p>Despite having their records cleared, the officers sued the city, claiming that "boring" and "menial" work in the gym caused them not only financial harm (since they could not work overtime) but "permanent" emotional damage, including anxiety and a loss of self-esteem. Nonetheless, the officers said their complaint was not about the gym, but about how they had to work there longer than their black colleagues who had killed black suspects.</p> <p>At first look, this claim appears to be accurate. Data submitted to the court by the Cleveland police department showed that in the five years leading up to the incident, white officers who killed black people spent an average of 262 days on restricted duty, while black officers who killed black people spent an average of 79 days. However, Judge Gwin pointed out that this number was misleading since it was skewed by the Russell-Williams incident, which involved "far more officers than were involved in any other shooting death."</p> <p>The data, which had not previously been publicly available, also shows a striking racial imbalance in the use of deadly force by Cleveland cops. While 53 percent of Cleveland's population was black when Russell and Williams were killed, just 26 percent of its police officers were. Between 2007 and 2013, the city's police killed at least 21 people, of whom 16, or three quarters, were black. Of the 32 cops who fatally shot black people (this includes the shooting of Russell and Williams and other cases in which multiple cops killed one person), 24 were white and 7 were black. And in the at least 18 instances in which police fatally shot unarmed black people, at least 15 involved white cops. (Black police, on the other hand, did not kill any white people, armed or unarmed.)</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>The cops' discrimination claim was not unprecedented, but the judge's dismissal of it was. In 2010, an all-white jury awarded Cleveland patrolman <a href="" target="_blank">Edward Lentz</a> nearly $300,000 for emotional distress in a federal discrimination case. Lentz had been assigned to the police gym while the city investigated an incident in 2000 where he jumped on top of a car and fired 14 bullets through the roof, killing the driver, an unarmed 12-year-old black boy. Lentz claimed that he was made into a scapegoat to appease the "considerable ongoing outcry in black communities regarding shootings by white police officers."</p> <p>Two previous cases had also made similar claims. In September 2005, two white Cleveland officers entered the house of 15-year-old Brandon McCloud at 5 a.m. to search for evidence related to a string of robberies. They found McCloud in a closet brandishing a steak knife and shot him 10 times. That same year, a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, Laray Renshaw, claiming he had reached for the officer's gun. None of the three cops in these two cases were charged (though the officer later paid a $50,000 settlement to Renshaw's family). But they all claimed they were victims of reverse discrimination by being placed on restricted duty in the gym. The city of Cleveland settled with them for a <a href="" target="_blank">total of $450,000</a>.</p> <p>The officers in the current case partly blamed their plight on the media, which, they stated in their complaint, immediately "began to sensationalize the events" by pointing out their race and the race of their victims. The media also allegedly wronged the officers by quoting community members who called the shootings "murder" and "executions" and demanded that the officers be punished. In their depositions and affidavits, the officers frequently suggested that investigations into shootings by white cops were driven by an outside agenda. Take the deposition of James Simone, a retired officer who was called in by the plaintiffs and who throughout his career shot 11 people, killing 5, the last of whom was an unarmed bank robber:</p> <blockquote> <p>Q: Could you talk about your observations of the political influence that has occurred when a white officer shoots a black suspect?</p> <p>A: Well, it's obvious that the investigations from the very beginning are focused on satisfying the media and the people that are involved.</p> <p>Q: You're talking about the minority community?</p> <p>A: Right.</p> <p>Q: All right.</p> <p>A: I don't know what the sensitive term for that is and I don't mean to insult you, but, you know what, everything we do is based on color in this city and I don't know why. I just don't understand why. To me it's beyond me.</p> </blockquote> <p>In a strange way, the judge just proved him wrong, writing that "a plaintiff must do more than merely point to race and proclaim: 'Aha! Discrimination.'" By throwing out the officers' case, he just made it harder for white police to shoot unarmed black people and claim they are the real victims.</p></body></html> Politics Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Race and Ethnicity Tue, 08 Dec 2015 21:29:23 +0000 Shane Bauer 291481 at America’s "Most Exciting" Playwright Takes On the School-to-Prison Pipeline <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/ADSmith_630.jpg"><div class="caption">Illustration: Miles Donovan, Source Photo: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Rep</div> </div> <div class="sidebar-small-right"><a href="" target="_blank">What if everything you knew about school discipline was wrong?</a></div> <p>You know her on-screen as Gloria Akalitus in <em>Nurse Jackie</em>, or as Nancy McNally in <em>The West Wing</em>, but these days, Anna Deavere Smith is onstage, solo. As part of an ongoing project she calls On the Road: A Search for American Character, Smith has written and performed at least 18 one-woman plays exploring social issues around the country. Topics have included women tangling with the judicial system, the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and the uproar in Crown Heights following a 1991 car accident involving a Hasidic driver and two seven-year-old Caribbean American kids. Smith <a href="" target="_blank">has been called</a> "the most exciting individual in American theater right now." A MacArthur "genius" fellow and a National Humanities Medal holder, she was recently selected to deliver the Jefferson Lecture, the federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>For her latest play, <em>Notes From the Field</em>, Smith interviewed some 170 people&mdash;from California <a href="" target="_blank">to her hometown, Baltimore</a>&mdash;to inhabit characters based on individuals caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline. She's taken the performance from coast to coast and <a href="" target="_blank">will grace Baltimore's Center Stage</a> on December 4 and 5. In the play's second act, which Smith calls an "interruption," she invites audience members to brainstorm potential solutions to the issues the characters raised. Smith sees theater as a unique way into social problems: "We're in the presence of one another. It's not like we can start texting or doing our taxes," she says. A live performance "manages to get undivided attention. In all the varieties of media, that doesn't happen so often."</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/media/2015/09/anna-deavere-smith-notes-from-field-school-prison-pipeline"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Media Crime and Justice Media Prisons Sun, 06 Dec 2015 11:00:10 +0000 Shane Bauer 285741 at This New Video Game Lets You Run Your Own Private Prison. It’s Strangely Addictive. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's late at night and I am staring at my computer screen, contemplating a decision: Do I go to bed or reorganize my prison so that medium- and maximum-security inmates go to chow and the yard at separate times? It would probably help bring the violence down. Or I could design a separate walkway from the maximum-security cellblock to the yard and put a fence down the middle to separate the dangerous from the more vulnerable inmates. This could easily take hours. This is why I swore off video games 15 years ago.</p> <p>Around the same time that I quit gaming, developers Chris Delay, Mark Morris, and a couple of college friends began developing niche games in an industry dominated by blockbuster-driven companies with megabudgets. Their small, London-based company, <a href="" target="_blank">Introversion</a>, eschewed flashy graphics in favor of nuanced story lines and strategy. They designed a game about hackers and a sci-fi strategy game, Darwinia, which won the Independent Game Festival Award.</p> <p>By 2010, the team was in a slump, and Delay took off on a vacation to San Francisco. During a tour of Alcatraz with his wife, the idea hit him: Why not design a game around a prison? Not an action-packed first-person shooter, but one where you play the CEO of a private prison company, tasked with designing, building, and managing your own lockup? Delay didn't know much about prisons, but the more he researched&mdash;interviewing guards and former inmates&mdash;the more he realized they were ripe for the most complex of Sim City-style games.</p> <p>Introversion, now with a staff of nine, spent the next five years designing <a href="" target="_blank">Prison Architect</a>. They released a beta version in 2012 and attracted more than 1 million players. It was their biggest hit, and they released the full version this month.</p> <p>Like most simulations, the game has no real end point. The purpose is to delve ever deeper into a system you create, to wrestle with your own beliefs and morality in a fictional world whose mechanics bear a striking resemblance to real-life prisons.</p> <p>Delay and Morris say they strictly avoided leading players to a particular moral conclusion. "We are not prison reformists," Morris told me. "There is no agenda here." This, ultimately, is what makes the game succeed. There is no secret trick to making your prison function well, and since you can't really win, the very idea of what constitutes a successful prison is yours to interpret. &nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/prison-architect-4_1.jpg"><div class="caption">Introversion Software</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%">&nbsp; <div class="caption"><strong>&nbsp;</strong></div> </div> <p>Prison Architect is not an easy game. Newcomers go through a "campaign mode" tutorial where they are thrown into a succession of five prisons and tasked with fixing various problems. The learning curve is steep&mdash;I probably spent 20 hours working through it&mdash;but subplots about mob assassinations, an execution, and a prison CEO burning documents during a riot create tensions to string you along.</p> <p>The real game, however, is a blank slate. You are given a piece of land, $30,000, eight construction workers, and 24 hours (24 minutes in game time) before your first eight prisoners arrive. You can adjust how many you take in each day, but as with real private prisons, inmates equal revenue. And even if profit isn't your motive, you need money to operate.</p> <p>Inevitably, you begin with certain necessities. You need to contain your prisoners, so you lay a foundation for temporary holding cells. You need to hire a warden, and the applicants range from even-tempered to inflexible, politically connected, or corrupt. The warden needs an office with a desk and filing cabinet to work in. The prisoners need to eat, of course, so you put up a kitchen and hire a couple of cooks. You quickly learn from your mistakes&mdash;prisoners walk off if they are not fenced in; toilets don't function without a water pump and plumbing.</p> <p>It's once you master the basics that things get interesting&mdash;do you want to build a Scandanavian-style model of reform or a totalitarian hellhole? Do you want to take a stab at remedying the challenges of the US prison system, figuring out how to manage maximum-security prisoners without solitary confinement?</p> <p>I decide to invest heavily in rehabilitative aspects. I make the cells spacious and well furnished. I put pool tables in common areas. I prioritize visitation and a library. I build a classroom and start up basic education, drug addiction treatment, and job training. The deeper I get, the more I find myself thinking like a prison bureaucrat. I stop paying attention to the particulars of each inmate's rap sheet and hire a psychologist who gives me reports on the population as a whole, measuring everything from overall hygiene to spiritual fulfillment. Morale, I am happy to note, is high.</p> <p>But then things start to slip. More prisoners are coming in than I have cells for. I need a new cellblock, which involves running electricity to the building, constructing cells, bringing in beds, building a day room, and more. As my workers build, I notice that prisoners aren't getting enough food. Are there enough tables in the canteen? Do they need more time to eat? More cooks? Someone gets bloodied in the shower room. Should I assign a guard to watch over it from now on? Should I shake down the whole prison to get rid of any weapons? In focusing on prisoner well-being, I've neglected my staff, which is now getting exhausted. Should I build a break room and hire more guards so they aren't so overworked, or invest in surveillance cameras and lay some off?</p> <p>Before I know it, my growing list of issues has put the inmates on edge. One shanks a fellow prisoner in an overcrowded holding cell. Another has a hammer&mdash;did I not have enough guards in the workshop? A riot breaks out. The holding cell catches fire and the inmates run amok, killing guards and each other. Someone offs the chief of security&mdash;I didn't give him a locking door!&mdash;which means I can't give guards orders until I hire a new one. I call in riot police and the fire department. When things start to calm, I build a mortuary for all the bodies and decide I need to hire a dog patrol and maybe turn my new chapel into an armory.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/prison-architect-2_1.jpg"><div class="caption">Introversion Software</div> </div> <p>This is just the drift of my particular game. I learn that security lapses will lead to problems no matter how well you treat inmates, but tough-on-crime players will quickly find that denying privileges or raising the stakes for parole makes for a rowdy prison. They can beef up security, sure, but at some point they will realize money can only buy so many solitary cells. Inmates in the hole can't do grunt work around the prison, so they will need to hire more janitors and cooks. They will also need extra guards to bring food to inmates who aren't allowed to go to chow. Sooner or later, they might need to reconsider their approach: Should they just let it slide when inmates get caught boozing or hiding cigarettes?</p> <p>Prison Architect is amazingly intricate, but the gamification creates certain falsehoods. Real private prisons, for example, aren't rewarded when inmates get released. In real life, the only practical incentive for giving prisoners meaningful things to do is that it tends to keep them calm. Companies don't get more money for turning out prisoners who don't go back to crime.</p> <p>There are also some major omissions. Race is functionally meaningless in Prison Architect. Morris says they were wary of "playing lip service to the issue," though he is considering how race might be integrated into a future version. Inmates could be assigned traits like race, sexuality, and religion, and a small bias could be built into the game, he says, that makes prisoners congregate in communities that match their identities: "Once you've got that congregation occurring, it might be possible to model hatred." A particularly hateful inmate might be prone to attacking members of another group, which could spark events like the race wars that have broken out in real US prisons. This would offer the player a new set of conundrums: Do you segregate by race? Lock the more hateful inmates in solitary? Try to create programs to help lower prisoner aggression while making sure inmates don't run into someone they might stab in class?</p> <p>The game makers say Prison Architect wasn't based on any particular prison system, but I find it hard to come up with a prison that veers very far from a US-style lockup. Even when I get better at controlling the population, my reform-minded prison quickly goes bankrupt. Large cells and sweeping rehabilitative programs are expensive, so when my government grants run out, I have to shut down classes and drug treatment. I lay off guards and start serving worse&mdash;cheaper&mdash;food. I ponder whether I should build a shop and train inmates to make license plates to bring in some revenue.</p> <p>Herein lies the message: Prisons are just one piece of a larger system. How they are operated makes a difference, yes, but they exist within the constraints of budgets, legislation, policing, and the conditions that drive people to crime. As long as those remain the same, competing philosophies about prison management won't amount to much more than tinkering, figuring out how to squeeze a dollar late into the night.</p></body></html> Media Crime and Justice Prisons Tech Sun, 18 Oct 2015 10:00:47 +0000 Shane Bauer 287056 at The New Bipartisan Criminal-Justice Reform Bill Doesn't Live Up to Its Own Hype <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today, nine Senate Republicans and Democrats <a href="" target="_blank">proposed a bill</a> that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) <a href="">hailed as</a> "the biggest criminal justice reform in our generation." This is undoubtedly true, at least at the federal level. The proposal, which was more than three years in the making and touches on everything from drug sentencing to solitary confinement for kids, is the most concrete step yet to confront what politicians on both sides of the aisle are now calling our "mass incarceration" problem.</p> <p>In a press conference to announce the bill, Sen. Dick Durban (D-Ill.) pointed out that the "United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth." Yet the 141-page <a href="">Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act</a> is remarkably unambitious in addressing that particular problem.</p> <p>To begin with, the bill only affects the federal justice system. For truly national criminal-justice or prison reform, each state would have to pass its <a href="" target="_blank">own bill</a>. Federal inmates represent just <a href="">13 percent</a> of our national prison population. (If you count <a href="">jail populations</a>, federal prisoners are just 9 percent of all Americans behind bars.) Even if we let all inmates out of federal lockups tomorrow, we would still have more people behind bars than any other country in the world.</p> <p>But the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act does tweak several policies that advocates and activists have long sought to change. Many had hoped the bill would eliminate some mandatory minimum sentence laws. (In 2010, <a href="">40 percent</a> of federal inmates were subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing.) The act wouldn't do that; instead, it would reduce 10-year mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses to 5-year minimums for people with no prior convictions for serious felonies. The reduction would not apply to major drug dealers or anyone who sold drugs to a minor. Significantly, anyone who refused to give up information about the drug activities of others would still be subject to the 10-year minimum.</p> <p>These sentencing reductions come with a trade-off. The bill would create <em>new </em>mandatory minimums for some crimes. Some interstate domestic violence charges would result in 10-year minimum sentences. Additionally, the bill imposes a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of providing "controlled goods or services" to terrorists or state sponsors of terrorism such as Syria or Iran. (<a href="">The list of such items</a> includes not just military equipment, but vehicle parts like tires.)</p> <p>The bill would also make some changes to the Clinton-era three strikes rule. Currently, people convicted of a third federal drug felony are automatically sentenced to life in prison. Under this bill, the first two strikes would have to be serious drug crimes or violent felonies, and the third strike would bring 25 years, not life. This would apply to people currently in prison for their third strike.</p> <p>Other parts of the bill would be retroactive as well. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity that had treated the possession of a gram of crack cocaine the same as the possession of as 100 grams of powder cocaine. This disparity was widely seen as racist: a third of crack users were black, yet <a href="">88 percent</a> of federal crack offenders are black. Under the new bill, the Fair Sentencing Act would become retroactive, causing thousands to be released from prison.</p> <p>A significant portion of the new bill is aimed at the federal juvenile justice system.&nbsp;(Again, it wouldn't change any <a href="" target="_blank">state-level policies</a>.) It would ban solitary confinement for juveniles held in federal facilities unless it was used as an immediate response to stop them from hurting someone else, and even then it couldn't last longer than three hours. The bill also proposes that minors who were convicted as adults and have served at least 20 years can apply for reductions in their sentences. The bill would also make it possible for certain people convicted of nonviolent offenses as kids to seal their files after being released. And all nonviolent offenses committed by kids under the age of 15 would automatically be expunged from their records when they turn 18.</p> <p>The bill proposes reforms to the federal prison system, such as recidivism reduction programs, in which some prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes can get out early if they go to a reentry center or enter home confinement "subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring." Interestingly, a section calling for more recidivism reduction calls for "a survey to identify products&hellip;that are currently manufactured overseas and could be manufactured by prisoners."</p> <p>Overall, the bill focuses on politically safe issues&mdash;long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are now widely unpopular. But it doesn't address the main driver of mass incarceration: sentencing for violent crimes. It's a common myth that the war on drugs drove the fivefold increase in America&rsquo;s total prison population since 1980. Nonviolent drug offenses do account for a full <a href="">half of federal inmates</a>, but in state prisons the story is much different. There, drug offenders account for just <a href="">16 percent</a> of the prison population.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way to bring our prison population anywhere near pre-Reagan-era levels&mdash;when we had about 300,000 people behind bars&mdash;would be to make major changes in sentencing for more serious crimes. Nationally, 47 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for violent crimes and 18 percent for property offenses. If we let out everyone incarcerated for a drug offense, our total prison population would drop from 1.6 million to 1.2 million. The statistic that Durbin cited about the United States locking up more people than any other country would still be true.</p></body></html> Politics Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Prisons Fri, 02 Oct 2015 10:00:26 +0000 Shane Bauer 285891 at George Zimmerman Posted a Photo of Trayvon Martin's Dead Body <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over the weekend, <a href="" target="_blank">George Zimmerman</a> retweeted an image of Trayvon Martin's dead body. The image was first tweeted to him by a fan who wrote, "Z-Man is a one man army."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202015-09-28%20at%2010.11.07%20AM.png"></div> <p>After the tweet was deleted, apparently by Twitter, Zimmerman posted a tweet directing media inquiries to the phone number of a car audio shop. When I called it, a disgruntled man said it was not affiliated with Zimmerman. I asked what he meant, and he said, "It's pretty cut and dry, dude. Do you understand English?" Then he hung up. The number, it turns out, belongs to a man Zimmerman has been waging a social media campaign against.</p> <p>Twitter would not comment on why they took down the photo, but the company directed me to its policy, which states that users "may not publish or post threats of violence against others or promote violence against others."</p> <p>Previously, Zimmerman's tweets have referred to black people as primates and "slime."</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Good day to you, Ape. Dat mean u blocked cuz. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) <a href="">September 4, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Cops lives matter, black slime doesnt. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) <a href="">September 3, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>In August, Zimmerman teamed up with the owner of a gun store with a no-Muslims-allowed policy to sell prints of his Confederate flag art, which he says "represents the hypocrisy of political correctness that is plaguing this nation."</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">They thought, I wouldn't. They said, I couldn't. They told me I shouldn't. So, I did. <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) <a href="">August 19, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">My confederate flag painting also represents the hypocrisy of political correctness that is plaguing this nation...</p> &mdash; George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) <a href="">August 18, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> MoJo Crime and Justice Guns Race and Ethnicity Mon, 28 Sep 2015 18:52:26 +0000 Shane Bauer 285451 at Solitary Confinement Coffee May Be the Worst Branding Idea Ever <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/solitary-sumatra250.jpg"><div class="caption">Jailhouse Coffee</div> </div> <p>Do prison cells sell? That seems to be the idea behind Solitary Sumatra,&nbsp;an organic, fair trade coffee blend sold by Jailhouse Coffee, a newish small-batch roastery in New York City. The coffee is not <a href="" target="_blank">made by prisoners</a> or ex-felons and the company's only connection to incarceration is that, according to <a href="">its website</a>, "there is a 'bighouse' just near the roastery" in Queens.</p> <p>The 83 marks scratched into the coffee bag far surpass the 15 days the United Nations specifies as the maximum amount of time anyone should spend in solitary confinement. Anything beyond that "<a href="" target="_blank">constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment</a>." The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that <a href="" target="_blank">more than 80,000 prisoners</a> are in isolation at a given time in the United States. Some of these are the "worst of the worst," but many are not. In New York, prisoners have been <a href="">thrown in the hole</a> for "wasting food" or having an "untidy cell or person." On Rikers Island, not far from Queens, 16-year-old <a href="" target="_blank">Kalief Browder</a> spent long stretches in solitary confinement during the three years he spent in pretrial detention for allegedly stealing a backpack. Two years after his release, he committed suicide. Nearly two out of five suicides in prison happen in solitary confinement. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, President Obama, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy have spoken out against the excessive use of solitary confinement in this country.</p> <p>So who thought solitary confinement would make a good branding idea? Is it just hipster irony that makes our prison system's most extreme aspects somehow cute? Perhaps it's the <em>Orange Is The New Black</em> effect, a consequence of the popularization and romanticization of prison life. (Like the woman who dressed a girl in an <a href="">orange jumpsuit and blackface for</a> Halloween last year.)</p> <p>I couldn't reach anyone at the company to explain their marketing strategy. So far, they seem to have gotten little flack for their brand, though one person has taken it upon himself to circulate a <a href="">petition</a> asking the company to change its name. Jailhouse Coffee's blends also include Solitary Peru, Good Behavior Organic Blend, and Chain Gang Espresso, which harkens to the time when black prisoners were used as free labor across the South.</p></body></html> MoJo Crime and Justice Human Rights Prisons Tue, 22 Sep 2015 21:23:52 +0000 Shane Bauer 284836 at Your Family's Genealogical Records May Have Been Digitized by a Prisoner <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/mormon630.jpg"><div class="caption">Ericsphotography/iStockPhoto; Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock; Photo illustration: <em>Mother Jones</em></div> </div> <p>Twenty miles outside Salt Lake City, a massive man-made bunker known as <a href="http://2.%09" target="_blank">The Vault</a> stretches nearly 700 feet into a <a href="" target="_blank">mountain</a> of granite. Sealed behind colossal doors designed to survive a <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear attack</a>, the climate-controlled cavern is home to the world's <a href="" target="_blank">largest collection</a> of genealogical records&mdash;3.5 billion at last count. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been <a href="http://29.%09" target="_blank">collecting</a> these records since the late 1800s so its members may identify and posthumously <a href="" target="_blank">baptize </a>ancestors who might then join them in the afterlife. The public isn't allowed inside The Vault. But many of its holdings, which include everything from US census records to Jamaican marriage certificates, are available for free on the church's <a href="" target="_blank">FamilySearch</a> website, which has information on more than 4 billion people.</p> <p>Before they can be used to track down long-gone relatives, the church's records first must be indexed so they're searchable. Even with thousands of volunteers entering information from scanned documents, the church can't process the data fast enough. "People come and they go," says Mike Judson, who's in charge of recruiting data entry volunteers. "They do a little bit here, a little bit there." So the church has tapped into a more consistent source of labor: prisoners.</p> <p>For about a decade, the Mormons have enlisted inmates in two Utah prisons to index records, explains Paul Starkey, the church's manager of indexing operations. Prisoners who get a job <a href="" target="_blank">scanning</a> government documents earn between $0.60 and $1.75 an hour. Yet those doing genealogical work for the church are considered volunteers and are not paid a dime.</p> <p>For Mormon inmates, who make up a third of Utah's prison population, the Family History Project provides an important link to the church. Church members who are convicted of a crime may be "<a href="" target="_blank">disfellowshipped</a>" or put on a probationary period during which they must <a href="" target="_blank">repent</a> or be excommunicated. Volunteering for the genealogy project "would certainly help" prevent excommunication, says Michael Wilder, an ex-Mormon and former <a href="">High Council</a> member.<a href="#correction">*</a></p> <p>Non-Mormon inmates have more temporal reasons to volunteer in the prison "family history centers." Greg Johnson, the administrative coordinator of the Utah Parole Board, says the work may be looked at favorably when inmates come up for parole. In addition, Judson says it helps them develop important research skills like paleography, the deciphering of historical handwriting.</p> <p>Over the past three years, the indexing project has expanded to 32 prisons and jails across Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. In 2013, inmates supervised by missionaries and using church-supplied computers processed around 2 million records. Last year, they logged 7.5 million. The church is currently exploring expanding the program to prisons in California, Florida, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington.</p> <p>Asked whether non-Mormon inmates were informed that their genealogical work might be used to baptize the dead, Judson replies, "I don't know what they are told, exactly." When I tried my hand at indexing documents in the Salt Lake City Family History Center, the volunteers stressed that my efforts would contribute to the publicly accessible FamilySearch database. They were cagey when I asked about posthumous baptism. Originally meant to extend the church's blessings to church members' deceased ancestors, the practice has also baptized millions of <a href="" target="_blank">non-Mormons</a>, including Mahatma Gandhi, Elvis Presley, and Adolf Hitler. In 1995, the church promised to stop the controversial practice of <a href="" target="_blank">posthumously baptizing</a> Holocaust victims. The church states that the practice is not an imposition since "the validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it."</p> <p>Judson says that Mormon or no, the main reason inmates sign up to digitize old records is the "good feeling that comes from it." He also recalls asking an inmate why he participated in the program; the inmate replied, "I would have done anything to get out of my cell."</p> <p id="correction"><em>Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the High Council is the church's governing body. High Councils supervise groups of local congregations, or <a href="">stakes</a>. </em></p></body></html> Politics Prisons Religion Thu, 13 Aug 2015 10:00:39 +0000 Shane Bauer 275871 at Here's What Sandra Bland's Death Says About Our Broken Bail System <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If Sandra Bland indeed committed suicide after spending three days in a Texas jail, as the Harris county medical examiner determined last week, her death fits a pattern: <a href="">Half of all suicides</a> behind bars occur within the first 14 days of custody. Twenty-three percent happen within the first 24 hours following an arrest. And like <a href="">two-thirds</a> of the 750,000 people in US jails, Bland had not yet been convicted of any crime.</p> <p>Bland had two options to get out of jail. The court set a $5,000 bond. If she had the money, which she didn't, she could have posted it and gotten it back when she appeared for trial. Alternately, she could have paid a bail bondsman a 10 percent fee<strong> </strong>to post bond for her&mdash;$500 that she or her family would not get back. Her <a href="" target="_blank">family's attorney has said</a> that they were working on trying to secure the fee to have her released.&nbsp;</p> <p>This system, in which people either stay locked up or pay money to a private company to get out, is almost entirely unique to the United States. The Philippines is the only other country with something similar. In Canada, acting as a bail bondsman can earn you two years in prison on a charge equivalent to bribing a juror. "We don't have a system currently that does a decent job of separating who is dangerous and who isn't," Tim Murray, director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, told me when <a href="">I wrote about the commercial bail industry</a>. "We only have a system that separates those who have cash and those who don't."</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2015/07/sandra-bland-bail-bond-system"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Crime and Justice Prisons Top Stories Mon, 27 Jul 2015 19:56:01 +0000 Shane Bauer 280711 at The FBI Is Very Excited About This Machine That Can Scan Your DNA in 90 Minutes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Robert Schueren shook my hand firmly, handed me his business card, and flipped it over, revealing a short list of letters and numbers. "Here is my DNA profile." He smiled. "I have nothing to hide." I had come to meet Schueren, the CEO of <a href="" target="_blank">IntegenX</a>, at his company's headquarters in Pleasanton, California, to see its signature product: a machine the size of a large desktop printer that can unravel your genetic code in the time it takes to watch a movie.</p> <p>Schueren grabbed a cotton swab and dropped it into a plastic cartridge. That's what, say, a police officer would use to wipe the inside of your cheek to collect a DNA sample after an arrest, he explained. Other bits of material with traces of DNA on them, like <a href="" target="_blank">cigarette butts or fabric</a>, could work too. He inserted the cartridge into the machine and pressed a green button on its touch screen: "It's that simple." Ninety minutes later, the RapidHIT 200 would generate a DNA profile, check it against a database, and report on whether it found a match.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/rapid-HIT-350.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A scanner, quickly: The RapidHIT 200 can generate a DNA profile in about 90 minutes. </strong>IntegenX</div> </div> <p>The RapidHIT represents a major technological leap&mdash;testing a DNA sample in a forensics lab normally takes at least two days. This has government agencies very excited. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Justice Department funded the initial research for "rapid DNA" technology, and after just a year on the market, the $250,000 RapidHIT is already being used in a few states, as well as China, Russia, Australia, and countries in Africa and Europe.</p> <p>"We're not always aware of how it's being used," Schueren said. "All we can say is that it's used to give an accurate identification of an individual." Civil liberties advocates worry that rapid DNA will spur new efforts by the FBI and police to collect ordinary citizens' genetic code.</p> <p>The US government will soon test the machine in refugee camps in Turkey and possibly Thailand on families seeking asylum in the United States, according to Chris Miles, manager of the Department of Homeland Security's biometrics program. "We have all these families that claim they are related, but we don't have any way to verify that," he says. Miles says that rapid DNA testing will be voluntary, though refusing a test could cause an asylum application to be rejected.</p> <p>Miles also says that federal immigration officials are interested in using rapid DNA to curb trafficking by ensuring that children entering the country are related to the adults with them. Jeff Heimburger, the vice president of marketing at IntegenX, says the government has also inquired about using rapid DNA to screen green-card applicants. (An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said he was not aware that the agency was pursuing the technology.)</p> <p>Meanwhile, police have started using rapid DNA in Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina. In August, sheriffs in Columbia, South Carolina, used a RapidHIT to nab an <a href="" target="_blank">attempted murder suspect</a>. The machine's speed provides a major "investigative lead," said Vince Figarelli, superintendent of the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab, which is <a href="" target="_blank">using a RapidHIT</a> to compare DNA evidence from property crimes against the state's database of 300,000 samples. Heimburger notes that the system can also prevent false arrests and wrongful convictions: "There is great value in finding out that somebody is not a suspect."</p> <p>But the technology is not a silver bullet for DNA evidence. The IntegenX executives brought up rape kits so often that it sounded like their product could make a serious dent in the backlog of <a href="" target="_blank">half a million untested kits</a>. Yet when I pressed Schueren on this, he conceded that the RapidHIT is not actually capable of processing rape kits since it can't discern individual DNA in commingled bodily fluids.</p> <p>Despite the new technology's crime-solving potential, privacy advocates are wary of its spread. If rapid-DNA machines can be used in a refugee camp, "they can certainly be used in the back of a squad car," says <a href="" target="_blank">Jennifer Lynch</a>, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I could see that happening in the future as the prices of these machines go down."</p> <p>Lynch is particularly concerned that law enforcement agencies will use the devices to scoop up and store ever more DNA profiles. Every state already has <a href="" target="_blank">a forensic DNA database</a>, and while these systems were initially set up to track convicted violent offenders, their collection thresholds have steadily broadened. Today, at least 28 include data from anyone arrested for certain felonies, even if they are not convicted; some store the DNA of people who have committed misdemeanors as well. The FBI's <a href="" target="_blank">National DNA Index System</a> has more than 11 million profiles of offenders plus 2 million people who have been arrested but not necessarily convicted of a crime.</p> <p>For its part, Homeland Security will not hang onto refugees' DNA records, insists Miles. ("They aren't criminals," he pointed out.) However, undocumented immigrants in custody may be required to provide DNA samples, which are put in the FBI's database. DHS documents obtained by <a href="" target="_blank">the Electronic Frontier Foundation</a> say there may even be a legal case for "mandating collection of DNA" from anyone granted legal status under a future immigration amnesty. (The documents also state that intelligence agencies and the military are interested in using rapid DNA to identify sex, race, and other factors the machines currently do not reveal.)</p> <p>The FBI is the only federal agency allowed to keep a national DNA database. Currently, police must use a lab to upload genetic profiles to it. But that could change. The <a href="" target="_blank">FBI's website</a> says it is eager to see rapid DNA in wide use and that it supports the "legislative changes necessary" to make that happen. IntegenX's Heimburger says the FBI is almost finished working with members of Congress on a bill that would give "tens of thousands" of police stations rapid-DNA machines that could search the FBI's system and add arrestees' profiles to it. (The RapitHIT is already designed to do this.) IntegenX has spent <a href=";year=2014" target="_blank">$70,000 lobbying</a> the FBI, DHS, and Congress over the last two years.</p> <p>The FBI declined to comment, and Heimburger wouldn't say which lawmakers might sponsor the bill. But some have already given rapid DNA their blessing. <a href="" target="_blank">Rep. Eric Swalwell</a>, a former prosecutor who represents the district where IntegenX is based, says he'd like to see the technology "put to use quickly to help law enforcement"&mdash;while protecting civil liberties. In March, he and seven other Democratic members of Congress, including progressive stalwart Rep. Barbara Lee of California, <a href="" target="_blank">urged the FBI</a> to assess rapid DNA's "viability for broad deployment" in police departments across the country.</p></body></html> Politics Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Tech Top Stories Thu, 20 Nov 2014 11:30:05 +0000 Shane Bauer 265071 at