Backtalk

Prison Profiteering

Barry Yeoman's article on Corrections Corporation of America and the Youngstown prison did an excellent job of telling that sad story ("Steel Town Lockdown," May/June). But the problems inherent in for-profit prisons have implications far beyond the community where they are situated. Public safety and personal liberty should not be controlled -- and put at risk -- by corporations whose responsibility is to maximize shareholders' profits.

The extraordinary growth in the US prison population has been supported by vast expenditures of public money: We now spend about $40 billion per year on prisons and jails. It is no wonder that private-prison corporations have set out to divert as much as possible of this public largesse to their bottom lines. Not since the days of slavery has the production of profit from the deprivation of liberty been quite so clear-cut. And now, as then, it is people of color whose liberty is most subject to deprivation. As if to underline the parallel, Wackenhut Corporation, the second-largest for-profit prison corporation, is beginning construction of a prison on the site of one of the largest slave plantations in North Carolina in order to house prisoners from the District of Columbia -- a prison population that is 97 percent African American.

Jenni Gainsborough
The Sentencing Project
Washington, DC

Sterile Forests

Ted Williams' article on "False Forests" (May/June) hits the bull's-eye. All my life I have seen pine trees planted in lines so straight that you can see for miles between the trunks. No one ever hunted there or even walked there -- nothing to see but pine needles and trees. However, where I grew up in northern Mississippi, we would play for hours just across the highway in a real forest. Birds, animals, and natural ponds were everywhere. It's gone now, and pine trees stand there. The paper companies are selling us a line of bull about these "forests." Anyone who has ever been in a real forest knows better.

Gloria Gonzalez
Pensacola, Florida

Champion International Corporation has responsibility for sustainable forestry management of more than 5 million acres of land in the United States. In 1994, Champion adopted the 12 principles of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) developed by the American Forest and Paper Association. These require companies to reforest land promptly, provide for wildlife habitat, improve water quality and ecosystem diversity, and protect land of special significance. Champion's management guidelines routinely go beyond the SFI principles and many state forestry management guidelines as well.

Your portrayal of Champion's forestry management practices on its lands and its approach to forestry management with other private landowners is inaccurate.

Marshall D. Murphy
Champion International Corp.
Courtland, Alabama

Gentle Persuasion

I read the article about Kate Walz, the attorney for First Defense Legal Aid, and her work against alleged police abuse in Chicago (Hellraiser, May/June). You are under a misconception that our union withdrew its annual contribution to the United Way in an attempt to pressure the group to stop funding First Defense.

We have no problem with anyone arrested by the Chicago police having an attorney. In fact, we encourage it. We hope it alleviates the bogus charges of brutality made against us. Our sole objection was that we did not feel we should donate money to provide an attorney for someone we just arrested for murder, rape, robbery, or other vicious crimes.

Ms. Walz is to be commended for her efforts, and we wholeheartedly support getting rid of officers who resort to brutality.

William J. Nolan
Fraternal Order of Police
Chicago, Illinois

Sponsoring the Chair

You reported on the diminishing use of the electric chair ("Pulling the Plug on the Electric Chair," May/June). We need corporate sponsorship to revive it. For example, Sears should sponsor a chair. It would be called (you guessed it) the "Die Hard."

Oscar W. Ford
Carson City, Nevada

Corrections

In "The Diddly Awards" (May/June), we incorrectly identified the opponent of Rep. Rick Hill (R-Mont.) in the 1998 election; it was Dusty Deschamps. Hill has withdrawn his candidacy for this November, when he would have faced Nancy Keenan.

The photographs for "Light in Oxford" (May/June) were mistakenly credited. They were by William Cochrane/Impact Visuals.