Category Archives: ethics

Want to cut crime? Start making smaller jails

When you build smaller jails and stop treating jail as a business, you start to have to come up with more creative solutions to keep non-dangerous people out of jail.

This is partially why residents balked at Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s proposal in 2010 to build an even larger jail to house 5,832 inmates. Not only could Gusman’s staff not control the population they had, but the city’s increasing incarceration rate was not correlating with a decline in crime. Crime had, in fact, been increasing.

Gusman’s proposal was squashed by a coalition of community organizations that mobilized residents and convinced the city that it could not financially afford to keep, as one city council representative put it, jailing its way to becoming a safer city. The city ended up approving a new jail in 2011 that was just a quarter of the size the sheriff wanted: 1,485 beds, though the city was holding twice as many inmates as that at the time. This meant the city had to rethink and revamp its incarceration practices moving forward.

Could the threat from Jihadists be overstated?

Despite a lot of rhetoric from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, the threat from Jihad is overstated (at least in the United States which is far more of a target than Canada).

The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.

Non-Muslim extremists have carried out 19 such attacks since Sept. 11, according to the latest count, compiled by David Sterman, a New America program associate, and overseen by Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert. By comparison, seven lethal attacks by Islamic militants have taken place in the same period.

If such numbers are new to the public, they are familiar to police officers. A survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide to rank the three biggest threats from violent extremism in their jurisdiction. About 74 percent listed antigovernment violence, while 39 percent listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence, according to the researchers, Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University.

“Law enforcement agencies around the country have told us the threat from Muslim extremists is not as great as the threat from right-wing extremists,” said Dr. Kurzman, whose study is to be published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Police Executive Research Forum.

I am going to assume the same can be said in Canada that hate groups are a far bigger threat to our security than ISIS.

Welcome to your new police state

I can’t tell you what we are doing because I signed a non-disclosure agreement

The issue led to a public dispute three weeks ago in Silicon Valley, where a sheriff asked county officials to spend $502,000 on the technology. The Santa Clara County sheriff, Laurie Smith, said the technology allowed for locating cellphones — belonging to, say, terrorists or a missing person. But when asked for details, she offered no technical specifications and acknowledged she had not seen a product demonstration.
Buying the technology, she said, required the signing of a nondisclosure agreement.
“So, just to be clear,” Joe Simitian, a county supervisor, said, “we are being asked to spend $500,000 of taxpayers’ money and $42,000 a year thereafter for a product for the name brand which we are not sure of, a product we have not seen, a demonstration we don’t have, and we have a nondisclosure requirement as a precondition. You want us to vote and spend money,” he continued, but “you can’t tell us more about it.”
The technology goes by various names, including StingRay, KingFish or, generically, cell site simulator. It is a rectangular device, small enough to fit into a suitcase, that intercepts a cellphone signal by acting like a cellphone tower.
The technology can also capture texts, calls, emails and other data, and prosecutors have received court approval to use it for such purposes.
Cell site simulators are catching on while law enforcement officials are adding other digital tools, like video cameras, license-plate readers, drones, programs that scan billions of phone records and gunshot detection sensors. Some of those tools have invited resistance from municipalities and legislators on privacy grounds.
The nondisclosure agreements for the cell site simulators are overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and typically involve the Harris Corporation, a multibillion-dollar defense contractor and a maker of the technology. What has opponents particularly concerned about StingRay is that the technology, unlike other phone surveillance methods, can also scan all the cellphones in the area where it is being used, not just the target phone.

Wired Magazine named Harris Corporation the number 2 most dangerous thing on the internet right now.

The Harris Corporation and the U.S. Marshals Service are tied for going above and beyond to conceal information from the public, courts and defendants about law enforcement’s use of so-called stingray technology. Harris is the leading maker of stingrays for law enforcement, which simulate a cell tower to trick mobile phones and other devices into connecting to them and revealing their location. Federal and local law enforcement agencies around the county have been using the devices for years—in some cases bypassing courts altogether to use them without a warrant or deceiving judges about what they’re using to collect the location information. Why? They say it’s because Harris’s contract includes an NDA that prohibits customers from telling anyone, including judges, about their use of the technology. It’s hard to know who’s really initiating the secrecy, though—Harris, because it wants to protect its proprietary secrets from competitors, or law enforcement agencies, because they’re worried suspects will find ways to counteract the devices. The secrecy reached an extreme level this year when agents with the U.S. Marshals Service in Florida swooped in to seize public records about the use of stingrays to keep them out of the hands of the ACLU.

Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists

From the New York Times

On Sept. 2, four correction officers pulled Jose Guadalupe, an inmate classified in medical records as seriously mentally ill, into his solitary-confinement cell at Rikers Island and beat him unconscious.

A little over two months later, three guards wrestled another inmate, Tracy Johnson, to the floor, pepper-sprayed him in the face and broke a bone in his eye socket. Then, on Dec. 9, yet another group of officers beat Ambiorix Celedonio, an inmate with an I.Q. of 65, so badly that, as surveillance footage later showed, he had bruises and scratches on his face and blood coming from his mouth.

The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers.

It was in August that the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan issued a damning report about brutality at the jail complex and threatened to sue the city unless conditions there improved. And in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that ending pervasive violence at Rikers had become a top priority for his administration.

But The Times’s examination makes clear that the violence has continued largely unabated, despite extraordinary levels of outside scrutiny, a substantial commitment of resources by Mr. de Blasio and a new team of high-ranking managers installed by the correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, who took over the job in April.

This reminds me of the many conversations I had about jail with former inmates.  The stories are not all that dissimilar.  

Also: Some architects are wondering if the design of prisons themselves make them more violent.

Today, prison design is a civic cause for some architects who specialize in criminal justice and care about humane design. There is a lot of research documenting how the right kinds of design reduce violence inside prisons and even recidivism. Architects can help ensure that prisons don’t succumb to our worst instincts — that they are not about spending the least amount of money to create the most horrendous places possible, in the name of vengeance — but promote rehabilitation and peace.