Archive: August, 2010
"I want to know who we're sending back to the streets:" A state House committee takes up solitary confinement
Ed. note: In this week's ballbuster of a cover story, CP contributor Matt Stroud tackles the allegedly horrific conditions inside the solitary confinement wing of the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, out near Wilkes-Barre, which, according to a lawsuit and written statements from a number of inmates, may have driven one severely mentally ill man to commit suicide. It's a good read, and you should check it out. On Monday, Stroud headed out to a state House Judiciary Committee hearing on solitary confinement in Yeadon, and filed this report.
The Pa. House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Monday in Yeadon, a suburb just southwest of Baltimore Avenue in West Philly, and the topic was solitary confinement. State Rep. Ronald Waters, D-Phila./Delaware County, announced during his opening remarks that his primary objective was to speak with prison officials and former inmates about how prisoners are treated during their stays in solitary confinement, and to understand more about why some prisoners end up spending years in the hole, while others end up being released from the prison system and into the general public after serving long periods of time in potentially psychically disturbing isolation.
âI want to know who we're sending back to the streets,â Waters said.
The speakers were Michael Klopotoski, Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Correction's (DOC) Eastern Region (and former superintendent of SCI Dallas, the prison examined in this week's cover story); William DiMasico, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society; Nathaniel Lee and LuQman Abdullah, who spoke as former prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement; and Bret Grote, an investigator with the Human Rights Coalition.
Klopotoski said DOC is âcommitted to maintaining a safe and secure prison system for both the offender population and DOC staff.â He explained DOC's solitary confinement policy at length and the different circumstances that can land a prisoner in the hole and concluded that while it costs the state about 16 percent more to incarcerate a person in solitary confinement than it does to incarcerate them in general population (the state pays about $31,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate), that price is worthwhile because solitary confinement is ânecessary to ensure our prisons are safe and secure for the public's safety and for the safety of the offender population â¦ as well as the staff that work in our prisons.â
Most of the 30 or so in attendance were either related to people currently incarcerated, affiliated with civil rights groups working to abolish solitary confinement or former inmates who had done time in the hole. Thus, it's not entirely surprising that Klopotoski received a unified scoff from the crowd when he ended his statement with, âIt is my hope through the testimony offered today that the myths and misconceptions associated with specialized housing units have been dispelled.â
The other speakers read from prepared statements, arguing that policy doesn't necessarily dictate actions but the most telling interactions were unscripted.
After Klopotoski spoke, for example, Waters took issue with Klopotoski's insistence that, while all grievances against correctional officers (COs) in solitary confinement are investigated, many of those grievances are âfrivolousâ and crafted to unfairly tar COs. Waters spotted a problem with DOC's handling these complaints: Because inmates are confined between and 23 and 24 hours per day alone in a concrete cell, they need to rely on corrections officers to file their grievances.
âThe person who's being complained about now has to turn over the complaint against himself,â Waters pointed out.
Klopotoski replied that this wasn't a problem at all, because inmates can drop their grievances in a specific mailbox meant specifically for filing grievances against COs or other staff. They can do this when they're walking to take a shower three times per week, Klopotoski said, or when they're on their way to the exercise yard. A man sitting next to me a former inmate who did not want to be quoted countered that two COs generally escort inmates to showers and the yard, and that dropping a grievance into one of these special grievance boxes in their presence often invited further harassment.
Waters didn't go there; instead, he drifted toward the idea that if these grievance boxes were ever used, then certainly at least a handful of COs must have been removed from their position or at the very least disciplined as a result of the accusations. âHow many officers are removed as a result of these grievances?â Waters asked.
âTo my knowledge there may have been a few, minimal but that isn't really a good practice to get yourself involved with, because if offenders know they can get a certain officer removed by filing an abundance of grievances, then offenders might be encouraged to file a number of false or frivolous grievances,â Klopotoski replied.
âI'm trying to picture it as though I'm in the hole,â Waters responded. âIf someone is treating me fairly and treating me humanely, that's not a person I would want to be removed from their position. I would probably have a problem with someone who was not treating me fairly and not treating me humanely.â
Waters did not ask for a response; Klopotoski did not give one.
You've probably heard by now that the city released its Deferred Retirement Option Plan report, done by Boston College for $79,989. In case you're interested in reading it in full, here y'are.
Have fun trying to figure out that formula on the fourth page.
Jeffrey Billman passed this piece on to me with this lead in: "You would appreciate this, you bicycling one-world-government hippie."
The Talking Points Memo item picks up a Denver Post piece on Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes (R, Tea Party friendly, natch) and his firm beliefs that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's bicycle advocacy is part of a massive UN plot to, I don't know, turn the world into a more utopian, sustainable place undermine American Exceptionalism.
Let's go right to the crazy:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is warning voters that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's policies, particularly his efforts to boost bike riding, are "converting Denver into a United Nations community.
"This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed," Maes told about 50 supporters who showed up at a campaign rally last week in Centennial.
Maes said in a later interview that he once thought the mayor's efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes "that's exactly the attitude they want you to have."
"This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms," Maes said.
He added: "These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor. These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to."
Now that is some world class crazy. Let's take a breath to appreciate it. Okay, let's continue.
"At first, I thought, 'Gosh, public transportation, what's wrong with that, and what's wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes? And what's wrong with incentives for green cars?' But if you do your homework and research, you realize ICLEI is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty," Maes said.
He said he's worried for Denver because "Mayor Hickenlooper is one of the greatest fans of this program."
"Some would argue this document that mayors have signed is contradictory to our own Constitution," Maes said.
There's a poll accompanying the Denver Post piece that asks: Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes warns of a bike agenda that will spin cities, including Denver, toward United Nations control. How seriously do you take this warning?
At present, the results look like this:
That more than 20 percent of people take this seriously or very seriously is perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.
You remember back on June 30, when Gov. Ed Rendell and the state legislature congratulated themselves on their ability to put together a budget, you know, on time? The celebration was a bit premature: There were a few missing, minor details including a yet-to-be-determined natural gas drilling severance tax and $850 million in promised federal Medicaid money, without which, Rendell had said, he would have had to slash all kinds of state funds: there would be service cuts, 22,000 state layoffs, dramatic cuts to domestic violence programs, homelessness programs, child welfare programs, and on and on. The bloodletting would have been severe, no doubt about it.
Here's the good news: This morning, the US Senate took a break from, well, not doing much of anything, thanks to perpetual Republican obstinacy, to pass an emergency funding bill allocating billions to fund much-needed Medicaid reimbursements to states*. So, for the most part, it seems, the Commonwealth is solvent. That's a plus.
Here's what's fucked up about this thing, however: The vote this morning was not actually on the funding which was, I should note, completely and 100 percent offset by spending cuts, including future cuts to the country's food stamps program, because God knows poor people have it too easy these days, and added absolutely nothing to the deficit it was to end the Republican filibuster. Yes, the Republicans tried to filibuster as in, not even allowing to come up for a vote a completely paid-for spending bill that had $16 billion in Medicaid funding (less than the $24 billion the Dems wanted) and $10 billion to prevent massive teacher layoffs.
This is, perhaps, the very least the government could do to aid the national economy. The fucking least. It basically keeps states afloat, at a time when tax revenues are down and welfare expenditures are necessarily up. See, the national government, for better or worse, has the ability to deficit-spend. State governments, by and large, do not. They need federal resources to counteract the shit-storm left over from the Great Recession.
And yet, this morning, 38 Senate Republicans all but two of them, the Maine sisters decided that this totally deficit-neutral bill shouldn't even be allowed to come up for a vote, because â¦ well, just fucking because. (They hate teachers and poor people? Who the fuck knows.) Never mind that these same born-again deficit peacocks fell all over themselves to vote for Bush's unfunded wars, Bush's unfunded Medicare expansion, Bush's unfunded fucking tax cuts for billionaires, etc., and even to this day want demand that we extend the deficit-exploding tax cuts even though supply-side economic theories have been proven wrong again and again and again and will be more than happy to vote the Department of Defense whatever largesse its contractors demand.
This is what I mean when I say that Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Jim DeMint, and the rest of their loathsome ilk are simply not fit to govern. That America is even considering even toying with the idea of thinking about returning these clowns to power speaks volumes about the unsophistication and gullibility of the American electorate.
*Correction: I'd earlier said this bill extended $87 billion to states. Rather, that was what Congress had allocated before. Instead, the total price tag is about $26 billion, and $16 billion or so of that is headed to Medicaid, the rest to teachers. As The Hill explains:
Congress approved $87 billion in emergency Medicaid funding to help states weather the economic downturn that's squeezed local budgets nationwide. The provision increased Medicaid's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) which represents Washington's share of the state-federal program by at least 6.2 percent for all states.
That extra funding expires at the end of 2010 halfway through the budget year of most states, prompting Democrats to push for an extension.
Their original plan to keep the 6.2 percent increase through June 2011 went nowhere in the face of Senate budget hawks. Instead, Democratic leaders adopted a plan, long-supported by Collins, to scale out the extra funding over the six months.
The measure that passed Wednesday provides a 3.2 percent FMAP bump for the first quarter of next year, and a 1.2 percent hike in the second quarter.
Update: Nancy Pelosi has apparently ordered Congress back in session to pass the bill. Good on her.
Sometimes, just sometimes, the city does good. This is one of those times. According to the Streets Department, starting two days ago, you can recycle much, much more trash:
STARTING AUGUST 1: Recycle All Plastic Containers!
You've been recycling plastic containers marked:
#1: Soda, water bottles
#2: Milk jugs, detergents, shampoo bottles
Now you can add:
#3: Rigid plastic containers and juice bottles
#4: Plastic tubs and lids from butter, margarine or similar products
#5: Yogurt containers and deli trays
#6: Plastic cups, plates and to-go containers
#7: Many mixed plastic containers and plastic products
These are just some examples of what you can recycle, so look for the number to make sure.
But don't forget: paper clips, window glass, napkins, PVC pipes and a slew of other WTFs are still off-limits. Click here to get the lowdown on all the rules, new and old.
Rather than make you wait until this Thursday, we decided to immediately publish Ralph Cipriano's story on the city's long-awaited Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) report which will supposedly be released sometime this week. If you recall, Cipriano wrote a cover story in April about the program that has needlessly cost the city $1 billion.
In this week's piece, he writes about the failings of the city-commissioned report on DROP by Boston College:
The contract between the city and Boston College was supposed to go into effect May 12, 2009, but because of disagreements over several key issues, the contract did not get signed until Dec. 18. Initially, city officials wanted Boston College to be liable for gross negligence or willful misconduct up to $1 million, but wound up settling for a liability cap of $500,000. The college professors doing the study also sought performance evaluations from the city of Philadelphia employees such as satisfactory and superior so they could study DROP's effect on each category of worker, but the city was unable to provide such records.
According to a "scope of services" document, Boston College said it needed those records because, "We seek to understand the human behavior behind the decisions individuals make so that we can focus on solutions that work in practice, not just in theory. ... Once we have identified who is actually working longer due to the DROP, we can then analyze whether or not the program is achieving its goal of retaining highly valued employees."
Read the rest of the article here.
On July 13 and 14, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) held public hearings on a topic that may or may not ever go away: the dredging of the Delaware River. Why, you ask, is the DNREC still holding hearings on the project, after the Army Corps of Engineers already finished deepening an 11-mile segment of the river just south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge and ending at the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal? Well, the Army Corps applied for permits from Delaware in March of this year, in order to deepen additional parts of the channel that our neighbor state ostensibly has some modicum of jurisdiction over; the project is pointless unless the whole thing is dredged.
The DNREC just released the transcripts from July 13 and 14's hearings you can download them by clicking here and here and, for the most part, they're exactly what you'd expect. In the most black-and-white fashion imaginable, Teamsters line up on one side and environmentalists shuffle to the other. But there's one point that both sides should read, made by William Moyer, a member of the advocacy committee of the Delaware Nature Society. He bluntly asserts that the hearings are a big sham, and the Army Corps is going to do what it wants, when it wants a charge that Teamsters and environmentalists alike should, in theory, care about:
Our presence at this hearing will have no effect on the outcome of this permit application, and no amount of public testimony in opposition to the deepening project is going to be utilized in making a permit decision. DNREC is in the proverbial lose/lose situation with respect to this application. If it denies a permit, the Corps of Engineers will return to Federal District Court and ask Judge Robinson to again give her permission to proceed with completing the dredging in the Delaware, as she did for the dredging that the Corps recently completed in Delaware waters in reach C.
If DNREC issues a permit with conditions which cannot be met, the Corps will simply proceed with the dredging, arguing yet again that it really doesn't need a permit from Delaware, and that they only applied in, quote, "a spirit of comity."
To quote from Colonel Tickner's December 4, 2004 letter to then Senator Biden, Senator Carper, and Representative Castle â¦ "I really think they meant to say they applied in the spirit of comedy."
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