Monthly Archives: January 2012

Throwing Citizens in Prison for Profit

It is a well-documented fact that our prison population continues to grow at a rate outpacing that of the population.  As of the end of 2009, we now have the dubious distinction of having the largest per-capita prison population in the world — according to Wikipedia and U.S. Department of Justice statistics, 749 of every 100,000 citizens, or about 1% of adults in the U.S.

In a well-reasoned and fascinating article appearing in today’s issue of The New Yorker entitled "The Caging of America", author Adam Gopnick analyzes the reasons behind this growing phenomenon.  In doing so, he comments upon an almost uniquely American development:

New York, NY.  Jan.30 — …(A) growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible. No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

It is, of course, the "American Way" for big corporations to spend millions through lobbyists to influence legislation and policies which contribute to increased profits.  Are we that far from our fellow citizens being incarcerated because of laws that are designed to improve the "business" of prisons — i.e., increase the supply of prisoners?  

Is it already happening?

(Thanks to attorney Deandra Grant of Richardson, Texas.)

Two Years in Solitary….for Being Arrested for DUI

I don’t even know where to start with this one….

Man Spends 2 Years in Solitary After DWI Arrest

Dona Ana County, NM.  Jan. 25 – A New Mexico man who said he was forced to pull his own tooth while in solitary confinement because he was denied access to a dentist has been awarded $22 million due to inhumane treatment by New Mexico’s Dona Ana County Jail.

Stephen Slevin was arrested in August of 2005 for driving while intoxicated, then thrown in jail for two years. He was in solitary at Dona Ana County Jail for his entire sentence and basically forgotten about and never given a trial, he told NBC station Tuesday night.

"[Jail guards were] walking by me every day, watching me deteriorate," Slevin said. "Day after day after day, they did nothing, nothing at all, to get me any help."

Slevin’s medical problems extended beyond his dental issues, he said. His toenails started curling around his foot because they were so long, he told And his countless requests to see a doctor for depression medication were ignored, he said.

He said his lawsuit "has never been about the money. I’ve always wanted this to make a statement."

The $22 million, awarded by a federal jury Tuesday, is one of the largest prisoner civil rights settlements in U.S. history, according to

"I wanted people to know that there are people at The Dona Ana County Jail that are doing things like this to people and getting away with it," said Slevin, who now suffers from PTSD and believes he will have to take medication for life as a result. "Why they did what they did, I have no idea."

The mistreatment started from the moment his client was arrested, Slevin’s attorney, Matt Coyte, told

"He was driving through New Mexico and arrested for a DWI, and he allegedly was in a stolen vehicle. Well, it was a car he had borrowed from a friend; a friend had given him a car to drive across the country," Coyte said.

Slevin was depressed at the time, Coyte explained, and wanted to get out of New Mexico. Instead, he found himself in jail.

"When he gets put in the jail, they think he’s suicidal, and they put him in a padded cell for three days, but never give him any treatment."

Nor did they give him a trial, Coyte said. Slevin said he never saw a judge during his time in confinement.

After three days in a padded cell, jail guards transferred Slevin into solitary confinement without explanation.  "Their policy is to then just put them in solitary" if they appear to have mental health issues, Coyte told

Dona Ana County officials were tight-lipped about the case, refusing to answer questions about whether any jail employees were reprimanded or fired over Slevin’s treatment…

While in solitary confinement, a prisoner is entitled to one hour per day out of the cell, but often times, Slevin wasn’t even granted that, Coyte said. He was deprived of showers and grew fungus underneath his skin. He lost his will to even want to get out and live in the outside world, Coyte told

"Your insanity builds. Some people holler or throw feces out their cell doors," he said. "Others rock back and forth under a blanket for a year or more, which is what my client did."

By the time Slevin got out of jail, his hair was shaggy and overgrown, his beard long, and his face pale and sunken, a drastic contrast from the clean-shaven booking photo taken of him when he was arrested two years prior…

"Hs life has been devoted to survival [since his release from solitary]," Coyte told "He is totally inequipped; he is hollow. They’ve removed his humanity from him."

His suffering hasn’t been in vain though, Coyte said.  "He’s a brave guy. When he says it’s not about the money, he really means it. He wants no one to go through what he went through. And people do, in New Mexico and across this country."

This wasn’t China or North Korea.  This happened in America.  And as his attorney said, this kind of thing isn’t going on just in New Mexico, it’s happening "across this country".

(Thanks to Robert Battle and Bill Sullivan.)

The Future Is Here

Coming to your state soon…

B.C. Senior Snared by Draconian Drunk Driving Law

Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Jan. 12 —  To bully and berate an innocent senior then punish her without a trial for a crime she clearly didn’t commit.

This, apparently, is what Alberta has to look forward to under draconian drunk-driving laws inspired by our neighbouring province, where suspected motorists are guilty until they prove themselves innocent.

Fortunately for 82-year-old Margaret MacDonald, tears brought on by allegedly obnoxious B.C. RCMP officers didn’t blind her to protecting herself.

“I came into the house and burst into tears — then I stood here at three o’clock in the morning and thought ‘my word means nothing’,” said MacDonald.  ”Three officers don’t believe me, so I phoned the hospital and took a taxi over to have a blood test.  I’m not going to let the Mounties get away with saying I was drunk.”

At the Cranbrook, B.C., hospital, she obtained a laboratory document proving what she’d desperately been trying to tell police a few minutes before.  There was no alcohol in her system — not a drop — and yet MacDonald’s failure to provide a proper breath sample meant her car was taken away for a month and her licence suspended for 90 days.

Now, $6,000 out-of-pocket and in fear of losing her home, the Cranbrook senior will wait another six months for a ruling on her case…

It was May 21 when MacDonald was approached by an off-duty RCMP officer, just outside her home.  MacDonald, a near-teetotaler, was returning from an engagement party at a friend’s house when she mistakenly turned into the wrong lane. She assumed that’s why the police officer was there.

Even when the off-duty cop told MacDonald a breathalyzer was coming to test her for drinking and driving, she didn’t worry — her last serious drink was 60 years ago. “I really don’t drink,” she said.  What she didn’t count on was the lung power needed to properly blow into a police breathalyzer. Having suffered from serious pneumonia a few years ago, she couldn’t manage.

That didn’t stop RCMP from making her try — over the next two hours, MacDonald says she was forced to stand in the chill and told to blow 15 times by increasingly snotty RCMP officers.

“He pounded on the hood of his car and shouted at me to blow. He shoved this thing in my mouth and it fell on the ground, and he picked it up and put in back in again,” said MacDonald.

“I said, ‘I don’t drink, I haven’t been drinking,’ and he said, ‘you’re sticking your tongue in there because you don’t want do this — you’re slurring, you’re drunk and you stink of alcohol.’”

RCMP officials are now reviewing the conduct of officers that night, but try as they might, the Mounties couldn’t get a sample from the shivering, teary-eyed senior, who was wearing only sandals and a thin dress.  

Thus, MacDonald was cited for failing to provide a breath sample, given a Notice of Driving Prohibition for three months, fined $500 and told her car was to be towed.

MacDonald wept, but she was sharp enough to obtain proof of her innocence, because in Canada that used to be enough to make those in power see sense.

Not anymore. Under a system about to be adopted in Alberta, drivers suspected of driving drunk, even under .05%, can lose their licences and cars without a trial.

Even after MacDonald took her blood test to the RCMP station, she was told nothing could be done…

Despite proof of alcohol-free blood, B.C.’s superintendent of motor vehicles adjudicator still found her guilty…

The ordeal took a massive toll on MacDonald — a few days later, she suffered what doctors in Calgary told her was a mild, stress-related heart attack, leaving her bed-ridden in hospital.

Back in Cranbrook, all she can do is wait.

“I’m nearly 83 and you have to cope with life, but through my years I’ve never been this traumatized over anything,” she said.  

“Especially when I’m totally innocent.”

The War on Drunk Driving continues…. 

Here We Go Again…. “Yes, We Have No Quotas”

I’ve mentioned in the past that police agencies across the country use DUI arrest quotas — and almost uniformly deny the practice.  See, for example, DUI Quotas,  "Yes, We Have No DUI Quotas" and "Inside Edition" Documents DUI Quotas Across U.S..

The latest example of this supposedly non-existent practice:

Drunk-Driving Quota Case May Lead to Similar Efforts Elsewhere

Baltimore, MD.  Jan. 6
– Even as prosecutors weigh an appeal of a Howard County judge’s decision to throw out drunken-driving charges and rule that they were tied to illegal citation quotas, defense lawyers are considering whether the same defense might apply to past or current cases.

District Court Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman’s ruling in a case against an Ellicott City woman has raised questions on both sides — as well as eyebrows around the legal community…

Hantman said the charges against Katie Majorie Quackenbush, 22, were linked to an illegal quota — a ruling based on a memorandum that police have said was intended to describe the requirements of a federal grant that paid overtime for officers to target drunken and aggressive drivers through "saturation patrols."

"I find any evidence in this case to be inadmissible," she said, according to a recording of her Thursday ruling, and that ended the prosecution. Nevertheless, the judge indicated that "I don’t think saturation patrols are in and of themselves illegal, merely the quotas."…

The police chief said a memo to officers that called for two to four citations per hour contained, “in retrospect, not the best wording,” and conceded that he “could see how it could be misinterpreted.” He said the department does not use quotas and had revised the memo.

The memo also told the officers on the drunken-driving and aggressive-driving saturation patrols that they usually produce “at or above these amounts.”

The federal funds come from the National Traffic Safety Administration to the state, according to Buel Young, a spokesman for the state Motor Vehicle Administration. Jurisdictions can apply for them.

So the police chief insists that "the department does not use quotas"…and that the memo was just "perhaps not the best wording"?  Hmmmm…’s hard to see how "it could be misinterpreted": the departmental order that cops have to produce "two to four citations per hour" sounds pretty clear to me.

Interesting that the federal grant appears to have required police agencies to use quotas….

Drunk Driving vs Distracted, Drowsy or Drugged Driving

I've received feedback concerning my post five days ago (Let's Define the Objective: Preventing Drinking — or Traffic Fatalities?), and there seems to be some skepticism concerning the relative dangers of drunk driving versus driving while either distracted, drowsy or drugged.  As I said in my post, the focus should be on the relative dangers to human life – not on whether alcohol is involved.  So let's take a look at that…

The President of MADD has been quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying: "We don’t want cell phones and drowsy driving to become the next hot-button issue for the country, because they don’t even compare with the problem of drunk driving."  The Partnership for Safe Driving, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., responded:

Let’s examine the claim. During the year 2001, the government estimates that 17,448 – or 41 percent – of the deaths on our nation’s highways were "alcohol-related." In addition, approximately 275,000 – or 16 percent – of the injuries were attributed to alcohol. Since the rate of fatalities is so high, and so much higher than the rate of injuries, let’s take a closer look at that statistic.

Of the 17,448 fatalities, 2,555 occurred in crashes where alcohol was detected but no one was over the legal limit. In these crashes, alcohol may not have been the primary factor in the crash; speed, distraction or fatigue could have been. That leaves 14,893 deaths that can actually be attributed to alcohol. However, of these, 1,770 were intoxicated pedestrians and cyclists who walked out in front of the vehicles of sober drivers. They had nothing to do with drunk driving.

The Partnership questions why these deaths were thrown in with what is normally presented as a drunk driving statistic. That leaves 13,123 deaths that can be attributed to intoxicated drivers. Of these, a staggering 8,308 were intoxicated drivers who killed themselves in crashes. That leaves 4,815 deaths in which intoxicated drivers killed someone other than themselves….

How do these figures compare with cell phone use?

To date, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has provided the only nationwide estimates of cell phone involvement in fatal and injury-producing crashes. Researchers there report that cell phones are now a factor in approximately 2,600 fatalities annually and 330,000 moderate to critical injuries. But because the data on cell phone use by motorists are still limited, the range of uncertainty is wide. Researchers say that the range for fatalities is 800 to 8,000 annually, and the range for injuries is 100,000 to one million annually….

And fatalities caused by tired and sleepy drivers?

As with cell phone use, the influence of drowsy driving and fatigue on crashes often is not known unless the driver survives the crash and admits to having nodded off. Unlike both alcohol involvement and cell phone use, there is no scientific method even available for determining its presence. That said, the government estimates conservatively that 1,500 people are killed annually as a result of motorists who fall asleep at the wheel, and another 71,000 are injured annually in such crashes. However, the National Sleep Foundation believes that drowsy driving and fatigue often play a role in crashes that are attributed to other causes. For example, the government lists driver inattention as the primary cause of approximately one million police-reported crashes each year. The sleep foundation points out that drowsy driving and fatigue make such lapses of attention more likely….

Confirmation of this data has come from a study ("Drunk or Drowsy?") jointly undertaken by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which found that “Nearly nine out of every ten police officers…reported they had stopped a driver who they believed was drunk, but turned out to be drowsy…. According to NHTSA data, up to 100,000 police-reported crashes annually involve drowsiness or fatigue as a principal causal factor.” 

Interestingly, “89 percent of police officers agreed that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving”. 

MADD’s passionate fixation on drunk driving appears to be blinding it to the importance of other, possibly more significant, causes of traffic fatalities.