Saturday, June 23, 2012

10:46 AM 6/23/2012 - NYT Review - Op-Ed Columnist: Prisons, Privatization, Patronage - via NYT > N.Y. / Region by By PAUL KRUGMAN on 6/22/12 - Mike Nova's starred items

10:46 AM 6/23/2012 - NYT Review - Mike Nova's starred items

via NYT > N.Y. / Region by By PAUL KRUGMAN on 6/22/12
The halfway houses from hell in New Jersey are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.

Op-Ed Columnist

Prisons, Privatization, Patronage

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Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman

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First of all, about those halfway houses: In 2010, Chris Christie, the state’s governor — who has close personal ties to Community Education Centers, the largest operator of these facilities, and who once worked as a lobbyist for the firm — described the company’s operations as “representing the very best of the human spirit.” But The Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates.
It’s a terrible story. But, as I said, you really need to see it in the broader context of a nationwide drive on the part of America’s right to privatize government functions, very much including the operation of prisons. What’s behind this drive?
You might be tempted to say that it reflects conservative belief in the magic of the marketplace, in the superiority of free-market competition over government planning. And that’s certainly the way right-wing politicians like to frame the issue.
But if you think about it even for a minute, you realize that the one thing the companies that make up the prison-industrial complex — companies like Community Education or the private-prison giant Corrections Corporation of America — are definitely not doing is competing in a free market. They are, instead, living off government contracts. There isn’t any market here, and there is, therefore, no reason to expect any magical gains in efficiency.
And, sure enough, despite many promises that prison privatization will lead to big cost savings, such savings — as a comprehensive study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, concluded — “have simply not materialized.” To the extent that private prison operators do manage to save money, they do so through “reductions in staffing patterns, fringe benefits, and other labor-related costs.”
So let’s see: Privatized prisons save money by employing fewer guards and other workers, and by paying them badly. And then we get horror stories about how these prisons are run. What a surprise!
So what’s really behind the drive to privatize prisons, and just about everything else?
One answer is that privatization can serve as a stealth form of government borrowing, in which governments avoid recording upfront expenses (or even raise money by selling existing facilities) while raising their long-run costs in ways taxpayers can’t see. We hear a lot about the hidden debts that states have incurred in the form of pension liabilities; we don’t hear much about the hidden debts now being accumulated in the form of long-term contracts with private companies hired to operate prisons, schools and more.
Another answer is that privatization is a way of getting rid of public employees, who do have a habit of unionizing and tend to lean Democratic in any case.
But the main answer, surely, is to follow the money. Never mind what privatization does or doesn’t do to state budgets; think instead of what it does for both the campaign coffers and the personal finances of politicians and their friends. As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter?
Now, someone will surely point out that nonprivatized government has its own problems of undue influence, that prison guards and teachers’ unions also have political clout, and this clout sometimes distorts public policy. Fair enough. But such influence tends to be relatively transparent. Everyone knows about those arguably excessive public pensions; it took an investigation by The Times over several months to bring the account of New Jersey’s halfway-house-hell to light.
The point, then, is that you shouldn’t imagine that what The Times discovered about prison privatization in New Jersey is an isolated instance of bad behavior. It is, instead, almost surely a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality, of a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.

via NYT > World by By HARVEY MORRIS on 6/23/12
A hundred years after his birth, the British mathematician Alan Turing -- the father of modern computing -- is being celebrated as a pioneer and mourned as a victim of intolerance.

via NYT > N.Y. / Region by By RUSS BUETTNER on 6/20/12
The hearing on whether Pedro Hernandez is mentally fit for trial was supposed to be held Monday.

June 20, 2012, 2:27 pm

Sanity Hearing Is Postponed for Man Who Said He Killed Etan Patz

Pedro Hernandez
A hearing to determine whether the man who confessed to killing Etan Patz is mentally fit to stand trial will be pushed back until Oct. 1, people briefed on the case said on Wednesday.
The man, Pedro Hernandez, 51, was scheduled to appear in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Monday, when the results of a psychiatric evaluation were to be filed with the court. But Mr. Hernandez’s lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, and the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., agreed to the delay.
The district attorney’s office has so far not presented the case to a grand jury for indictment, people briefed on the case said. Under state law, a confession must be corroborated by other evidence, something that could take time since Mr. Hernandez was not a suspect until very recently.
Mr. Hernandez was arraigned on a second-degree murder charge on May 25, exactly 33 years after Etan, 6, disappeared on the first day he walked alone from his home on Prince Street to a school bus stop. Mr. Hernandez had recently started working as a stock boy at a bodega on West Broadway.
The night before his arraignment, Mr. Hernandez was placed on a suicide watch and hospitalized. .
Mr. Fishbein said at the arraignment that his client had a ”long psychiatric history” that included diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, with visual and auditory hallucinations.
Mr. Fishbein and officials in Mr. Vance’s office declined to comment on Wednesday.

via NYT > N.Y. / Region by By MOSI SECRET on 6/22/12
An appellate court was swayed by evidence that another man may have committed a 1989 Flatbush murder and that a key trial witness had recanted.

via NYT > Global Opinion by By ALEX STONE on 6/22/12
Reality and our perception of it are incommensurate to a far greater degree than is commonly believed.

via NYT > Home Page by By TARA SIEGEL BERNARD on 6/22/12
How do hospitals and doctors arrive at the fees they charge? The not-so-simple answer is that it depends on what sort of deal their medical provider has negotiated with their insurer.

via NYT > N.Y. / Region by By SHARON OTTERMAN on 6/22/12
Charges against four men marked the first time in at least two decades that the Brooklyn district attorney has pursued Hasidic Jews for intimidating someone who alleged sexual abuse.

via NYT > N.Y. / Region by By RUSS BUETTNER on 6/22/12
Michael Pena, a former New York police officer convicted in March of predatory sexual assault, pleaded guilty to rape counts on which the jury had been unable to reach a verdict.

via NYT > Global Home by By JOE DRAPE on 6/23/12
The jury verdict for the longtime Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky completed the fall of a onetime local hero in a pedophilia scandal that seized national attention.

At Trial’s End, Lawyers Say Norway Killer Is Not Insane - NYT

At Trial’s End, Lawyers Say Norway Killer Is Not Insane

Pool photo by Heiko Junge
Anders Behring Breivik in court in Oslo on Friday.
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OSLO — The trial of Anders Behring Breivik ended on Friday with an unusual reversal of roles, as defense lawyers insisted that he was sane when he killed 77 people last year and should be sentenced to prison, and prosecutors arguing that he was mentally ill and thus not criminally responsible, and should be hospitalized instead.
The 10-week trial forced Norway to relive its worst peacetime atrocity in history and give a pulpit to a man whose views repulsed most Norwegians. It also brought into sharp relief the role of psychiatry in the country’s legal system and prompted calls for a review of the balance between insanity and guilt.
“It is a reverse situation, since they want him acquitted” by reason of insanity, Geir Lippestad, one of Mr. Breivik’s lawyers, said Friday, gesturing to the prosecutors on the opposite bench. “I say that their plea should not be accepted, and Anders Behring Breivik should be treated as leniently as possible.”
On the final day of the trial, survivors and bereaved family members spoke for the last time of their loss and pain, asking for Mr. Breivik to be locked up and forgotten. Their pleas were met with vigorous applause from the courtroom, and the panel of judges said they would deliver their verdict on Aug. 24.
Members of the defense team, in tears themselves as parents spoke about their slain children, evoked Mr. Breivik’s human rights in their conclusion that he should be held accountable for his crimes. Mr. Breivik has admitted to the killings but said they were committed in self-defense to combat what he has called the “Islamic colonization” of Europe. He has argued that an insanity judgment would detract from his cause.
“The defendant has a radical political project,” Mr. Lippestad said. “To make his acts something pathological and sick deprives him of his right to take responsibility for his own actions.”
Mr. Breivik set off a bomb in downtown Oslo that killed eight people on July 22, 2011, then drove to a nearby vacation island, Utoya, and gunned down 69 more, mostly teenage members of the Labor Party youth wing.
Under Norwegian law, if a defendant was psychotic at the time of his crime, he cannot be punished. Mr. Breivik has been the subject of two conflicting psychiatric reports, one saying that he was a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic, the second that he had narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders, but was legally competent.
Experts said they were not aware of any previous case in Norwegian legal history in which prosecutors had called for an insanity verdict and defense lawyers had advocated conviction. “No one can know for sure,” said Geir Engebretsen, a judge at Oslo District Court who is not connected with the case. “But it has probably never happened before.”
Frode Elgesem, a lawyer for the Labor Party youth wing, said after the trial that it illustrated the need for legislation to overhaul a criminal justice system that allows prosecutors to argue for acquittal. Under Norwegian law, if the prosecutors “were in real doubt that he was not psychotic, they had to submit that claim to the court,” he said. The minister for justice, Grete Faremo, has said her ministry will investigate the role of forensic psychiatry in the judicial system.
On Friday, as Mr. Breivik gave a statement at the end of the day, around 20 survivors and family members filed out of the courtroom in protest.
In an hourlong, rambling warning about the evils of Norwegian multiculturalism, by way of “Sex and the City” and Tibet, Mr. Breivik drew laughter from the spectators. “I acted in the principle of necessity for my country, so I ask to be acquitted,” he concluded.
If the court finds that Mr. Breivik was sane, it can sentence him to a maximum of 21 years in prison, though he can be held past the end of his sentence if he remains a danger to society. If it accepts the prosecutors’ argument, it can order him held indefinitely for compulsory treatment.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.