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Help wanted: Prisons are desperately seeking to hire a few good guards

La Grange, Ky. - May 28, 2001

After night falls over the ridges and hollows of eastern Kentucky, Mike Dingess gets ready for work. Into the back of his black Toyota 4x4 go three standard-issue uniforms, a "goin' out outfit," and a sleeping bag. Into his pocket go well-worn photos of his wife and child. Then Dingess climbs behind the wheel for the four-hour haul through spindle forests and valleys of coal-veined rock with nothing but hillbilly music and mountain gospel to keep him company. Sunrise brings the vision of towering stone walls and razor wire and the sound of clanking steel gates.

Welcome to the Kentucky State Reformatory, a medium-security prison just outside Louisville. This is Mike Dingess's home for three days a week, a place where he will bunk in a prison tower just above the inmates he guards during the day and try to sleep away the sounds of life in stir. Dingess is a prison guard--a corrections officer in the preferred argot of the trade--in what he describes as "the worst redneck bar in the world."

When it comes to jobs, prison work gets few takers. Unemployment, even after a spring uptick, remains minimal, and wardens simply can't hire and keep enough guards to patrol cellblocks. Few workers, even low-skilled ones, want to put up with the danger, low pay, and lack of dignity. But in pockets of the nation where work is scarce, a few, like Dingess, sign up eagerly, even if it means sleeping behind bars after pulling a 13-hour shift. Dingess is one of six dozen guards living part time in the prison, Kentucky's novel answer to a shortage of corrections officers plaguing states from California to Texas to Maine. The Texas prison system, the largest in the nation, can't fill 2,800 of its roughly 26,000 officer positions, four times the number of vacancies two years ago.

During the past decade, prisons have sprung up like mushrooms across the country, creating an industry that employs more people than General Electric and costs taxpayers more than $ 40 billion a year. But it is a growth industry in trouble. There's no end of criminal defendants being clapped behind bars, so public and private prisons are ever on the lookout for guards. Private prisons, touted as a market solution to what ails crowded public penitentiaries, have proved no better at solving the labor problem. Now corrections departments are lobbying state legislatures for pay raises. (The average starting salary for officers is less than $ 22,000 a year, about $ 4,000 more than a decade ago.) Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma are among states poised to sweeten the deal. But even better pay, radio ads, and job applications on the Web haven't filled the void.

Few corrections departments have gone as far as the one in Kentucky. State Reformatory Warden Bill Seabold didn't see any alternative to offering guards billets in his prison. Last year, he was short 50 of his 311 guards. Because pay for prison guards in Kentucky is among the lowest in the country, Seabold was desperate for a hook. He didn't get any takers around Louisville for the offer of a job. The city's unemployment rate is below 4 percent; help-wanted signs dot the landscape.

Where the jobs aren't. Then Seabold cast his net farther afield, asking for guards who wanted to work three-day shifts and making a free bunk in the prison tower his selling point. In the impoverished coal and timber country of central and eastern Kentucky, he hit pay dirt. In places like Harlan and Hazard, unemployment tops 10 percent. One in four people lives below the poverty line. "New economy" jobs? Try telemarketing caller at just above minimum wage--if there are any openings.

Which is why Seabold was hailed as something of a hero. Fathers brought sons. Sons brought cousins. Husbands brought wives. Before long, they filled all the prison's open positions with guards who lived too far away to drive home every night. Others found jobs in two other Kentucky lockups. The state now has a waiting list of applicants for guard jobs.

Because of staffing problems and other headaches, some states welcomed the advent of private prisons, which promised to take on inmates for less money. But privatization hasn't shaped up as much of an alternative. Overbuilding, unexpectedly high costs, and highly publicized escapes have clobbered companies that have opened for-profit prisons. So far they provide just 120,000 of the nation's 2 million jail and prison beds.

The stock price of the largest private prison operator, the Corrections Corp. of America, reached a peak of $ 44 in 1998, but shares now trade for less than a buck. The Nashville-based company built two prisons on spec in Georgia, only to have them stand empty when contracts went elsewhere. And it, too, is struggling to find qualified guards; it recently lost contracts in North Carolina because of staff shortages.

Jerry Muncie, 60, tried his hand as a guard at a private prison and hated it. "They treated you like a dog," he says, noting that he turned to prison work after he and 4,000 other textile workers in Kentucky were laid off during the mid-1990s. Muncie now works the same three-day-on, four-day-off shift as Dingess in the Kentucky State Reformatory. For their troubles, Muncie, Dingess, and the other guards make a little over $ 18,000 a year. They also get free meals, if they don't mind eating inmate food. In some Kentucky prisons, guards stay in shacks or in nearby motels. But at the State Reformatory, most live-in guards like Dingess exist in dimly lit rooms with no air conditioning in the prison tower. On each floor, 12 guards compete for the lone shower and pair of toilets. They bed down to the sound of loudspeakers that chirp, growl, and whistle to scare birds off the razor wire. Vinyl shades over the barred windows keep the prison searchlights out.

Hazards. Some officers wince at Kentucky's staffing solution. "Already, we generally die before we're 58," says Brian Dawe, head of operations for Corrections USA, an advocacy group for corrections officers. Guards tend to commit suicide, divorce, and suffer heart attacks at unusually high rates, Dawe notes, and Kentucky's program won't improve their odds. "I'd never do it," he says. "But when you're desperate, I guess you'll do about anything. Either way it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem."

While Dingess and others taking part in the program say they are in it for the long haul, few have worked as a corrections officer for much more than a year. Nationally, 1 in 4 corrections officers quits within that time frame. No wonder. The usual hazards--thrown feces, inmates who bite, disease--grind down an officer, says Seabold, whose three decades on the job has earned him two heart attacks and one divorce. "Not everyone is cut out for this job," he adds. "That's for sure."

While Dingess likes the job, it is necessity that forces people like him to settle for a prison bed in a town known for its 24-hour Wal-Mart and karaoke bar. Dingess works at a nickel plant on his days off from the prison. He dreams of getting out of his trailer and into a house. The prison job, he thinks, could make the dream a reality. In a land where coal collapsed, factories failed, and college (assuming you can afford it) lands you a day-wage job, guarding inmates has a certain attraction.

At home, Terina Dingess holds her crying daughter, 21-month-old Morgan, and counts the days until her husband's return. "We'd like it if he wasn't gone. But he likes the work, and there's nothing around here, nothing near high-paying. My daddy worked the coal mine. At least it's not as dangerous as that."

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A Nation Incarcerated

April 30, 2001

Healani Sonoda reveals the criminalization of Native Hawaiians and their export for profit to mainland prisons.

Native Hawaiians are being imprisoned at alarming numbers in our own ancestral homeland, making Hawaii's incarceration rate the third-fastest rising in the country. Combined with increasing deportation of Native inmates to mainland private prisons, criminalization is yet another tool of American colonial power to control Native lands and deny Hawaiian sovereignty.

Though we were an independent nation, Hawaii was colonized because of American imperial, strategic interests in the Pacific and Asia. The United States overthrew our government and stole millions of acres of Native lands. Now a colonized people, we inhabit the islands' lowest socioeconomic strata. For Hawaiians, land is familial, the source of material, cultural, and spiritual existence and political power. One devastating outcome of land dispossession today is the disproportionate rates of incarceration of Native adults and children.

By the time the United States annexed the Hawaiian Kingdom, white and Asian settlers outnumbered the Native population by three to one, with Japanese laborers comprising the largest settler group. Today, the ratio is 80 percent settlers to 20 percent Natives. Local Japanese settlers have ascended to ruling-class status and direct the American colonial system, along with whites.

Settler laws criminalized traditional Hawaiian ways, including hula, surfing, and speaking the Native tongue. Hawaiians were charged with vagrancy, whereas for millennia, we had freely traveled to the mountains and ocean to gather food and fish. For these colonial crimes, Hawaiians were imprisoned and fined. After more than a century of violent colonial rule, poverty-stricken, landless Hawaiians have become a criminal stereotype in Hawai'i. Settlers institute laws and policies to maintain their control over Hawaii's lands and resources, warehousing Native Hawaiians into correctional facilities.

Settler Racism

The U.S. is a racist, settler colonial country built upon Native peoples' lands. Colonizers imposed their education, health, housing, and criminal justice systems on Hawaii (the colony), reflecting racist policies enforced in the continental United States (the metro-pole). Native Hawaiian professor Haunani-Kay Trask defines racism as a "historically created system of power in which one racial/ethnic group dominates another racial/ethnic group for the benefit of the dominating group."

Prospering within this colonial system, local Japanese settlers today wield the institutional power to be racist against Hawaiians. Since the 1954 Democratic Party takeover, local Japanese have held a majority of legislative seats. A Japanese man heads the prison system. Another is president of the state House of Representatives, while the lieutenant governor is also Japanese. Although Japanese settlers once suffered under racist American laws, in a colony such as Hawaii, all settlers benefit over indigenous Hawaiians.

American incarceration has always been conducted along racial and class lines. In continental America, for every white arrest, there are three black arrests. The main racial tension in Hawaii, however, is not between whites and people of color, but between white and Asian settlers against Hawaiians. Hawaiians are incarcerated at a higher rate than these settlers. Hawaiians are 20 percent of Hawaii's population, yet comprise 45 percent of the inmate population; Japanese settlers, 20 percent of the population, constitute less than four percent of Hawaii's inmates. These statistics reflect who is in control. Whites hold political power in America, with average household earnings almost double those of black households. Japanese settlers in Hawai'i hold the same percentage of income advantage over Hawaiians.

While Asian settlers celebrate their "success" on Hawaiian ancestral lands, Hawaiians live in poverty. With settlers running banks, corporations, and policy boards, Hawaiians become excluded as a group from economic advancement. The local Japanese and white unemployment rates are 2.97 percent and 6.57 percent respectively, while the Hawaiian rate is 10.42 percent. Not surprisingly, our second most common offense is "property crimes." National research repeatedly links low income and unemployment to incarceration rates. The percentage of Hawaiians below the poverty level is double Hawaii's average.

Economic factors compound the problems of arrested Hawaiians. When considering a pretrial-supervised release, the judge rules based on middle-class standards: whether the defendant has a job, the same residence for a year, and no substance abuse. Most poor people -- including Hawaiians -- are unemployed, under-educated, and have no stable home or are homeless. Many turn to drugs to escape the hardships of poverty. Thus, they have a greater chance of incarceration even before conviction.

Contrary to settlers' "violent" stereotype of Native criminals, the top offense in Hawaiian arrests is nonviolent technical crimes (like parole violations). These crimes often result from lack of money. Many Hawaiians remain in jail before trial because their families cannot afford the $50 or $100 bail.

While Hawaiians average 23 percent of Hawaii's arrests, they are twice as likely to be incarcerated after going through the colonial legal process than any settler group. Recent statistics establish Hawaii's indigenous inmate population at 45 percent, but many correctional facility workers estimate a Native inmate population at closer to 60 percent. The group with the state's highest unemployment rate, Hawaiians will experience rising arrest rates in a worsening economy. Hawaii's incarceration rate rose 13.6 percent between 1997 and 1998. The disproportionate incarceration of Hawaiians contradicts Hawaii's lovely "melting pot" image presented by Asian and white settlers, and testifies to the violence of institutionalized racism.

Privatization of Prisons

The over-incarceration of Hawaiians creates overcrowded prisons. From 1992, the state's "solution" has been to deport inmates, 40 percent of whom are Hawaiian, to distant facilities on the continental U.S. This deportation policy recalls the U.S. Indian Removal Act of 1830 ("Trail of Tears"), which removed the Creeks, Seminoles, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws from their ancestral lands so white people could settle there. The removal of Native Hawaiian inmates from the island colony is an attack on the larger Hawaiian community, as we press forward with domestic and international claims for sovereignty and lands. The removal policy further disintegrates Hawaiian families.

Native inmates are sent to private prisons owned by multinational corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which runs correctional facilities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. The state of Hawaii claims to save $50 per inmate daily by sending prisoners to continental private prisons. In addition, CCA offered the state financial incentives to house all Hawaii inmates in CCA facilities at a discount. With annual profits exceeding $26 million for inmate deportation, state and corporate interests overshadow the well-being of prisoners and their families.

Prison corporations like CCA profit by contracting cheap prison labor to private businesses. In Hawaii's facilities, manufacturers and the state pay inmates to produce goods at rates outrageously below minimum wage (38 to 99 cents an hour). When Hawaii inmates are deported to continental facilities, their pay plummets to 14 to 38 cents an hour.

Prison corporations handle lucrative contracts between prisons and phone service providers. MCI, AT&T, and Sprint charge exorbitant rates for calls; prison corporations reap up to 60 percent of generated revenues. In one year, the California and New York prison systems profited $20.5 million each from phone revenues. Hawaii residents pay up to $30 for a half-hour call to family members incarcerated on the continent. For some inmates, the excessive cost severs family ties. Through deportation, the state of Hawaii, CCA, and other corporations profit off a colonized, poverty-stricken indigenous community. The prisoner-for-profit assault on Native people by the government and corporations is not new. This public-private institutional relationship among settlers also exists in Hawaii's tourist industry, where state policy commodities Hawaiian culture.

Alternative Solutions

Culturally-based, rehabilitative, and holistic programs are necessary alternatives to deportation. These programs restore the spiritual, cultural, and physical well-being of Hawaiian inmates while reintegrating them into their families and communities. Although some correctional facilities have established Hawaiian cultural classes, these are frequently canceled because of "security risks," despite the need for such programs. The Native American Prisoner Rights Advocacy Coalition challenges these "security risk" concerns, which often ban indigenous peoples' traditional religious practices in U.S. correctional facilities. Denying Hawaiian prisoners' cultural resources is denying them the opportunity to recover and rehabilitate.

Criminalizing drug abuse among Native Hawaiians, rather than treating it as a response to the hopelessness of colonialism, contributes to Hawaii's overcrowded facilities and the high recidivism rate for men. If drug addiction were treated as a medical problem (as it is in Spain, Italy, and Portugal) and not a crime, the prison "problem" would significantly decrease. The Department of Public Safety estimates that 80 percent of Hawaii's inmates have substance-abuse problems, but prisons provide treatment for fewer than 20 percent of these inmates. Hawaiians make up 40 percent of all substance-abuse program participants in Hawaii, demonstrating the need for programs that are culturally tailored to Hawaiians.

Ho'omau Ke Ola is one of the few drug programs integrating traditional Hawaiian practices such as ho'oponopono (spiritually based conflict resolution). Headed by a Hawaiian woman, Hooipo DeCambra, this program operates in Wai'anae, the largest Hawaiian community in Hawaii. Appropriate drug treatment rehabilitates prisoners and prevents recidivism. A statewide system of culturally-based rehabilitation centers would greatly reduce the need for prison space and the number of incarcerated Hawaiians.

However, the state of Hawaii rarely invests in developing and expanding alternative programs. It instead reinforces the colonial cycle of incarceration for Hawaiian families. While Hawaiian children make up 35 percent of juvenile arrests, they comprise 52 percent of Hawaii's youth correctional facility population. Approximately 5,000 Hawaiian children are arrested annually, and a significant number "graduate" into adult facilities.

Imprisonment of the Nation

While most white and local Japanese settlers have never been inside a colonial prison, most Hawaiians have family members or friends who are or were incarcerated. Recently, a local Japanese man in his speeding car killed two people on two separate occasions, yet walked free. Meanwhile, a Hawaiian man convicted of one count of attempted murder serves a 17-year sentence far from his family in a private Arizona facility. These are typical examples of colonial justice. When Japanese settlers commit crimes, the settler public is shocked, as these acts contradict stereotypical expectations. The notorious "Xerox" killings by Byran Uyesugi, who shot seven people in 1999, shook the settler population. Uncomfortable with seeing a Japanese face labeled "mass murderer" in Hawai i's newspapers, settlers focused on "why did he do it?" -- a question never asked about Hawaiian defendants, who are often assumed guilty.

For Native Hawaiians, American correctional facilities are part of the violent colonial apparatus. These facilities commit human rights abuses on prisoners and exploit them for government and private profit. Denying the need for alternative programs, Hawaii's Public Safety Department, run by local Japanese and other settlers, criminalizes, dehumanizes, and deports Hawaiians at a disproportionate rate. Since the arrival of foreigners and their "systems of power," which brought mass death, oppression, and disenfranchisement for Native Hawaiians, we have been degraded to criminal status in our own homeland and become a nation incarcerated.

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News Release

Pa. State Corrections Officer Association
MAY 22/01

The 9,500 correctional employees of the state's designated H-1 bargaining unit will have a new union representing their interests beginning July 1st.

The Pa. State Corrections Officer Association (PSCOA) is pleased to announce that their organization has emerged as the victor in a hotly contested union representation election with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) which has represented the unit for nearly 30 years.

The Pa. Labor Relations Board conducted the election by mail from May 7th through the 21st. The ballot count commenced at nine o'clock this morning in Room E-100 at the Labor and Industry Building in Harrisburg. Of the nearly 8500 ballots returned, the PSCOA garnered 4,881 compared to AFSCME's 3,585.

This translates into the PSCOA receiving 57% of the ballots cast to AFSCME's 43%.

For the ballot watchers and a room full of AFSCME and PSCOA partisans, the much anticipated count soon turned into a tedious procedure lasting several hours while labor board officials opened envelopes. The interest returned with the board's commencement of actually counting the ballots. Excitement grew as the counting of the PSCOA ballots proceeded. When the victor became apparent, PSCOA members became quietly jubilant inside the conference room while the many AFSCME supporters present were silent.

"Our union brothers and sisters have shown their faith in themselves and the PSCOA, now the leadership must prove themselves worthy of the trust." Said Denny Hoover, PSCOA press secretary. In preparation of becoming the union, the PSCOA will be hiring field agents, office staff and organizing the local affiliates. Their legal counsel, the labor law firm of Sagot, Jennings, and Sigmond will make arrangements with the state's Office of Administration to negotiate a new contract for the PSCOA. The current AFSCME contract expires on June 30th.

The PSCOA initiated the campaign in January when the membership attending their annual meeting made clear their desire to change from being a watchdog and correctional advocacy group to becoming the bargaining agent. In the months leading up to the election, the PSCOA stressed that correctional employees are the most qualified to address the unique issues that face them on a daily basis. This premise is supported by correctional employees in 18 other states including New York and California that have forsaken large, diverse, national unions in favor of one-issue, independent correctional unions.
Denny Hoover
PSCOA press secretary
RD#2 Box 426
Tyrone, Pa. 16686

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Big Brother tightens his grip

By John Sewell

Mike's my Big Brother, and I don't like it. He's a control freak who has gone bonkers, and I'm ready to lash out at him.

Mike's the Premier of Ontario, and under cover of the budget noise on May 9, he introduced a new law, Bill 46, that confirms his status as the Biggest Brother since 1984. The bill is entitled "An Act Respecting the Accountability of Public Sector Organizations," and it appears he's anxious to push it through the legislature, probably without public hearings, before adjournment on June 28.

This bill is the most sweeping, most frightening piece of legislation imaginable in this day and age. It forces the Mike Harris gang into virtually every nook and cranny of public life in Ontario, giving the government enormous powers to interfere with every public enterprise and every individual involved with the public sector.

Bill 46 requires every public sector organization to report in writing, in great detail, to the Minister of Finance every year. Every municipality must report, as must every school board, hospital, college and health agency. And every organization appointed by every municipality, school board, hospital, etc. -- as well as every authority and commission of these classes of organization. That means every arena board. Every library board. Every museum board. Every community agency that has one or more councillors on its board.

And these will not be little one-page reports. No, we're talking serious wads of paper. The legislation requires each organization to prepare a business plan that consists of 12 different sections, including "a description of the human, financial, technological and other resources that the organization will need during the year to achieve [its] goals and objectives."

Another part of the report will be "a description of the measures the organization will take to improve its services and its efficiency and the measures it will take to identify alternative methods of delivering its services, including the delivery of those services by the private sector."

That's the section that requires everyone to consider contracting out everything. It will be difficult for any organization to prepare the report in less than 50 pages -- 200 to 300 is more likely. The costs will be significant, and the legislation does not suggest that the Minister of Finance will pick up any of them.

So an organization you thought was responsible to the local community, or the municipality you thought was responsible to the local electorate, is, according to Bill 46, really responsible to the Minister of Finance. Big Brother is centralizing on a grand scale.

This is serious micro-management, the model for which appears to be Lenin's Soviet Union. It is unclear what the cost of this exercise of control will be to the Finance Minister. The city of Toronto has more than 100 boards, commissions and authorities. There are 443 municipalities in Ontario, and each of them has commissions, boards and authorities. In the municipal sector alone there must be more than 10,000 organizations, each required to file a report of several hundred pages, and that doesn't include the hospitals, etc. How many provincial staff will be hired to read these reports? To file them? To report on them? Or is the minister just creating a make-work project?

Another section of Bill 46 states, "The Minister of Finance may require [any] organization to review its financial management, business practices and operating practices and to report the results of the review to the Minister." So the minister will look down with his all-seeing Big Brotherish eye, and say to some little community centre that's trying its best to deliver good services to its community, "You! Justify yourself to me!"

The section goes on to say the minister can dictate the terms of the review and hire anyone he wants to do reviews for him, and "may require the organization to pay all or part of the cost of a review, and the organization shall do so." That's like the Chinese army charging the family of the executed for the cost of the bullet.

Another section says the minister can order any other ministry, apparently for any or no reason at all, "to withhold all or part of any amount that ministry is required by law to pay," and that this section will "prevail over any other Act or regulation." Nothing in this legislation restricts the minister from disregarding the law to deny anyone or any organization finances if that is what he wants to do. Talk about arbitrary use of authority!

Another section says the Finance Minister may collect and use personal information picked up in these organizational sweeps, and can disclose it if he thinks he should, and such disclosure "shall not be deemed by any court or person to be in breach of or contrary to any agreement that purports to restrict or prohibit that disclosure." This puts an effective end to personal privacy.

All this harm is accomplished in a brief 11 pages. View the full text at and weep. This is way, way over the top. Bill 46 is the mark of a government seriously out of control.

Something must be done to stop Mike Harris. He's power-mad, and this example of centralized micro-management, forcing all public organizations to be responsible to him, is a sign of serious illness. His party members are afraid to speak up, and his corporate sponsors clearly aren't paying attention to the directions of his dementia. We're living in nightmare Ontario.

John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto.

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Death row guards facing escalating dangers

Tuesday, May 8, 2001

SAN QUENTIN, CALIF. -- Each time the gates clank shut behind him, prison guard Robert Trono enters a violent realm of bitter men with nothing left to lose.

The 39-year-old sergeant works in a cramped concrete cellblock that houses 85 killers awaiting execution. It is a place where riot gear, stab-proof vests, biohazard body suits and fear are standard issue.

Trono helps oversee inmates known as the Grade-B condemned, the most dangerous of San Quentin prison's 580 death row prisoners. Singled out for their unruly behavior and gang leadership roles, isolated in a three-story building called the Adjustment Center, they are waging an organized behind-bars war against San Quentin's guards and staff.

Over the last 18 months, officials say, Grade-B inmates have committed 67 attacks, triple the rate of only a few years ago. They include one attempted stabbing, 15 kicks and five slashings with prison-made knives and razors.

One convict sliced an officer's wrists and hands when he reached into the inmate's cell to deliver a food tray. And in five other incidents, small arrows fired from makeshift blowguns have stuck in the arms, necks and faces of guards who were not wearing protective shields.

"Walking those cellblocks requires every bit of your attention, every moment of the day," said Trono, a cautious, compact man. "There's no room to breathe a sigh of relief until you're walking out those doors."

What Trono and others dread most are "gassings," when prisoners hurl cups filled with feces and urine or even infected blood at the faces of guards. Prison officials say 41 gassing attacks have taken place at the Adjustment Center since 1999, requiring officers to be tested for HIV and hepatitis C.

"Being gassed turns you into a different person," said Tony Jones, president of San Quentin's 800-member correctional officers union. "It's the most disgusting thing you can ever imagine. The first time it happened to me, the stuff got into my eyes and ears. I took 15 showers that day and I still couldn't get clean."

Worsened markedly

Prison officials allowed several guards to be interviewed for this report, hoping to publicize a pending amendment to state law that would drop the 63-year-old requirement that male death row inmates be housed only at San Quentin. Troublesome convicts could then be moved to newer, more secure prisons.

The Adjustment Center has always been dangerous. But in recent months crowding and tensions between guards and several prison gangs have worsened markedly, resulting in the unprecedented number of assaults on officers. Officials say the attacks demonstrate how guards working in aging, obsolete San Quentin risk their lives -- earning not a penny more than guards elsewhere in the system -- by coming into daily contact with the state's most hardened criminals.

Such hazards are present at California maximum-security prisons at Pelican Bay and Corcoran, but not on the scale seen now at San Quentin's Adjustment Center, officials say.

As a result, the Adjustment Center has emerged as one of the nation's most perilous prison beats, because inmates know the system can do virtually nothing more to punish or control them.

"I've been on a lot of death rows and I've never heard of attacks like this," said Robert Johnson, a professor of justice and social psychology at American University in Washington, D.C., and the author of two books, "Condemned to Die: Life Under Sentence of Death" and "Death Work: A Study of the Modern Execution Process."

"The general wisdom is that death row dwellers want to appear to be the kind of people you give life in prison rather than the gas chamber, so they're usually well-behaved. But this sounds like an extension of gang mentality. This sounds like chaos."

Since the attacks began, Trono and other guards have confiscated slashing devices fashioned from razor blades smuggled from the inmate shower area and melted into the end of a toothbrush with a cigarette lighter.

They have seen darts made from paper clips, heavy-duty staples pried from cardboard boxes or legal binders and even copper wire from a TV antenna -- each filed to a lethal point on the concrete cell floor. The missiles are often fired from a makeshift blowgun -- a tightly wound newspaper, hardened with dried oatmeal -- or propelled with elastic bands salvaged from socks or underwear.

Trono has been gassed six times, but never hit in the face. He has also been spit on and speared in the shoulder by an inmate's arrow.

As a result, he and other guards now walk the cellblock in tactical teams of four, sliding a plexiglass shield the size of a picture window between them and inmates.

The father of four small children, Trono never discusses his job with his wife or family -- only with fellow guards who can fathom the daily pressures of the cellblock that both guards and inmates call the AC.

"The rest of the prison just doesn't see the violence we have here in the AC," he says. "It's given me gray hairs."

More freedom

Officers blame the attacks on frustrated members of the Mexican mafia who have demanded to be returned to the main death row population, where inmates have such advantages as more freedom of movement and contact visits in which they can embrace relatives.
Of the Adjustment Center's 85 prisoners, 45 have attempted assaults on staff, guards say.
Inmate advocates say the vast majority of death row inmates -- 495 men housed elsewhere at San Quentin and the 12 women at the Central California Women's Facility at Chowchilla -- cause prison officials few problems.

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Private prison rip-off continues

Baton Rouge, LA. - May 27, 2001

The juvenile prison at Tallulah is still a monument to bad Louisiana politics and proof that the private sector doesn't always perform better than government.

It shows how difficult it can be to undo political shenanigans, even when they're revealed to the public, and how costly they can continue to be, even after it becomes clear the public's interest has not been served.

We all should bear those things in mind whenever politicians and others proselytize for privatization of public functions. Sometimes privatization does lubricate gears in the machinery of government services, but it's also a useful way to grease palms.

State corrections officials had to step in and take over the troubled private juvenile prison at Tallulah in 1999.

Now, two years later, three politically wired allies of former Gov. Edwin Edwards still own the place, and it's still making them richer at the state's expense.

This is a rip-off, pure and simple.

The state won't even own the place after construction bonds are retired with state dollars, Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle said. The bonds are being paid off with money that the state provides to house juvenile offenders.

Kyle related findings regarding the prison in a report filed at the request of the Senate Judiciary B Commmittee. The panel has oversight responsibility for corrections matters.

George Fischer, James Brown and Verdi Adam got the contract to build and operate the prison in the mid-1990s, during Edwards' last administration. The contract involved them, the state and the town of Tallulah.

Since 1995, the contract has brought the trio almost $9 million, with another $600,000 coming this fiscal year.

Fischer served Edwards as a campaign manager and head of the state highway department, where Adam was a chief engineer. Brown, from Tallulah, was a supporter of the former governor.

The three didn't have any experience or background in running a prison. That obviously was unnecessary to land such a contract in Louisiana, where who you know is what really counts.

Precisely how this all occurred seems unclear. Kyle's office couldn't find a current or former official willing to take responsibility for the three men getting the contract to build and operate the prison.

Imagine that. Three politically connected characters got a contract to build and run a private prison for the state, and nobody seems to know exactly who picked them to get the pact. Is this a great state, or what?

If there is any legal way to do it, the state should prevent these people from continuing to profit from this deal that has been so lucrative for them. Also, if there is any legal way to do it, the state should recover as much as possible of the money they've raked in, at least since it became necessary for the state to run the prison.

We continue to believe that privatization of public prisons is very bad public policy. However, we recognize that some other public functions can be successfully privatized to the public's benefit.

We hope, though, that any future efforts to privatize state government functions will be structured to prohibit the privatizers from continuing to rip off the public if privatization fails.

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NAFTA rules violate press freedom guarantees

OTTAWA, May 29 /CNW/ - A coalition is attacking the secrecy of NAFTA's Chapter 11 tribunals, arguing it violates Canadians' rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The coalition filed a legal challenge today in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The Sierra Legal Defence Fund filed the challenge on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Democracy Watch. The challenge defends rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The secrecy of these tribunals flies in the face of long-established principles that the judicial system must operate under the penetrating light of public scrutiny. We believe Canada's agreement to NAFTA is unconstitutional, because it incorporates this secret process," said Raymond MacCallum, lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

NAFTA's Chapter 11 gives foreign corporations the power to sue governments for infringing on their investments. Claims are heard by tribunals behind closed doors. The secrecy of the tribunals calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Chapter 11 process, argue the groups.

"Corporations are using Chapter 11 to launch a wholesale attack on the power of our governments to govern, to protect the environment and provide public services. Under NAFTA's rules, they can do this with impunity. This case confirms the government approaches trade without any regard for democratic rights. We will defend these rights - and our public services," said Judy Darcy, CUPE National President.

The coalition believes Canadians need access to information and the decision-making process to hold public institutions to account - particularly on environmental issues, given the poor environmental track record of international trade tribunals.

"NAFTA tribunals make decisions that have a greater impact on the lives of Canadians than many courts. Canadians and the media can walk into any court in Canada and watch what's going on, and NAFTA tribunals should face the same scrutiny," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. The Canadian government has the discretion to release a tribunal's final ruling, but is under no obligation to do so. The only way citizens or the press can attend a tribunal hearing is if all parties agree - which has not happened to date.

A win in the courts, leading to a declaration that Canada's agreement to NAFTA in its present form is unconstitutional, will force Canada to negotiate with the United States and Mexico to amend the secrecy rules of Chapter 11. Any new provisions will have to uphold Canadians' Charter-guaranteed rights. The case is particularly pressing, given that a leaked draft of the investment chapter of the Free Trade Area of the Americas includes a similar secretive process.

A backgrounder outlining the case is available on the web sites of all three organizations, listed below.

CUPE is Canada's largest union, representing a half-million women and men working in health care, emergency services, education, municipalities, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation and airlines. For more information visit

Democracy Watch is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan citizen advocacy group that aims to reform Canadian government and business institutions to bring them into line with the realities of a modern, working democracy. For more information visit

Sierra Legal Defence Fund is a non-profit environmental law organization that provides free legal and scientific services to conservation groups and concerned citizens across Canada. For more information visit

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In 1964 a tsunami swept over Crescent City, California completely destroying the downtown. Only nine people died, but the town - nestled just below the Oregon border -- never recovered.

Interestingly, a tsunami is often (typically?) a series of waves arriving several minutes apart. In the case above, the downtown area was successfully evacuated and no lives were lost when the first wave hit. It was survivors who returned too soon to the devastated area and were hit by the second wave who were lost.

In 1989 another tsunami hit -- this time the tidal wave was political. The California Department of Corrections rolled in, and with little opposition built the sprawling $277 million Pelican Bay State Prison, one of the newest, meanest super-max lockups in the system. The prison is also Crescent City and Del Norte County's largest employer.

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TULSA, Okla. - May 30, 2001

For the third time this year, an inmate has been mistakenly released from the privately operated Tulsa Jail.

Clifford Meano, who faces nine counts of sexually abusing a minor child, was mistakenly set free on Tuesday night, said Marvin Branham, a spokesman for the jail, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Meano was arrested in Cleveland in Pawnee County Wednesday morning and returned to the Tulsa Jail, Branham said.

Branham said Meano was released after an order dismissing four counts against Meano was interpreted by jail officials as meaning that all of the counts against him had been dropped. He still faces 11 other criminal counts.

"The way it looked to both the release clerk and her supervisor, all counts were being dismissed," Branham said. "That's how they interpreted the paperwork."

"I believe that the investigation probably will determine that it should have been prevented here at the facility."

In the other two cases:

- A Texas inmate was accidentally released from the Tulsa Jail in January after getting a suspended sentence on Oklahoma drug and stolen vehicle charges.

He should have been sent back to Texas authorities. Upon his release, the inmate, Darrell Ray Heinrichs, hitchhiked back to Texas anyway and turned himself in to continue serving time on a Texas drug conviction.

- Steven Mark Holley, who was facing armed robbery charges, was freed on May 11 after prosecutors dismissed state charges and refiled those charges in federal court.

Holley remains at large.

Branham said these two mistaken releases arose from paperwork errors that were not fault of Tulsa Jail employees.

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Public Safety Act revived

May 30, 2001

Ongoing problems at private prisons nationwide continue to cause great concern among Capitol Hill lawmakers, prompting the reintroduction of the Public Safety Act by the 107th Congress.

The act would prohibit federal private prisons and deny grants for correctional facilities to states and municipalities that operate private correctional facilities. It would also require that inmates be housed in facilities that federal employees manage and maintain.

By keeping prison operation a public function, this bill would protect taxpayers by avoiding hidden costs and financial and legal liabilities, supporters say.

Corrections officers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees joined Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, on May 8, when he reintroduced the bill. It was first introduced in March 1999, in the wake of frequent escapes, riots and prisoner-on-prisoner violence in private prisons.

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Prison guard charged with smuggling for inmates

THORNBURY - A Delaware County prison guard turned herself in yesterday on charges of supplying inmates with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, authorities said.

Lisa Clark, 27, of Philadelphia, was caught in April with 13 packs of cigarettes, according to an incident report from the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. She later admitted to Delaware County detectives that she had been smuggling marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol into the prison to sell to inmates, authorities said.

If convicted of the felony charge of smuggling controlled substances into a state facility, Clark could be sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison. Clark was suspended without pay pending a disciplinary hearing, according to the incident report.

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Dalton McGuinty & Dave Levac against Private 'Superjail'

PENETANGUISHENE - Ontario Opposition leader Dalton McGuinty says he'll do his best to ensure the US-based private operator of the Penetanguishene super jail has a short stay in the community.

Accompanied by party Corrections critic Dave Levac, Mr. McGuinty met with private foes and then fielded questions from the audience, which included local municipal politicians and correction officers representing more than a dozen aging Ontario jails that are being closed and replaced by the new jails in Penetanguishene and Lindsay.

Utah-based Management & Training Corporation won the five-year deal on a tender bid price of about $79 per prisoner per day almost half the provincial public fiscal average of $140 daily.

Both McGuinty and Mr. Levac predicted the province would skew or conceal comparison figures between the two new institutions to show the Penetanguishene jail was being operated more efficiently and pave the way for more widespread privatization of the corrections system.

The Penetang jail is the first in Canada to be run by a private operator. Industry analysts who attended protest rallies in Penetanguishene said studies show a higher violence and escape rate in private prisons in the US than public ones, and warned for-profit operators would sacrifice inmate rehabilitation and jail security.

Mr. Levac charged the Mike Harris government "has lied to Penetanguishene" and cited the government reversal on privatization.

Two years ago Corrections Minister Rob Sampson announced the Lindsay facility would be privately operated while Penetanguishene would remain in the public domain. He reversed that decision in 1999. Municipal officials contend they would have never begun efforts to land the jail in 1997 had they known it was to be privately run.

*Excerpt taken from the May 18, 2001 edition of The Free Press in Penetanguishene.

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Support for Harris Tories plummets

Liberals would win majority today, poll says

Support for the Ontario Conservatives under Premier Mike Harris has plummeted to its lowest level since the party first came to power in 1995, a new public opinion poll shows.

The survey, released just days before the Tories' sixth anniversary in office, shows the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty would win a clear majority victory if an election were held now.

``It's not so much the Liberals are doing better, (rather) the Tories are doing worse,'' said Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research Associates.

The Toronto Star poll, conducted by Ekos Research, shows the Liberals with 50 per cent of decided voters, compared with 34 per cent for the Tories.

The province's New Democrats with leader Howard Hampton and just nine seats in the Legislature, are at 12 per cent while 3 per cent support other parties.

In the last election on June 3, 1999, the Tories captured 46 per cent of the votes while the Liberals received 40 per cent and the NDP 13 per cent.

The poll is the largest conducted in Ontario since the 1999 election and is considered the truest snapshot of voter intentions. The next election is expected in 2003.

Some 18 per cent said they did not know which party they supported or refused to say.

The results are based on telephone interviews with 1,209 Ontario residents between April 24 and May 22. The poll is considered accurate within 2.8 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

The poll is a clear indication that Ontario voters are upset with the Harris government's handling of health care and education, Graves suggested.

It also shows female voters are turning their backs on the Harris government in huge numbers, as are young voters and those with middle- and lower-income levels.

Graves attributed some of the Tory slump to Harris and Health Minister Tony Clement's recent comments about increasing private-sector involvement in the province's health-care system.

The recent move by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to give tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools was likely not a major factor in the poll because the bulk of the interviews with voters were conducted before the May 9 budget announcement, Graves said.

The poll is particularly good news for McGuinty and the Liberals, who have hammered the Tories over health care and education for the past two years.

The gap between the Liberals and the Tories is the biggest since the 1999 election - and is widening.

But it is bad news for the NDP and Hampton, with a clear indication that neither the party nor the leader have gained any significant ground on either of the two other parties.

The NDP has remained almost rock solid in support at 11-12 per cent since the last election - a signal it could again be facing the threat of losing its official party status in the next election.

Graves said that while the polling numbers for the Tories are not drastically lower than they were at this time last year - when support for the Tories was at 37 per cent compared to 48 per cent for the Liberals in the weeks following the Walkerton water tragedy - the split between men and women has intensified dramatically.

``There is an extreme gender skew to males and older upper-income households,'' Graves said of the Tory numbers.

The poll shows that Tory support is 63 per cent male and 37 per cent female. Conservative supporters are also over-represented in the higher-income brackets of people earning more than $80,000 and over the age of 65.

The poll results come on the eve of the provincial Conservatives' anniversary barbecue tomorrow to celebrate the two years that have passed since they won re-election and the six years they have been in office.

Harris will attend the barbecue in King City after campaigning with his party's candidate in the upcoming by-election in Vaughan-King-Aurora to fill the seat held by former cabinet minister Al Palladini, who died in February. On the gender issue, which is not a new one for the Tories and one that Harris said the party would attempt to address in the run-up to the 1999 campaign, the Liberal support is 58 per cent female and 42 per cent male.

On the issue of privatization of health services, both Harris and Clement have said they are not opposed to private companies building and running hospitals or other medical clinics as long as they are accessible to all.

``I wonder if they are taking a hit because of the focus on health-care privatization, hardly a popular issue in Ontario,'' Graves said, adding that talk of private health care coincided with the survey of Ontarians.

He added that tracking polls show that when the government was focusing on changes in the public education system, support remained high or at least stable, but the shift to talking about fundamental changes to medicare may have hurt them with voters.

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