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ICE to convert private Pennsylvania prison into for-profit immigrant detention center

ICE to convert private Pennsylvania prison into for-profit immigrant detention center

Philipsburg, Pennsylvania – Despite promising to end for-profit federal prisons, Biden instead seems to be allowing them to transform into private immigration detention centers.

Biden signed an executive order saying the Justice Department would not renew its contracts with for-profit prisons, but he did not extend that ban to ICE (stock image).  © 123RF/kodda

At least, that’s what’s happening in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, where US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plans to house 1,875 people, Business Insider reported.

The jail-turned-detention center will be run by GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit detention companies.

After taking office, Biden signed an executive order saying the Justice Department would not renew its contracts with for-profit prison companies, but he did not extend that commitment to ICE.

Afghan evacuees left in legal limbo after US evacuation
US politics
Afghan evacuees left in legal limbo after US evacuation

Under his presidency, the number of people detained in ICE facilities has risen from 14,000 to 22,000. At the same time, the administration is looking into opening a “temporary housing facility” at Guantanamo Bay.

Advocates slam the decision

Immigrants' rights advocates are criticizing the Biden administration for allowing ICE to continue operating for-profit facilities (stock image).
Immigrants’ rights advocates are criticizing the Biden administration for allowing ICE to continue operating for-profit facilities (stock image).  © 123RF/serrnovik

Immigrants’ rights advocates are outraged at the move, especially as ICE facilities run by GEO Group have a terrible track record when it comes to human rights.

Detention Watch Network Advocacy Director Setareh Ghandehari said the decision “flies in the face of the administration’s commitment to fight for racial equity and disavows the very foundational principles of the executive order.”

“The perverse financial incentives that drive incarceration are ever-present and thriving in ICE detention.”

Oklahoma lawmaker proposes $300 million in restitution for the Tulsa Race Massacre
US politics
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes $300 million in restitution for the Tulsa Race Massacre

Heidi Altman, policy director for the National Immigrant Justice Center, pointed out in a Twitter threat that the Philipsburg facility isn’t a one-off case.

For-profit prisons in Kansas and Tennessee are hoping ICE will bail them out and keep them operational as their contract end dates approach.

Altman also noted that ICE is trying to renew contracts in Washington and New Jersey, even though both states voted to ban future contracts with for-profit detention centers.

In February, an ICE center to detain migrant youth was opened in Virginia.

The news that for-profit prisons are becoming for-profit immigrant detention centers comes as the Biden administration faces backlash over its inhumane treatment and mass deportations of Haitians at the US-Mexico border.

Cover photo: 123RF/kodda

More on the topic US politics:

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New health care begins for Michigan’s prisoners

By EMERSON WIGAND
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s prison inmates have a new health care provider, as a $590 million contract with ties to a controversial company began this month.

The contract is with Grand Prairie Healthcare Services, a medical practice owned by Dr. Dean Rieger of Nashville, Tennessee. Grand Prairie also works in partnership with a Nashville-based health care company, Wellpath. 

According to Rieger’s description of Grand Prairie’s partnership with Wellpath, his practice will be the sole provider of medical care to the state’s incarcerated people. Wellpath will provide nonclinical support, such as human resources, finance and legal services.

The companies work together in 18 states, Judy Lilley, Wellpath’s vice president corporate communications, wrote in an email. This includes providing care for more than 10,000 inmates across Michigan’s county jails.

This switch for Michigan’s state prisons will generate savings of up to 20% compared to the current provider, Corizon, Lilley said. Grand Prairie and Wellpath share a commitment to “quality, efficient and effective care,” she said.

The Grand Prairie contract scored the highest in a review of proposals, said Chris Gautz, the Michigan Department of Corrections public information officer. The company’s value comes from experience in crisis intervention, providing weekend and night shift care for prisoners and its medication practices that could lower pharmacy spending.

The company also offers better monitoring and transparency of prisoner care than the previous provider, Gautz said.

But critics are skeptical. Matthew Robb, a Detroit attorney, is exploring a statewide class action lawsuit regarding Wellpath’s prescription policies and mental health care in Michigan’s county jails.

Wellpath is one of the largest providers of health care to incarcerated people in the country,  Robb said. 

Grand Prairie has partnered with Wellpath “for nearly a decade,” according to Dr. Rieger’s description on Wellpath’s website. However, Wellpath did not exist until 2018.

After acquiring health care provider Correct Care Solutions, H.I.G. Capital merged it with Correctional Medical Group Companies under the name Wellpath. Correct Care is a former partner of Grand Prairie.

According to the U.S. Security and Exchange Commision archives, Dr. Reiger also served as an executive at Correct Care.

 Controversies regarding Correct Care and Wellpath have appeared in several publications:

  •  Last July, the Traverse City Record Eagle reported on court testimony from prisoners and their families alleging that Wellpath withheld medication and care.
  • CNN reported that between 2014 and 2019, the company was accused of contributing to 70 deaths.
  • The Detroit Free Press reported on Jessica Preston’s lawsuit regarding Correct Care Solutions in Macomb County Jail. Preston alleges that her rights were violated when she was made to give birth on the jail’s floor.
  • A Metro Times article listed several allegations regarding care and withholding prescription medications in jails contracting Correct Care. This article mentions Brad Lafuze, who was not provided his medication in Grand Traverse County Jail. It also mentions David Stojcevski, who died in Macomb County Jail’s, from prescription medication withdrawal. 
  • A 2018 report from the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog, found Correct Care and its acquired companies had been sued nearly 1,400 times this past decade.

Focusing on the number of lawsuits is misleading, Lilley wrote. Wellpath medical professionals deliver high-quality care nationwide, she said.

“With respect to lawsuits, 91% of all matters are closed with no payment by Wellpath,” Lilley wrote in an email.

While county jails are not administered by the state, these cases raise questions regarding Wellpath’s practices and the value of the state contract to taxpayers, Robb said. In both county jails and state prisons, the incentive is still outsourcing and reducing liability.

“They keep changing their name, but it’s still the same corporation headquartered in Tennessee that is largely financed by private equity firms,” Robb said. “It’s all a huge shell game in terms of corporate formation.”

In state prisons, Wellpath will serve as a management services organization for Grand Prairie, Lilley wrote. This means handling administrative tasks related to human resources, like recruiting, finance and legal services.

A lot of times these management service organizations are set up to minimize liability and maximize profits, said Tom Watkins, former head of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. In his experience, issues of transparency and accountability in state contracts aren’t new. once public dollars become private and they lose public oversight, Watkins said.

However, the state is responsible for ensuring value for those the service is purchased for, Watkins said. This applies whether it’s cars for state employees or buying health care for prisoners.

This care is a significant responsibility for an aging population. About one quarter of Michigan prisoners are older than 50. Many are serving life without parole or sentences exceeding 20 years, said John Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, an advocacy group for people who have been incarcerated and prison reform. Health care for inmates is a significant concern of his organization and also is a significant cost to Michigan taxpayers.

Michigan has the country’s oldest prisoner population, including people in their 80s, Gautz said. Many did not receive regular health care prior to incarceration. Undiagnosed illnesses are often uncovered in prison.

“There is no Medicare or Medicaid coverage for people who are incarcerated,” Cooper said. “So, that’s all state of Michigan general fund dollars that are paying for these things.”

Doctors in Michigan prisons are largely contracted by companies like Wellpath. Other health care providers, such as nurses, are employed by the state. The public/private system increases the department’s oversight of  health care and use of taxpayer resources, Gautz said.

“Having state employees and contractual employees together, rather than one entity providing all the services, helps us ensure that patients are getting the care that they need and deserve,” he  said. 

The corrections department looked into the validity of former complaints and allegations but focused mainly on the content of Grand Prairie’s proposals, Gautz said.

“These are human beings and we are entrusted with their care.” Gautz said. “That’s something the state has to, and does, take very seriously.”

The corrections department has a unit for contract monitoring to prevent abuses, Gautz said. This unit administers fines when necessary against the contractors that reduce their payments. 

“We have very strict protocols and when things aren’t done, we have ways to hold them to account for that,” he said.

This level of state oversight over large out-of-state companies can be difficult, Watkins said.

“The state doesn’t even have the staff, these companies have every lobbyist, every PR firm, every accountant,” Watkins said. “It’d be like having a junior Golden Gloves boxer going up against Muhammad Ali.”

Governments may contract these companies seeking reduced cost and liability, but they are designed to dodge liability, Robb said.

“It’s a game of whack-a-mole, trying to push responsibility from one place to the next,” Robb said.

People should remember that anyone can wind up in jail or prison, Robb said. Michigan residents should pay attention to how these contracts can affect the whole state.

“There are consequences for all of us, so be vigilant,” Robb said. “Deprivation of care and resources hurts all of us.”

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NYU Adjunct Lecturer Terrence Coffie Breaks Down Problem With Criminal Justice Reform

The Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, better known as the Crime Bill, led to mass incarceration in the United States …. full stop. The groundwork for both punishment of those convicted and incentives for states/feds to lock people up for long periods of time started the single largest societal experiment on criminal justice. Many the bill as a failure yet some believe that even more strict laws should be enacted to incarcerate more. Whatever your belief, criminal justice is still a hot topic of debate.

At the time the Crime Bill was passed it was supported by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed by President Bill Clinton. Republicans, led by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, also enthusiastically supported it. In fact, two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted for it at the time. There is not a group, conservative, liberal, or in-between, who did not proclaim victory for addressing what they believed would lead to less violence and drug use. Jails were built on both grants and financial incentives at both the state and federal level. Between 1980 and 2013, the federal incarceration rate jumped 518 percent as we sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. Private prison companies gained traction and an industry was born.

While one would have hoped that legislative changes at the federal level would have led to meaningful changes, that has not happened. The First Step Act has fallen short and has yet to be fully implemented. Oddly, the best thing to happen to federal criminal justice reform has been COVID-19, a sad statement, which led the Federal Bureau of Prisons to transfer some their inmate population to home confinement.

One person whose voice is gaining more attention is that of Terrence Coffie, an adjunct lecturer at New York University Silver School of School of Social Work, who writes and teaches on criminal justice reform. Coffie has a pragmatic view of the problems that the Crime Bill has caused because before teaching at NYU his first real academic accomplishment was earning his GED in 1993 at Florida’s Marion Correctional Institution, while serving a five-year sentence for possession with intent to sell. Coffie told me in an interview, “I was 40 years old before I enrolled in Bronx Community College in 2010. After that, I was offered a scholarship to NYU, where I earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. I had spent more than 19 years of my life in the cycle of incarceration.” That part of his life is long in the past.

Coffie admitted that the First Step Act looked like it was a good step to criminal justice reform. However, its promise of a long list of programs that help inmates earn credits toward more halfway house and home confinement has been bogged down by the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ inability to fully implement the program. COVID-19 has been the biggest factor facing the agency but Coffie is not hopeful that things will change. “Reduction in time behind bars is one thing, but the challenges faced by those coming out of prison are overwhelming,” Coffie said.

Those leaving prison need housing, education and work. Coffie said that each of these are complicated by the felony record. “A woman can leave prison and show up to live with a relative in a Section 8 housing and immediately put the tenant in jeopardy of a violation because a felon is in the house,” Coffie said. It is issues like that that nobody seems to want to address. Coffie has developed a Comprehensive Reentry Plan that he hopes to share with federal and State legislatures that he believes will dramatically reduce the prison population and cost to states, as well as a reallocation plan that will redirect funds to support reentry.

Coffie feels the privilege of not only teaching but for being a lecturer at NYU. “I think about what I am teaching these students and I don’t want to tell them just what the challenges are in achieving a more fair criminal justice system, but make them think about solutions,” Coffie said.

Coffie said, “I feel fortunate to be where I am in life and intend on taking advantage of this opportunity to right some wrongs and help a lot of people along the way.

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Vermont extends contract to house incarcerated individuals in Mississippi

James Baker, interim commissioner of the Department of Corrections, speaks during a public forum in Burlington on Feb. 4, 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont will continue to send some incarcerated people to an out-of-state prison.

The Department of Corrections announced Tuesday a one-year renewal of its contract to house people it has no room for in Vermont at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi. 

The facility is run by CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison operators in the country. 

The contract renewal comes despite criticism leveled at CoreCivic from the head of the corrections department more than a year ago, when he stated he lost trust in the company. James Baker, interim corrections commissioner, made the comments in the summer of 2020 when 185 Vermonters, or roughly 85% of the incarcerated individuals held at the CoreCivic facility, tested positive for Covid-19.

“We have a very good understanding with CoreCivic now,” Baker said Tuesday. He said CoreCivic has stepped up testing for Covid-19 and added cameras so officials can observe the facility remotely. 

“If there are issues,” Baker said of CoreCivic, “they are very receptive now to listening to issues.”

CoreCivic officials could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment. 

Vermont houses 145 incarcerated individuals at the Mississippi prison, a drop from the peak of 281 in August 2019. That number has declined as some incarcerated individuals have returned to Vermont facilities and transports out-of-state stopped during the pandemic, according to the corrections department. 

The contract would have expired at the beginning of the month, with the agreement officially renewed a few days earlier. 

The state initiated a contract with CoreCivic in fall 2018 and renewed that two-year contract for an additional year in October 2020. Now, the state Department of Corrections has signed the final one-year contract extension as part of that agreement. 

The deal comes as no surprise as the corrections department had not gone out to bid in search of another place to send incarcerated individuals it cannot hold in-state. Corrections officials have also repeatedly said they do not have the space to house the entire incarcerated population in Vermont facilities.

Sending incarcerated people out of state has been a topic of controversy since the 1990s, following a surge in prison populations and a lack of space to house people. The state at one time had sent as many 700 people out of state. 

Many people and organizations, including the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, have urged an end to the practice of sending people out of state. They cite a drop in the number of people held in custody compared with years ago and push for more steps to be taken to keep people out of prison in the first place. 

“The bottom line is that the state should not renew this contract ever again,” said James Lyall, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s clear past time for Vermont to end its reliance on out-of-state prisons altogether.” 

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, who oversees the state’s Prisoners’ Rights Office, said Tuesday that he was “ambivalent” about the news of the latest contract renewal with CoreCivic.

“We don’t find them to be as forthcoming with information as we had hoped from the Prisoners’ Rights Office standpoint,” Valerio said of CoreCivic, “but we haven’t had a lot of incidents to deal with it.”

Baker said the corrections department cannot house the 145 incarcerated individuals sent to Mississippi in Vermont facilities due to the lack of space, even though the population of people in custody has fallen over time.  

“Here’s the challenge,” the commissioner said. “When is Covid going to wind down? We have many beds tied up as a result of Covid-19 in Vermont, using them as quarantine beds.”

In addition, he said, the corrections department is dealing with a staffing shortage.

“We’re going to have to make some decisions in the next few months,” Baker said, “because if we decide we need to go out to bid for another contract or we extend this, that is going to require a conversation.”

Stay on top of all of Vermont’s criminal justice news. Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reporting on courts and crime.

 

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Exploring Those Ethical AI Forebodings About Veritable Societal Imprisonment Via Modern Day Autonomous Mobilized Panopticons Courtesy Of AI-Based Self-Driving Cars

You are being watched.

Maybe, maybe not.

Let’s unpack that.

Assume that you are comfortably sitting in the sanctity of your private bedroom and there is no one else there. The drapes are drawn closed. For all intents and purposes, you are seemingly not being watched.

Wait for a second, there is something else that you perhaps overlooked.

In your bedroom, you have one of the latest electronic gadgets that provide conversational interactivity by being connected to a remote computer system, such as being able to readily access Alexa or Siri. This modern convenience is supremely handy. All you have to do is call out the prompting word to awaken the device, and the next thing you know there is the possibility of asking what the state capital is or finding out what the weather is going to be like today.

Does the fact that you have this device in your bedroom, unobtrusively nestled on your nightstand, change your belief about whether you are being watched or not?

To clarify, when referring to being watched, let’s go ahead and generally allow that the act of watching might take place in a variety of sensory modes. The most obvious notion of being watched consists of being visually seen. Another variant consists of being heard or shall we say overheard. There are more exotic sensory modes too, such as infrared temperature sensors that can detect your body heat to figure out where you are and ascertain whatever motions you are making, and so on.

I am betting that if you give some thought to the aspect that there is this audio device in your bedroom and that it is explicitly outfitted with a microphone, there is a chance that you are being overheard (or in an overall sensory semblance, being watched). You perhaps assume that the device only will listen to you once you’ve uttered the wake-up word. At that juncture, you obviously realize that the device is going to be listening for whatever you say next.

But, there is a nagging consideration about how this actually works.

For example, how does the device awaken upon the speaking of your prompting word?

You see, it could be listening all along, and merely let you know that it has ostensibly become “activated” upon detecting that catchword. The trick here is that it was active all along. You just didn’t realize it. The device was monitoring all spoken words and sounds that occurred in your bedroom, parsing all of that audio verbiage to spot the prompting word.

Indeed, when such devices first came into the marketplace, people began to realize that the entirety of sounds being made nearby to the device was going up into the cloud, at all times. The device was silently listening, awaiting the catchword to be responsive to you. Everything that you said or anyone else said during the time that you perchance were within earshot of the device was all being recorded and placed into some faraway online mysterious databases.

Chilling.

Most of the major vendors now claim that they have reprogrammed their devices to merely listen on the fly before the prompting word is detected, such that the sounds being heard are merely going in one ear and out the other, so to speak. The device only starts sending any audio up to the cloud once you’ve initiated a conversation via the prompting word. Thus, in theory, the device locally is parsing the audio in real-time before the prompting word occurs, scanning only for the catchword, and not otherwise recording anything during the non-prompted time.

That being said, please know that most of the major vendors are indeed recording the conversational interactions after the prompt word initiates action. Any questions that you ask to the device or commands that you give are potentially recorded and uploaded into the vendor’s cloud. These recordings of your voice can be used in a variety of ways by the vendor, generally without your awareness and for purposes that you might not especially find palatable.

Now that I’ve gotten the hairs up on the back of your head, it so far seems that the major vendors are taking this seriously and realize the backlash that can arise if they go overboard on how they use those recordings. Furthermore, there are privacy laws that can constrain what the vendors do, depending upon the jurisdictions and other factors that come to play (note that when you signed up for the service, you undoubtedly agreed to a licensing contract that gave a range of permissions to the vendor, which few people take the time to examine and simply click that they agree to the provisions therein).

Back to the initial question that I asked, namely are you being watched in the scenario that I’ve laid out?

With the added aspect that there is a conversational electronic gadget in your bedroom, you probably now realize that you are possibly being watched (overheard), though you aren’t sure if it is occurring or not. You do know that it is conceivable.

Suppose that you have a webcam in your bedroom and you opt to turn it on. You relish doing live streaming about the latest trends in fashion. Those that subscribe to your channel are aware that you stream on Thursdays at noon. Thousands of adoring fans tune in to watch as you talk and showcase fashion tips and styles.

In that scenario, you are abundantly sure that you are being watched. The webcam is connected to the Internet and when you activate it, people all across the globe are able to see and hear you. No question that you are at that juncture being watched (seen and heard).

As a recap, there are three modes that we’ve covered on the being watched affair:

·        You are sure that you aren’t being watched

·        You suspect that you are maybe being watched

·        You believe for sure that you are being watched

The first use case could be construed as you sitting in your bedroom, alone, and let’s say you’ve unplugged the conversational electronic gadget so that it is unpowered and not able to function at all. In that circumstance, you are relatively confident that you aren’t being watched.

The second use case was when the conversational gadget was plugged in and operating. You are still somewhat unsure of whether it is watching (overhearing) you via however it is programmed to deal with the detection of the prompting word. Maybe it is monitoring you, maybe not.

The third use case consists of the webcam that you turned on and opted to broadcast your exciting and endearing fashion guidelines. The odds are that you are being watched (well, unless no one decides to tune to your channel or the Internet is down, all of which is a frown face and decidedly not a smiley face situation).

We can take a moment to hone in on the second use case whereby you are unsure whether you are being watched or not.

In a manner of thinking about it, you can assign a probability or level of certainty to the chances that you are being watched. This probability ranges from 0 to 1.

You might have initially said that while in your bedroom you had a zero probability of being watched. Now, with heightened suspicion about the conversational device, I am guessing that your envisioned probability is higher (above 0, somewhere less than 1).

Another way to mentally contemplate these three states of being watched is that the first use case is when you assign a zero to the probability of being watched (i.e., you are absolutely sure you aren’t being watched). The third case is when you assign a 1 to the probability that you are being watched (which, we’ll loosely say is 100%, likelihood), though it might be perhaps somewhat less, depending upon other variabilities (akin to the web being down or nobody opting to watch your channel). And the second use case is some value between 0 and 1.

All told, the act of being watched is pretty much typified as a kind of spectrum, ranging from not being watched to possibly being watched and topping out at assuredly being watched. We can add to this the other twist that being watched is based on your perception of being watched versus the actuality of being watched. We’ll elaborate on that further in a moment.

I’d like to shift gears and talk about prisons.

That might seem like a rather abrupt jump. You perhaps are worried that I am equating your bedroom to prison, but please do not carry such qualms. You will hopefully soon realize that the basis for the comparison is rooted in analogous aspects regarding the all-important matter of being watched.

Envision a prison similar to what you’ve seen in movies and TV shows. There are long rows of prison cells and several tiers, let’s say three floors worth. Prisoners are normally in their cells, other than when allowed out for exercise in a prison yard. While the prisoners are in their cells, the prison guards patrol the floors and glance into each cell as they pass them. The guards are housed on the first floor in an office area reserved exclusively for their use.

To try and keep tabs on the prisoners and ensure that things aren’t going amuck, the guards routinely patrol throughout the day and night. Of course, there are only so many guards that the prison can afford to have on staff and undertake the patrols. This means that there are somewhat long periods of time between when a guard perchance walks past a cell and glances in, while the preponderance of the time a prisoner is not being observed since there isn’t a guard walking past their cell.

We can connect this back to our handy-dandy three facets framework about being watched:

·        Aren’t watched: Most of the time, a prisoner knows for sure they aren’t being watched

·        Possibly watched: Some of the time they are being watched for a brief moment as a guard saunters past the cell

·        For sure watched: Upon a guard walking past the cell, if the guard looks in, the prisoner knows for sure they are being watched at that moment

The bottom-line in this prison setting is that by and large the prisoners are not being watched. You could of course increase the number of prison guards so as to have a saturation of patrols, think of ants in a frenzy marching back and forth constantly. The cost to do this would be enormous.

Is there anything else we could do?

A famous 18th-century social theorist named Jeremy Bentham wondered the same thing. How could a relatively small set of prison guards adequately be deployed to sufficiently watch a grand slew of prisoners? His solution entailed a restructuring of the prison architecture, rather than simply focusing on the amount of guarding human labor as the only factor of relevance.

He also relied upon human behavior and social conventions.

Here’s what he came up with. While visiting his brother Samuel, a supervisor in a large factory, Jeremy found out that his brother intentionally situated himself into the middle of the factory floor. Why so? Because there were workers all about the factory that he could then eyeball from a centralized locale. Samuel arranged the workers to be in a circle around his central desk, allowing a glance in any direction to see what the workers were doing.

Even if he wasn’t looking directly at a worker, such as say someone to his left, the fact that at any moment Samuel might look in that direction was enough to keep that worker on their toes. The mere possibility that Samuel could quickly and easily spot someone was enough to keep all the workers going at full stride. Had Samuel sat at a far edge of the building, he’d have no idea of what the workers at the opposite end were doing, including possibly wasting time or just sitting around.

It dawned on Jeremy that this same kind of centralized form of monitoring (or, the act of watching), could be reapplied in other contexts. He thought that hospitals might do this, allowing for doctors and nurses to watch their patients, rather than patrolling from hospital room to hospital room. Another realm that could use this strategy was prisons.

Jeremy wrote about his ideas. He devised a prison that would have a central tower. The guards would be in that tower. From the vantage point of the tower, it would be feasible to look into all of the prison cells. A guard could turn back and forth, almost like a lighthouse beam, glancing into this cell or that cell.

An especially clever part of the design is that the prisoners cannot see into the tower. As such, the prisoners do not know when they are exactly being watched. The number of guards in the tower and their aspect of rotating their guise would determine the chances of seeing a particular cell, doing so for a particular instant of time.

You might have heard about this.

Such a structural arrangement is officially now known as a panopticon.

There was a seed of doubt about whether this would work adequately for prisons. Jeremy tried mightily during his lifetime to get one built, but sadly he did not succeed at doing so. Subsequently, there were some instances of panopticon-like prisons, though few and far between.

Meanwhile, the concepts underlying a panopticon gradually caught on. This is usually couched as representing a panopticon effect. You can devise all manner of situations that have a panopticon-like aura, and the fastest and easiest way to explain to someone how it works is merely to utter that it is a panopticon arrangement or has a panopticon effect.

Many years after Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon concept was initially envisaged, a French philosopher of the name Michel Foucault brought the notion to re-prominence in his thought-provoking book entitled “Discipline and Punish” (published in 1975). The eloquent line that Foucault is especially known for is a quote about the asymmetrical surveillance underlying the panopticon design and the plight of a prisoner in such a setting: “He is seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication.”

Further food for thought arises from this lesser well-known indication by him: “Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary.”

In theory, a prisoner will principally police themselves, doing so based on the belief that they are being watched at all times, though realizing that they aren’t actually being relentlessly and continuously observed.

Voila, this takes us right back to the probability discussion.

A prisoner in a conventional prison would know for sure that they aren’t being watched the preponderance of the time. One assumes that the prisoner ergo could act up at will since they know the chances of being seen are relatively small. Only in the brief instances of a guard patrolling past would the prisoner need to be on their best behavior.

In contrast, a prisoner in a panopticon devised prison would not be so abundantly sure that they are not being watched. They might be, they might not be. The safest assumption would seemingly be to always presume as a prisoner that you are being watched, even if you nonetheless knew there is only a chance of it occurring.

Now that we’ve covered the essentials, realize that the panopticon effect is not relegated only to prisons and the guarding of prisoners. There are lots of other settings that imbue or can employ a panopticon phenomenon.

Consider how this comes about in today’s world.

For that conversational electronic gadget in your home, suppose the audio is being recorded all of the time or at least some of the time. There are estimated hundreds of millions of these devices that have been sold to consumers. If we multiply things out, there could be millions upon millions of audio recordings that are lengthy, all day long, and recorded for months on end (or years) in massive magnitude.

There it sits, a treasure trove of audio data lurking somewhere in the cloud. Imagine the army of workers you would need to hire to cull through all of that audio, assuming you wanted to monetize the audio. It isn’t a practical possibility to employ that many workers. The vastness of the audio data is seemingly overwhelming to even mentally grasp.

This takes us to the next stage in this being watched saga, the emergence of AI.

All of that audio is digitized. By being in a digital format, it is amenable to analysis by computer programs. Computer programs that leverage AI techniques and technologies have a notable chance of examining that vastness of data in relatively intelligible ways. All you need is the appropriate amount of computational processing power and AI-related software.

You’ve removed the human labor and can generally instead use AI capabilities.

For my numerous and ongoing discussions about Ethical AI considerations, see for example this link here and this link here, and overall at the link here.

One supposes in a prison setting, we are somewhat analogously suggesting that you theoretically could replace the prison guards with a machine, as a focus regarding the act of watching the prisoners (note that human guards might still be tasked with going on patrols or going to deal with prisoners that have gone astray as detected by the AI).

I’m glad that I got the AI mantra onto the table as it is the 600-pound gorilla that will be radically impacting our society and dovetails inextricably into the rising tide of digital surveillance that we are inexorably experiencing at this very moment.

Mull over the mounting tsunami of digital captures about our daily lives. You have seen every day that people armed with their smartphones are able to capture in real-time various events and activities that are then posted on social media for all to see. In addition, there are those nearly ubiquitous doorbell cams that manage to capture what is happening in front of people’s homes and on the streets thereof.

Businesses and governmental agencies have mounted CCTV (closed-circuit TV) cameras on the exteriors of their buildings and other fixed-in-place structures. The video is usually recorded. Whenever something happens within the eyesight of those cameras, there is a rush by law enforcement and other parties to try and get a hold of that recorded video.

If all of that digital capture gives you the heebie-jeebies, I shall warn you that what I am about to say on this topic will push you even more into the formidable jeepers creepers.

The watchword or catchphrase is this: AI-based true self-driving cars.

Here’s a noteworthy question that is worth pondering: Will the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars be akin to a digital surveillance panopticon, and if so, why might that be?

Allow me a moment to unpack the question.

First, note that there isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

I’d like to further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And The Coming Digital Surveillance Mobilized Panopticon

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic that craftily combines AI, self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles, digital surveillance panopticons, and the unnerving panopticon effect.

A self-driving car is coming down your street and aiming to pick up a neighbor that has requested a ride to the grocery store. Let’s reasonably assume that the self-driving car does this safely and rather uneventfully. If you wonder about the reality of that claim, please know that in various tryout locales throughout the country, this is happening today. We aren’t anywhere near any widespread use, and it is all concentrated in localized and quite small tryouts. These though will eventually be the springboard to a colossal upscaling and we’ll have self-driving cars aplenty on our highways, byways, and community and city streets, mark my words.

Okay, so the self-driving car quietly comes down the street, stops at the appropriate house, waits for the rider to get into the autonomous vehicle, and then carefully whisks the passenger away to the store.

No big deal.

Life goes on.

But something has just happened that you likely were not aware of. Something monumental. Akin to not knowing or considering the impacts of having a conversational electronic gadget in your bedroom, you are possibly unfamiliar with how self-driving cars work.

Allow me a moment to elaborate.

There are sensors on the self-driving car. You’ve almost certainly seen pictures or videos of self-driving cars and undoubtedly noticed the added gear that sits atop the autonomous vehicles and on the sides of the cars. The sensor suite can consist of video cameras, radar, LIDAR (a type of radar that uses light waves), ultrasonic devices, thermal imagining units, and the like.

When a self-driving car is underway, the sensors are collecting whatever sensory aspects that they are suited to capture. The video camera is collecting video imagery of the driving scene. The radar is capturing radar returns of the driving scene. And so on.

This data is then used by the AI driving system to try and computationally assess the driving scene. Are there other cars nearby? While driving down a neighborhood block, are there any kids running into the street or unleashed dogs that might be meandering toward the roadway? Where can the self-driving car conveniently stop to pick up the designated passenger? Etc.

Without these sensors, the AI driving system would essentially be blind as to the driving scene. The sensors act as the proverbial eyes and ears for the AI. A lot of sophisticated programs are dissecting the collected data, often using Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) technologies. These are computational pattern matching facilities that are set up to examine the sensory data and seek to identify and label the objects of the driving scene (such as an object that is a car, an object that is a child in the street, and so on).

A self-driving car that is driving along has to very quickly computationally assess all of this data. This is imperative.

If the computer doesn’t process the data fast enough, the AI driving system might misguide the car into hitting a human-driven car ahead of the autonomous vehicle or make other problematic choices at the driving controls. This is also why it is relatively easier to devise self-driving shuttles or self-driving delivery vehicles, namely they tend to operate at slow driving speeds such as 30 miles per hour, whereas an automobile of usual means is expected to at times proceed at 65 mph when on freeways or highways (meaning that the computer speed of assessing the driving scene has to be even faster to cope with the faster driving speeds and lessened time to react via the driving controls).

Most people seem to assume that the sensory data is a one-and-done affair.

You might think that the sensory data is momentarily captured, examined computationally, used by the AI for driving purposes, and then summarily discarded. That could happen, but the odds are much higher than the data is being recorded into the computer memory onboard the autonomous vehicle. Furthermore, at a point later in the day, the collected sensory data is uploaded via OTA (Over-The-Air) electronic messaging. OTA is used by the fleet operator or the automakers to push new software updates down into the AI system, and also do uploads from the self-driving cars too.

The stated intent of uploading the sensory data would be to use it as a means to further refine the AI driving system. Analyses can be done of the data. Did the AI at the time make a good choice or a questionable choice as to where to stop to pick up the passenger? From this analysis, the notion is that the AI developers can make updates to the AI driving system and push those out to the autonomous vehicles.

It is a sensible approach.

Use the collected data to improve driving. There is a handy multiplier effect too. If one of the self-driving cars in the fleet encounters a pothole and had difficulties with it, this can subsequently be relayed to the rest of the entire fleet, simply via an OTA that pushes the aspects about the pothole to all other AI driving systems of the fleet. You rarely would have the same multiplier effect with human drivers, other than perhaps posting on a social media platform of something else of an akin ad hoc nature.

Our saga is now going to turn ugly, be forewarned.

The sensory data could be used for a lot of other purposes beyond simply as focused attention to the advancement of the AI driving systems.

Let’s go back to the setting of the self-driving car coming down your neighborhood street. You were standing outside on your front lawn, tossing a baseball to your child. Next to you is your lawnmower, which you had used to mow the lawn and make it easier to stand and throw the ball around.

All of that innocuous and seemingly mundane scenery elements are visually and otherwise captured by the sensors of the self-driving car as it went down your street. Presumably, it has no direct bearing on the AI driving system and ergo can be skipped over computationally by the AI self-driving car at the time of the driving act. No need to assess it, though the data was captured.

This is the same data though that is getting uploaded into the cloud of the fleet operator or automaker.

So what, you ask, nobody cares about being noticed tossing a ball or having mowed the lawn.

Turns out that the next day, you receive an email from a company that makes baseball gloves. The email mentions that your existing mitt is quite worn out. Wouldn’t you like to replace it? Furthermore, the email has a one-click button to allow you to order a new mitt. Your physical address is already known and filled in. All you need to do is provide a credit card and click on the purchase button.

A few days later, you receive a mailer to your home that is touting lawnmowers and other lawn-related maintenance equipment.

In short, the sensory data that was used to aid the AI driving system has gone into a pot of gold. The online repository is being mined. This is usually done with AI. The AI computationally detected your baseball mitt, examined it visually, and noted that it was weathered, and this then was fed to a company that is in partnership with the fleet operator. The email was then sent to you accordingly.

Ka-ching, money was just made off of that self-driving car collected data.

The same goes for the detection of the lawnmower. But wait, there’s more. The collected data has your face. It has your body shape and the clothing that you were wearing. It has the face of the child and their clothes. It has the house that you are living in, including the front of the house, the front yard, and other particulars. Makes your head spin.

All of that data can then be digitally matched with data from your neighborhood and other databases. The odds are that your name can be found, your demographics, your job, and all sorts of other facets based on a large array of online databases.

At first, you might shrug your shoulders and say that this was one self-driving car that perchance went past your house at one brief moment in time. The thing is, realize that eventually we are headed toward having thousands, more like millions of self-driving cars on our roadways. They will be crisscrossing here and there, all day long, and nighttime too. The goal is to keep self-driving cars going 24×7.

I have become known for coining this emerging wave of self-driving car sensory digital surveillance as the “roving eye” of self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles, see my earlier analysis at this link here.

The more we adopt self-driving cars, the more we are adding to our own digital surveillance. This is a huge leap beyond just the use of smartphones, CCTV, and the like. There will be a veritable deluge of autonomous vehicles that can end up capturing every waking moment of our lives. It will take a bit of computational wizardry to stitch it together, but you can bet that from the moment you step outside your house and go anywhere, this will be viably captured by self-driving cars and be uploaded online.

How does this relate to the panopticon effect?

That’s easy-peasy.

We will all be under the guise of AI-based self-driving cars.

In that manner, we are going to be watched, maybe. You don’t know for sure that the collected sensory data will in fact be kept and uploaded. You don’t know for sure that if it is uploaded it will be used for digital surveillance purposes. You also don’t know for sure that even if it is used for digital surveillance it will specifically aim at you.

Like those prisoners in the panopticon scenario, you won’t have any immediate way of knowing that you are being watched, nor that the watching is paying attention to you, but you might in fact be under the watchful and privacy-intruding eye of those autonomous mobilized panopticons.

Will the realization that you might be watched cause you to change your behavior as an everyday person and a rightful member of contemporary society?

Time will tell.

Conclusion

Some final comments for now.

For those that might already have known about the panopticon and the panopticon effect, there is another important point that Jeremy Bentham made and that has somewhat been neglected by the prevailing mainstream understanding of the panopticon overall.

He was strongly vocal about the notion of an “inspection principle” associated with his panopticon approach. This refers to the idea that the guards would also need to be watched, and as such, they ought to be watched in a similar panopticon manner. This deals with the age-old question of who guards the guards.

We might use prison managers that are placed in the prison to be able to observe the guards in the towers. The prison guards cannot see the prison managers. The prison managers will be looking at the prison guards some of the time, but not necessarily all of the time. As a result, the prison guards won’t know if they are being watched per se, but they will presumably behave as though they are always being watched. In turn, someone will be watching the prison managers. It keeps on repeating at each level.

This is reminiscent of one of my columns that discussed the venerable expression of “turtles all the way down” (a popular phrasing for infinite regress). When someone asks what holds up that table over there, you can say it has a turtle underneath it. When subsequently asked what holds the turtle up, you can say there is yet another turtle underneath the first turtle. It continues this way, all the way down.

The inspection principle is supposed to be like those turtles, namely that the use of the panopticon precepts applies to all layers of those watching and being watched (well, except at the rock bottom). It isn’t really an infinite regress, of course, and comes to an end at the logical place of the end of the line.

I share that inspection principle to bring up the yet unanswered question as to who will be watching the fleet operators and automakers as they proceed to roll out AI self-driving cars and come upon the heaping trove of roving eye data.

This begs for both ethical AI considerations, along with how our laws will apply to AI that is used in this manner and all other ways related to our society. We need to establish the guarding of the guards, as it were.

My closing comment is that there are notably and thankfully valiant efforts underway to prepare the next generation to deal with these AI and high-tech advances.

One such example is a tremendously insightful course at Stanford University that is entitled “Ethics, Public Policy, and Technological Change” being taught by Professor Rob Reich, Professor Mehran Sahami, and Professor Jeremy Weinstein. An amazing team has been assembled for the course, encompassing an interdisciplinary array of talent from the likes of computer science, philosophy, political science, law, sociology, and other domains. This is a cornerstone class that they continue to refine and enhance upon each such offering of the course.

Students taking the course are asked to explore the ethical and social impacts of technological innovation. I’ve taught such classes during my years as a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) and well-know how exciting and vital these classes are. I can also proudly say that I co-taught similar classes with and carried out societal impacts research in conjunction with a key founder of the social impacts of computing and the allied field of social informatics, namely Dr. Rob Kling (may he rest in peace).

The overarching notion of these kinds of classes is to aid the upcoming generation in getting ready for their soon-to-be roles as the enablers and shapers of technological change in our society. They need to know and have a keen perspective on the myriad of stakeholders, encompassing developers, designers, coders, engineers, business leaders, policymakers, citizens, consumers, etc.

We need more such courses and we must help guide those of the upcoming generations that will ultimately be at the heart of what technology is or becomes.

Society cannot rely upon the witticism that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. By making sure that all know what the technology can do, and cannot do, we will be better off at societally figuring out how to employ high-tech and not have the wool pulled over our eyes and nor be fooled by rabbits being pulled out of a hat.

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California’s ban on private prisons unconstitutionally interferes with immigration enforcement, 9th Circuit rules

Constitutional Law

California’s ban on private prisons unconstitutionally interferes with immigration enforcement, 9th Circuit rules

Image from Shutterstock.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a ban on private prisons in California unconstitutionally restricts the federal government’s authority to operate private detention facilities in the state.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the measure violates the supremacy clause and discriminates against the federal government.

Politico, Courthouse News Service and Law360 have coverage.

The appeals court said the measure, known as California Assembly Bill 32, unconstitutionally interferes with the authority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses only private detention centers in California.

“California is not simply exercising its traditional police powers but rather impeding federal immigration policy,” said the panel majority in an opinion by Judge Kenneth Lee.

The 2-1 decision also held that the law discriminates against the federal government because it grants more exemptions and a longer phaseout period to the state’s operation of private prisons.

The 9th Circuit ruled in a suit by a private prison operator, the GEO Group Inc., and by the U.S. Department of Justice. Only the immigration facilities were at issue in the appeal, according to a dissent arguing that AB 32 was not preempted by federal law. The case is The Geo Group Inc. v. Newsom.

According to Politico, the decision “could be of some use” to the federal government in its lawsuit seeking to block the Texas abortion law. In that case, the DOJ is arguing that the Texas law impedes federal constitutional duties.

The ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution in August that opposes private prisons and juvenile detention centers.

A report submitted to the House argues that “private prison corporations are driven by perverse and immoral incentives whereby an increase in crime and an increase in the number of human beings placed into America’s prisons is good business news for that industry.”

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COVID Rates At CoreCivic Prisons Soar Above State-Run Facilities

October 18, 2021

At two private prisons, COVID-19 positive test rates are three times higher than at the average state-run facility in Tennessee, according to Tennessee Department of Corrections aggregate data.

Both managed by a contractor, CoreCivic, Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility and South Central Correctional Facility have overall positive test rates of 31 percent and 28 percent, respectively. CoreCivic also runs Hardeman County Correctional Facility and Whiteville Correctional Facility, whose rates are more on par with the TDOC-run average of 8 percent.

CoreCivic is not susceptible to any formal government policy regarding COVID-19. A contract monitor hired by TDOC is stationed at each private prison and is mainly responsible for writing reports, according to a job posting from 2019. It’s unclear whether this contract monitor has any role in overseeing COVID-19 protocol.

“Our facilities have followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which have evolved over time, since the onset of the pandemic and we’re continuing to work closely [sic] our government partners to enhance procedures as needed,” CoreCivic Director of Public Affairs Ryan Gustin wrote in an email.

In 2020, the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury released a scathing audit of TDOC, reporting that CoreCivic mishandled data regarding deaths, sexual abuses, violence and inmate health. The audit also “identified deficiencies with medicine distribution practices at CoreCivic facilities, placing both inmates and medical staff at risk.” Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) said during a hearing at the time, “I’ve never seen a 200-page report like this.”

Neither CoreCivic nor TDOC employees are required to be vaccinated or provide negative test results. As of Oct. 4, 1,985 prison employees have tested positive, and six have died of COVID-19. Gustin wrote, “While there isn’t currently a vaccination requirement of our staff that work at our Tennessee facilities, we are strongly encouraging CoreCivic staff to take the vaccine and are working hard to facilitate access for our team as quickly as is appropriate within federal, state and local guidance.”

CoreCivic, a private contractor, doesn’t not have to follow government policies for dealing with COVID-19. IN 2020, the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury gave the Tennessee Department of Corrections a scathing audit for CoreCivic’s mishandling of issues from inmate health and death to violence.

TDOC first reported that inmates might have been exposed to COVID-19 in April 2020. A non-state employee, though not at a CoreCivic facility, exposed three inmates. A week later, another non-state employee then exposed five inmates at a different prison. The next day, TDOC announced mass testing for staff, followed by inmate mass testing a week later. The Prison Policy Initiative found that as of that month, TDOC staff weren’t even required to wear masks (yet inmates were manufacturing masks and gowns). Although CoreCivic claims to have followed CDC guidelines, Tennessee state prisoners do not have access to alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.

By May 2020, there were 1,246 cases at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center alone.
The first COVID-19-related death reported by TDOC was a Trousdale inmate on May 4, 2020. That CoreCivic prison would go on to have the highest COVID-19 rate of any Tennessee state prison.
But Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for PPI, warns to take DOC data with more than a grain of salt. While compiling reports on COVID-19 in prison, PPI researchers found instances of states failing to do regular testing in order to avoid sharing results, inaccurately classifying causes of death and releasing parolees just in time to avoid counting them as in-custody deaths. Based on the quality and transparency of COVID-19 data in prisons, the UCLA Behind Bars Data Project gave Tennessee an F grade. Among other faults, Tennessee did not share prison populations, specific facility vaccination rates or active case numbers in staff.

Bertram points out that whether the highest COVID-19 rates come from state-operated or private prisons, the accountability still rests on the government for not setting stricter mandates. In its “States of Emergency” coronavirus report, PPI gave Tennessee an F grade, largely because the state didn’t significantly reduce prison populations during the pandemic. Bertram said, “Even if we’re talking about private prisons, this is still a state failure.”

Tennessee Lookout is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit network of state government news sites supported by grants and a coalition of donors.

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Proposed bill would limit phone charges in Wisconsin jails

Wisconsin’s county jails would be banned from overcharging inmates for phone calls under a measure introduced at the state Capitol.

A study by the Prison Policy Initiative found some Wisconsin counties charge more than $14 for a 15-minute phone call, which advocates say amounts to turning a profit on inmates, many of whom have yet to be convicted of any crimes.

Rep. Samba Baldeh, D-Madison, said the high charges can also discourage people from staying in touch with friends and family.

“If people are incarcerated or detained and cut connection with the outside world, chances are that when they come out, they will go back to prison again,” Baldeh said.

Baldeh’s bill would require the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to write rules that would ban jails from charging phone rates that exceed those that national prepaid wireless telephone providers charge their customers. The plan would apply to both telephone calls and video communication from inmates.

The plan would also prohibit any charges on telephone calls or video communications between an inmate and their attorney.

Baldeh said it’s important to remember many people in jail have yet to be convicted of crimes, but they remain behind bars because they can’t afford their bail.

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“They are innocent until proven guilty,” Baldeh said. “But at this point, they are treated as if they are guilty.”

Other backers of the plan include Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, a former probation and parole agent.

“No jail should make profit off of the valuable connections of families,” Stubbs said. “Families deserve to hear the voice of their loved ones. And incarcerated people must have reasonable opportunity to maintain family ties.”

Joining Baldeh and Stubbs at a state Capitol news conference introducing the plan on Dec. 8 was James Morgan, a peer support specialist for JustDane, a nonprofit that helps people in the criminal justice system. Morgan, a former inmate, said his phone calls to loved ones were a lifeline.

“That phone call was what reminded me that I was more than an inmate,” Morgan said. “It reminded me that I was father. That I was brother. That I was grandson. That I was needed. I was necessary to be able to come home.”

The Prison Policy Initiative study found a patchwork of phone rates in Wisconsin. On the high end of the spectrum, Polk and Green counties charged inmates $14.77 per 15-minute phone call followed by $14.30 for the same call in LaCrosse County. At the lower end, Vernon, Sheboygan and Jefferson counties charged $1.80 for a 15-minute call.

Baldeh’s plan would need Republican support in order to pass the Legislature, which is tentatively scheduled to hold its last session day March 10.

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How a maximum security prison offers a pathway to academic excellence and a PhD

The person taking notes during our meeting, we later learn, is averaging a high distinction in their studies for a bachelor degree. If this level of performance is maintained this student is heading for a university medal – an award recognising exceptional academic achievement. Clearly this is a highly motivated student.

Our PhD candidate was happy he could concentrate on our conversation and didn’t need to worry about keeping notes. Besides studying for a PhD, the candidate is training five prison inmates in a specialised professional 3D design and manufacturing software package typically used in the design industry.

Sounds very busy and under pressure to perform. Yet, in his first months as a PhD student, his paper was accepted at an international sustainable design conference.

Where did we find such high-achieving students? Inside a maximum security prison in New South Wales! It seems it is possible to excel at university studies in jail.

Furthermore, the US and UK experience suggests inmates who undertake higher education re-offend at dramatically lower rates than others following their release from prison.

When prison inmates join the ranks of university graduates their rate of re-offending after release falls dramatically.
UNSW, Author provided



Read more:
By freeing prisoners from cycle of crime, education cuts re-offending


What sort of prison is this?

The corrections officer accompanying us said:

“The inmates have been judged in a court by a judge, so we don’t need to do it again.”

His statement reflects the spirit of this institution. Its focus is on genuine rehabilitation through being respectful, building skills and encouraging further education. It also has a strict anti-violence policy.

The jail that enables these endeavours is not the sort we’re used to seeing in popular movies. Features of the Macquarie Correctional Centre include private bathrooms, and beds are in private cubicles in a dorm with a kitchenette. The inmate are afforded privacy and dignity.

These are features based on desistance theory of how criminal offenders stop their offending behaviour.




Read more:
Crime and punishment and rehabilitation: a smarter approach


At Macquarie Correctional Centre, inmates have greater access to education and programs to rehabilitate them and reduce re-offending.

After passing through security and being escorted to our meeting, my colleague was a bit uneasy as we passed inmates in the long corridors. After all we were inside a maximum security prison. The inmates were there for offences that warranted maximum security incarceration.

However, the people we encountered were polite and greeted us in a friendly manner.

This environment was familiar to me because I’ve been to jail a few times myself – not as an inmate, but as a facilitator and participant in Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) workshops.

What are the challenges of studying ‘inside’?

When studying “inside”, there is no internet access. Emails are printed out or relayed. If information needs to be viewed online it is under supervision of an authorised officer. To quickly check a fact or find a reference from the online library is not possible.




Read more:
Offline inmates denied education and skills that reduce re-offending


All these study activities need to be planned and approved and timed. Procedures and processes need to be learned, understood, applied and adhered to. My colleague struggled at first to come to grips with this, and so did the university’s postgraduate school.

To even get enrolled into a PhD was no easy feat, despite a well-developed research proposal. The inmate had previously applied unsuccessfully to another university. Today, less than a handful of inmates have completed a PhD while incarcerated in NSW.

UNSW’s 2025 Strategy has a strong commitment to improving quality of life, sustainable development and to equity, diversity and inclusion. Therefore the Graduate Research School could approve this rare request.

There were many more problems to overcome. While it is possible to watch online tutorials without a full name being disclosed or face shown (to stop being identified as inmates for legal reasons), it is not possible to actively participate while maintaining complete confidentiality. Also how to access the ubiquitous online learning platform, submit online assignments and meet supervisors?

Working from home and online learning are now commonplace. Yet at first in this case it was not thought possible. However, support from the prison administration made it possible.

The student proposed, designed and made a special computer desk to enable participation in supervisory meetings. This solution was driven by the prison education officer. We can now see and talk to our student and vice versa.

It isn’t just the inmates who benefit

Besides these issues, what good will university study do?

UK data on re-offending highlight the difference university education can make. In the UK, 46% of all prisoners will re-offend within a year of release – this rises to 59% for short-sentence prisoners. Among prisoners who undertake university courses less than 5% of parolees re-offend.

Rates of re-offending are similar in NSW. The percentages of sentenced prisoners who re-offended within a year of release from 2017-2019 were a pretty steady 42% of adults and about 64% of juveniles.

The PBS series College Behind Bars explores how education can change lives, slashing rates of re-offending in the process.



Read more:
Teaching in America’s prisons has taught me to believe in second chances


So what is our PhD candidate investigating? The topic is controlled environment agriculture in correctional facilities.

Currently, prison food is centrally prepared and delivered over long distances. These “food miles” have significant economic, health and environmental impacts. Producing food on site also helps reduce opportunities to smuggle in contraband, increasing inmate safety.

Growing fresh produce “inside” would increase sustainability, improve nutrition and reduce economic and mental health impacts. The result could be a commercially viable food-production system, franchised to other NSW, Australian and international prison facilities. Education is one of Australia’s biggest industries, and this is an opportunity to expand it further.

Maximum security prisons have the potential to become centres of academic excellence. It would surely be a win for correctional facilities, inmate food quality, health and wellness, society and the environment.

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What’s so controversial about “woman — adult human female”?

Back in September 2021, at the time of the Liberal Democrat conference, Andrew Marr was interviewing Ed Davey on his early morning Sunday show. Andrew asked him “What is wrong with this phrase: ‘woman — adult human female?’’. Ed answered “Well, Liberal Democrats believe that trans rights are really important because trans people are some of the most discriminated against in our society today”.  Andrew Marr again asked “What’s wrong with the phrase? ‘Woman — adult human female’”. Ed: “The phrase doesn’t actually really encapsulate the debate to be honest. That’s what’s the problem with it. The issue that we have been really clear is that a trans woman is a woman, a transman is a man and that is the issue that we’re fighting on”. Andrew again repeated “What’s wrong with the phrase? ‘Woman- adult human female’”. Ed: “I’ve made it clear what our position is on trans rights...” Andrew then put my case to Ed “the reason I keep using that phrase as I’m sure you know is that one of your members, Natalie Bird, has been banned from standing as a Liberal Democrat in any circumstances for ten years because she wore a T-shirt which had that slogan on it”. 

In order to define a woman we do not need to talk about how “feminine” or how “fabulous’ we might be

It isn’t often that a highly respected journalist puts the case of a working-class single mother to a powerful politician. Of course, these days we expect politicians to struggle to answer the simplest questions, but what is so difficult about the definition of “woman”? The word “woman” comes from our Anglo-Saxon heritage.  Language represents our reality and how we perceive and interact with our world. A woman is more than just a mere body but the very portal through which our species continues.

Women are more likely to be vulnerable and to be raped, attacked and discriminated against.  We own, even in 2022, just 1 per cent of the world’s property and have very little economic power around the globe. Every month sees women shunned from their communities and literally sent into the wilderness because our bodies are undergoing painful and bloody periods which are necessary to the survival of all human life. It is the ultimate insult that after the pain and profound experience of childbirth instead of being respected and revered, women continue to suffer discrimination in the workplace and at home, as domestic violence usually starts when a woman is at her most vulnerable whilst pregnant. 

In order to define a woman we do not need to talk about how “feminine” or how “fabulous’ we might be, or whether we wear a skirt, handbag with heels, and what make of skirt, handbag and heels.  The way we dress doesn’t define women. I would encourage and support “feminine “ men to be “feminine” men but unfortunately no matter how much a man may demonstrate “femininity” this can never make him a woman. Transwomen may want to be women. But, however much they want to be, they cannot be.   

My political beliefs and philosophy are about protecting women. It is women who have been marginalised throughout society’s history.  It is women who were the property of their husband, who could be captured in war and sold as slaves, who up until the 1970s would have been refused mortgages if they applied in their own right and who were not paid the same as men, who up until the 1980s could lawfully be turned away from a bar and whose incomes had to be declared on her husband’s tax return. Who are still subject to the “sex” pay gap and whose careers are stalled due to rearing the next generation. These are the issues from which my politics and sincerely held beliefs spring from.

 Going back to Ed’s interview, I find it significant that Ed didn’t take the opportunity to talk about “women’s rights”. Instead he talked about “trans rights” when questioned about the definition of “woman”. Presumably it is because Ed Davey, and the Liberal Democrats in general, think there are no votes in women’s rights anymore. Perhaps that is because our political class is so caught up in individual rights and freedoms that it has not thought through the end result and impact that these “luxury beliefs “ will have in wider society., rather than try to present  the pressing real-world issues that we all still have, that take significantly more time, effort, energy and funding to resolve. 

I also question the authenticity of the Liberal Democrat’s position when, if it is correct that “trans people are some of the most discriminated against in our society” the Liberal Democrats consider that the best way forward is to push transpeople into the large groups of our society (men and women), when, presumably, it is the fact they are “trans” that makes them susceptible to discrimination. If you are sincerely interested in trans as a group of people, rather than simply trying to make political capital out of them, why not have accurate statistics and data that clearly separates women from the trans population, so that adequate resources and funding can be allocated to resolve issues? I believe the Liberal Democrats are simply trying to win votes from a younger demographic, who know little about the real world and are unable to see the misogynistic society we live in.

How many women’s lives are an acceptable level of collateral damage so we can continue to virtue signal?

Do the Liberal Democrats really believe that transpeople need more protection? If so on what basis? Employment laws protect them from workplace discrimination, whilst women have had to change the law to defend their Gender Critical beliefs. Social Media readily protects all forms of transpeople, who demand everybody confirm to their chosen pronouns.  And who are the Liberal Democrats fighting this issue with? I do not believe there is any significant group that does not wish for transpeople to live their best life.  

Our prisons should be for our most violent and sexual offenders only, I would feel much more comfortable if women’s crimes were dealt with in the community, instead of seeing families torn apart and children’s lives disrupted due to women’s “minor” crimes.

Similarly, women’s sports may be destroyed if women are less likely to win due to transwomen competing against them. It is difficult enough for schools to persuade teenage girls to join in PE particularly with the high levels of sexual harassment in schools.  Why would any woman train and compete at a senior level when she knows she will be physically overtaken by a man with greater power and strength? We are already seeing women excluding themselves from women’s shelters and refuges as they can’t be certain that a male will be allowed in.

Exactly how far does this have to go before we stop the nonsense? How many women’s lives are an acceptable level of collateral damage so we can continue to virtue signal?

My views and position are not without significant support in the Liberal Democrats. Whilst many are afraid to publicly voice their opinion for fear of the Lib mob, they do send me private messages in support. Previous MP and MEP Chris Davies has come out and openly supports me. He questions how a serious political party can condemn someone for silently stating a woman is an adult human female whilst pretending to remain the party of J.S Mill, who advocated for the right of every individual to express their view. He believes that science should not be swept aside by glib slogans claiming that “trans women are women without qualification of any kind at all”. 

As a society, we are long overdue a sensible and rational debate on this topic, without fear or censorship. The public conversation must shift to open, transparent and respectful debate.