The opioid epidemic is not a “Republican or Democratic issue,” says Gov. Mary Fallin. She told a conference on women’s incarceration this week that treatment and counseling should be considered legitimate alternatives to prison for individuals charged with low-level drug offenses.
Increasing numbers of conservative legislatures are backing sentencing reforms that divert individuals charged with low-level drug offenses away from prison, says Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” the Republican governor said during an event streamed live sponsored by the Atlantic magazine in Oklahoma City earlier this week.
“It’s about people (with) addiction or mental health issues who are not criminals and need a little extra help.”
She said the nation’s spreading opioid epidemic should persuade policymakers regardless of their party affiliations to find alternatives to punishment strategies that often end up destroying families and especially take a toll on children.
Fallin said the most common complaint by women she had spoken to who were incarcerated for drug offenses was “being away from my children.”
Fallin joined other participants in the event—the first of a three-part series called “Defining Justice: The Experience of Women and Children Behind Bars,” produced by Reveal, the online platform of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting—in identifying “tough-on-crime” drug laws as a leading cause of the high rate of incarceration of women in the country.
Oklahoma was chosen as the opening venue for the series because it has the country’s highest female incarceration rate: 151 of every 100,000 women are behind bars.
A report produced earlier this year by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force predicted a 60 percent increase in Oklahoma’s female prison population over the next decade if present policies continue. The state’s general prison population was expected to rise by just 25 percent in the same period, the task force said.
“We need to find a better way,” said Fallin, noting that many Oklahoma law enforcement authorities were “starting to pick up on the notion that there are other options” besides prison for troubled individuals involved with the justice system.
Fallin praised two measures approved by Oklahoma voters last year that have spurred major justice reforms, said The Oklahoman in its report of the event. One made certain low-level crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies, including simple drug possession and theft of items valued at less than $1,000. The other aims to use money saved by incarcerating fewer people to help fund drug treatment and mental health programs.
Other speakers at the live stream session echoed Fallin’s criticism of the nation’s “tough-on-crime” approach to troubled individuals who run afoul of in the justice system.
“We have failed to look at mental illness and drug addiction as a health issue and (have) instead chosen to punish people who have an addiction, rather than treat (them),” said Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), a nonprofit interfaith foundation in Oklahoma City
Steele argued that many state legislatures are pursuing the wrong path with “tough on crime” laws, and they should move to “smart-on-crime” laws that aim to divert troubled individuals to treatment, rather than jail.
Jurisdictions that have already moved in that direction have experienced a decline in the number of women who are incarcerated, the session was told.
Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Table by Eric Segara/Reveal
In Oklahoma’s Tulsa County, for example, a diversion program for women who might otherwise face long sentences for drug offenses and other crimes has contributed to a decrease over the past seven years in the number of women sent to prison.
Former graduates of Women in Recovery show up to support new graduates at a ceremony earlier this year. Photo by Shane Brown/Reveal
The program, “Women in Recovery,” is funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, named for a little-known Tulsa oil billionaire. It provides rehabilitative treatment, life-skills classes, and employment counseling to help women recover from substance abuse.
Incarceration rates are even higher for women in poverty and women of color, according to Reveal, which produced its reporting as a part of a year-long collaboration with The Frontier, an Oklahoma journalism startup.
African-American women are incarcerated at about “twice the rate” of their representation in the state’s adult population, Reveal’s analysis showed.
And for Native American women, the disparity is almost three times their share of the population—primarily because of drug offenses.
Patricia Spottedcrow told the seminar she was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison after her conviction for possessing about $35 worth of marijuana. Prior to her arrest, Spottedcrow said, she had never been involved with the criminal justice system.
But media attention to her story helped get her sentence reduced. She spent just two years behind bars.
While Spottedcrow’s tale of early release is unusual, her excessive sentence is not.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, tens of thousands of people have fallen victim to harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, as a result of the U.S. “extreme sentencing policies” which have no parallel in other countries.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler believes that addressing the problem must begin with the children.
“Most women blame their drug issues on their childhood abuse,” Kunzweiler said during the session. “We need to put our money towards helping children who deserve protection.”
“The more money we spend on incarceration, the less money we have to spend on health care.”
Other speakers at the session included Tony Tyler of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Criminal Justice Task Force; Sheila Harbert, Chief Community Outreach Officer of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; and D’Marria Monday, Oklahoma Chapter Leader of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
The next live stream sessions connected with Reveal’s reporting will be held in Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. The first part of the Reveal series is available here.
Megan Hadley is a news intern with The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.
A whistleblower’s unsuccessful attempts to prod an investigation of defective airline parts manufactured in China underlines charges by senior aviation specialists that federal air safety authorities and law enforcement are failing when it comes to tackling an emerging global threat from counterfeiters, according to a TCR investigation.
A tide of defective and possibly counterfeit airplane parts has been making its way into U.S. aircraft unreported and unchecked, according to senior aviation specialists and whistleblower attorneys.
Earlier this spring, a government audit of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—the agency responsible for ensuring airline safety—said the FAA had consistently failed to alert federal law enforcement authorities about suspect parts installed in U.S. airplanes.
The scathing audit by the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG)—the first one in 20 years—also charged the agency had closed investigations without ensuring that counterfeit and improperly manufactured parts (SUPs) were removed.
The FAA has since pledged to comply with the audit recommendations. But interviews with former FAA inspectors and other experts raise questions about whether federal law enforcement authorities can cope with the threat posed by a global aviation parts manufacturing industry that has spread to emerging markets like China and India, where many of the fake or defective parts identified in investigations have originated.
The safety threat posed by fraudulent parts is likely to increase unless federal authorities become more aggressive in combating it, the experts told The Crime Report.
“We’re outsourcing so much work into those regions (that) the propensity for risk increases exponentially,” said Michael Dreikorn, a former FAA safety inspector who helped set up the agency’s first Suspected Unapproved Parts (SUP) program in the 1990s.
Some argue that an equally serious problem is a laissez-faire culture in which the agency effectively allows the commercial aviation industry to police itself.
Whenever the FAA suspects fraud, under its own guidelines, it is required to refer the case to federal law enforcement authorities.
“However, the FAA is loathe to actually refer people for criminal enforcement,” said Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation (DOT).“They just don’t do it.”
Agency officials respond that the FAA’s current oversight program assures the safety of the American flying public.
Hundreds of defective “single point of failure” parts from China were installed in Boeing 777 spoilers. Photo by Christian Junker via Flickr
“In rare instances where the FAA determines SUPs have entered the system, we issue corrective measures that mandate timely action by affected owners and operators,” the FAA said in an emailed response to The Crime Report’s questions.
The Trials of a Whistleblower
But a Crime Report investigation suggests that despite the sharp rebuke by the OIG earlier this year of FAA practices, ongoing attempts by a Chinese whistleblower to warn both authorities of a potential grave risk to the flying public continues to fall on deaf ears.
In 2016, a supply chain manager at Moog, a U.S. aerospace company that supplies flight control systems to Boeing, alerted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he had discovered a Chinese subcontractor was producing improperly manufactured parts.
According to an FAA report obtained by The Crime Report, the agency investigated, but found no evidence of a violation.
Unsatisfied, the whistleblower, Chaosheng Shi, asked for a re-investigation.
During the second investigation, the regional FAA inspector found evidence that improperly manufactured parts had been installed in commercial Boeing 777s around the globe. The same subcontractor, according to the report, had outsourced other critical parts to an unapproved supplier.
What’s more, the subcontractor had fabricated production records.
Under the FAA’s own guidelines, when the agency finds evidence of “suspected unapproved parts” (SUPs), it is supposed to refer them to federal law enforcement agencies for a full examination.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, despite the evidence produced during the second investigation, the FAA concluded that “all corrective actions have been taken. No further action is required.”
Regarding Shi’s suspicion that the subcontractor was using substitute, sub-standard raw materials, FAA accepted the company’s explanation that it was an “accounting error.”
FAA’s investigation relied entirely on Moog’s internal probe into the suspected counterfeiting. But by the time Moog performed its inspection, claimed Shi, the parts that it tested were no longer representative of the batch that had been installed on aircraft a year earlier.
These parts are still in the air today, installed in wing flaps that control descent and speed for safe landing.
As if this weren’t chilling enough, they are what’s known in the industry as “single-point-of-failure” parts—meaning that if they fail, the whole system fails.
According to Shi, as many as 500 commercial airplanes could be affected.
The Moog case illustrates what some experts say is a worrying failure of oversight by the agency tasked with ensuring the safety of commercial airplanes in the U.S., as well as law enforcement agencies that investigate and prosecute unapproved parts fraud.
Some experts cite a relationship between the airline industry, FAA, and congressional oversight committees that has grown too cozy.
While people within the industry insist that manufacturers have a self-interest in keeping the flying public safe, veteran aviation experts are telling a different story—one in which unreported defective parts invade the supply chain unchecked, with no repercussions.
While it is not the FAA’s role to investigate criminal matters, the agency acts as a gatekeeper, deciding which cases are referred to law enforcement. For cases involving commercial aircraft, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General gets involved, often working with special agents from the FBI. For military aircraft, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service step in.
Some say the FAA is, in effect, enabling an end-run around potential criminal investigations by withholding these types of allegations from investigators.
“If the FAA is not sharing the information with law enforcement, [offenders] are not going to get indicted, because most of the time law enforcement is not going to know about it,” said Ken Gardner, a retired FAA safety inspector who now teaches certification courses for the agency.
Criminal prosecutions against airplane manufacturers are rare; instead, victims and their families have taken to civil courts to pursue false claims and wrongful death suits. Under federal regulations, installing counterfeit or improperly manufactured parts isn’t a crime unless you’ve done it knowingly. The same goes for falsifying records.
But experts allege that the FAA’s lax attitudes allows the manufacturers to shrug away what little scrutiny they might face with a simple response: We didn’t know.
“Sadly, I’ve heard this many, many times,” said Schiavo, the former DOT Inspector General. “There are so many whistleblowers out of Boeing. But the FAA says ‘Boeing looked at it, and they found it not to be a problem,’ and they pretty much rubber stamp [it].
“They don’t make Boeing go and inspect all the planes. And I suppose a lot of these are out in the hands of end-users now. It’s pretty typical.”
Dreikorn, the former FAA inspector, concurs.
“The fact of the matter is, as a result of this whistleblower’s actions, we know of 273 nonconforming parts installed in the spoilers of Boeing 777 aircraft,” he said. “We are expected to rely on analysis and testing from the very companies that caused the problem.
“Trust must be earned, and the FAA’s aircraft certification office in Seattle has shown itself incompetent in ensuring the largest airplane manufacturer in the U.S. is capable of controlling its suppliers.”
Dreikorn added: “I rest no easier simply because the FAA says I should.”
Asked by The Crime Report to examine the FAA’s report on Shi’s complaint, another former safety inspector, who asked that his identity be withheld, said, “This investigation should have also involved the DOT Office of Inspector General for falsification of production records which are required documentation.”
The inspector was particularly concerned about the hundreds of critical parts that were installed in wing flaps that did not undergo stress relief or proper hydrogen relief treatment (baking).
“Carbon embrittlement is a big concern due to the fact that turbulence can change the normal stress loads that can cause a catastrophic failure,” he told The Crime Report. “The FAA should have followed up with Boeing to gain information of their notice to customers who had those parts installed on their aircraft.”
But the defective parts never even made it onto the FAA’s Unapproved Parts Notification database, which issues warnings to aircraft owners, operators, manufacturers, maintenance organizations, and parts suppliers about potential risks.
Boeing provided the following response to The Crime Report:
The safety of the flying public is our primary concern, and any allegation related to safety is thoroughly investigated. In late 2016 the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration investigated several allegations related to Moog Aerospace and confirmed two were substantiated.
Moog, working with Boeing, had already assessed these two issues and taken all necessary corrective actions. The FAA investigation confirmed that no further corrective action was required.
We refer additional questions to the FAA and Moog.
The May 30 audit by the OIG found that the FAA had consistently violated a 2004 agreement with six federal law enforcement agencies to share reports and investigations about possible defective parts.
“As a result,” the OIG concluded after its two-year review of the agency, “the FAA cannot accurately account for the number of SUPs or track safety-related trends to share with senior FAA management and Federal law enforcement agencies about the risks posed by unapproved parts.”
In response to the audit, the FAA finally did share data with law enforcement authorities on allegedly substandard or counterfeit airplane parts– many of which are currently in use by commercial jetliners flying today.
But the whistleblower’s story also raises questions about whether federal law enforcement is sufficiently aggressive in monitoring possible counterfeiters.
The FAA’s defenders argue that the commercial aviation industry itself is better equipped to monitor suspected unapproved parts and remove them if necessary—a laissez-faire approach which they say ensures airline safety.
“Certificate holders (FAA-approved aviation businesses) must protect themselves and their work with or without government help,” said a spokesperson for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), a global trade association for the civil aviation maintenance industry.
“This responsibility is what keeps flying the safest form of transportation.”
Meanwhile, in response to a request from The Crime Report, the FAA issued the following official statement:
The FAA oversees the design and production of hundreds of millions of aviation products and parts each year. More than two decades ago, the agency developed an enhanced Suspected Unapproved Parts (SUP) program, which resulted in a marked decrease in SUP cases. In rare instances where the FAA determines SUPs have entered the system, we issue corrective measures that mandate timely action by affected owners and operators.
FAA inspectors perform follow-up surveillance of all corrective actions that aircraft owners and operators, and aircraft manufacturers and parts manufacturers, take in response to SUP cases.
In Shi’s case, however, the FAA closed out the investigation without reporting the defective parts as ‘suspect.’
Vigilant in the 1990s
Things weren’t always so lax.
The 1990s saw a more aggressive enforcement period following the 1989 crash of Partnair Flight 394, which killed all 55 people on board, and was blamed on defective counterfeit parts and substandard maintenance.
During Mary Schiavo’s six-year tenure as Inspector General, her office led investigations that resulted in over 150 convictions for fraudulent parts.
“There are a few people still in jail as a result of that,” said former FAA inspector Dreikorn, whose SUP team included several FBI agents who led raids on fabricators of unapproved parts.
But the program was disbanded in 2007.
Gardner, who teaches FAA certification courses (including unapproved parts training) at JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, there are fewer agents assigned to the OIG these days, and they are spread thin across all crimes involving transportation.
“If it’s something that’s not going to draw a lot of attention, and it’s not really a safety issue, they’ll just kind of leave it up to the FAA to deal with it,” added Gardner, who also trains law enforcement how to spot counterfeits and falsified records.
But according to independent experts and whistleblowers, law enforcement lacks the expertise to determine what might be a safety threat, and instead has to rely on the industry itself.
Gardner, like Dreikorn, says the risks have escalated in recent years as aviation manufacturers increasingly outsource to developing markets.
“We know there’s a lot of counterfeit parts coming out of China,” he told The Crime Report.
“There’s a lot of Sikorsky [owned by Lockheed Martin] parts, and the problem is, they have the companies over here send all the data, the drawings and specifications and everything for the parts to be made at other facilities in China as a supplier.
“But they don’t stop there. Because they figure there’s money in it, they can actually manufacture other parts and send them over here with false documentation.”
Shi’s case adds a troubling new dimension to the problem of overseas quality control. Last month, a judge denied him U.S. whistleblower protection because he worked in Shanghai.
Nevertheless, ARSA, the aeronautical repair group, argues that companies outside the U.S. have an equal interest in avoiding fake or fraudulent manufacturers.
“A good repair station won’t risk business on risky parts,” the ARSA spokesperson told The Crime Report, noting that non-U.S. firms have access to the FAA’s database, which “allows certificate holders to help ‘police’ the flow of parts with questionable origins or paperwork.”
Some aviation experts point out, however, that the current system fails to account for human nature.
Mike Danko, a civil attorney and pilot who uncovered the role of an unapproved part in a deadly 2014 plane crash, cites what he says is the “well-known” example that “a pilot is never criminally prosecuted unless he is drunk—it doesn’t matter how stupid, reckless he is, or how many people are injured—[and] because that’s so well known, there’s a small group of renegade pilots who say, ‘this is easy—either I’m not going to get the license, or my license is revoked, I don’t care.
“I’m going to continue to fly because—what happens if I get caught?’”
The audit’s findings underline the charges by many of the outside experts interviewed for this article that the FAA itself is in need of an overhaul.
Even if FAA inspectors were inclined to be more aggressive, they currently don’t have the technical skills to perform physical examinations to determine if there is a safety risk.
“The FAA really defers to Boeing expertise,” said Mary Schiavo, noting that the agency even allows the company to self-certify its aircraft.
“The FAA doesn’t have the expertise to match talent with Boeing.” (Boeing has contended in federal court that it is a “representative” of the FAA).
“It’s a paperwork chase,” added Mike Danko, the former pilot. “It’s not quality control, or quality assurance. As a general rule it’s just a record-keeping inquiry.”
Are Our Planes Safe?
Has the FAA’s current approach to counterfeit parts increased the safety risks for the thousands of passengers who fly U.S. jetliners every month?
The FAA and its defenders say it hasn’t.
But last year, after compiling and analyzing National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found that “unapproved parts” had played a role in close to two dozen airplane crashes in the U.S. since 2010, resulting in seven fatalities and 18 injuries.
The majority of the crashes either took place in U.S. airspace or involved U.S. aircraft under FAA jurisdiction, according to an NBC reporter, minus one or two overseas cases referred to the FAA that involved forged FAA tags.
Independent aviation experts think this number may actually be much higher. However, the NTSB refuses to release information on its investigations of major catastrophes that have happened overseas, even when they involved a U.S. manufacturer.
When Danko investigated the 2009 Cessna crash that killed Dr. Ken Gottlieb, he found that an unapproved part had jammed during takeoff, and that Gottlieb’s mechanic had faked an inspection just days earlier. A civil jury awarded Gottlieb’s family over $10 million dollars.
Afterwards, said Danko, “I asked the FAA to investigate. They investigated and found basically no specific violation of any regulation. And that mechanic still has his license.”
As for any criminal investigation, “law enforcement is virtually never interested,” said Danko.
That holds true in Shi’s whistleblower case.
For the past two years, his dogged attempts to alert the OIG, both directly, and through the fraud hotline, have come to nothing. The OIG’s official reply: “We Anticipate No Further Action From Our Office Regarding This Matter And Thank You For Bringing This Information To Our Attention.”
Chaosheng Shi (center). Warren Johnson (left), former president of Moog Aircraft Group, shakes hands with Li Jian of New HongJi (right). 2015. Photo courtesy Chaosheng Shi
New HongJi, the Chinese company that was found to have produced defective parts and falsified records, continues to manufacture Moog parts for installation onto Boeing military and commercial aircraft. Aircraft Group of Moog, Inc, holds the certificate for these parts— meaning the case falls within U.S. jurisdiction.
“You can explain away an accounting error,” said former FAA inspector Dreikorn.
“But when you have that coupled with forged documents— it means there is no reliability in the system, and then everything that comes out of the system is as far as I’m concerned, suspect.”
Appeal to an Irrelevant Authority
An FAA investigation—which the OIG audit shows to be unreliable—can also make or break a fraud case.
Take the 11-year, $4.8 billion false claims suit against Boeing and Ducommun for defrauding the U.S. government, which was thrown out on appeal in 2016. The lawsuit claimed that Boeing used off-spec parts in 737 Next Generation aircraft that it sold to the U.S. military (P-8 Poseidon), and then produced false documentation to cover it up.
The judge made his determination based on the fact that Boeing and the FAA both disagreed with the whistleblowers as to how the manufacturing specifications could be interpreted. Because of this wiggle room, intent could not be proven.
“We know it was willful, because after they ‘discovered’ it, they then went back to the company that was making the defective parts, or the non-conforming parts, and they cut a side-deal with them authorizing them to continue doing it in exchange for some price concessions,” William Skepnek, a whistleblower attorney who worked on the case for over a decade, told The Crime Report.
But, he added: “Because the FAA didn’t make a finding, then I guess reasonable minds can differ, and if reasonable minds can differ, well than you can’t prove intent…. which is of course not the law.”
“I don’t think there ever was a criminal investigation. There was a DCIS investigator who was assigned to the case. And the DCIS investigator simply handed it off to FAA, and accepted what FAA did, and did no investigation on his own.”
Skepnek’s team started digging into the case, and “we found that the DCIS investigator had no knowledge of aircraft parts.”
“So there literally was no independent criminal investigation.”
The FAA, in turn, accepted Boeing’s own internal investigation into the matter, said Skepnek. According to Dreikorn, who was engaged as an expert witness by the whistleblowers: “I was able to independently determine that, yeah, Boeing had done some wrongdoing, they had covered it up, and the FAA at the local level was in cahoots.
“And I took it all the way up to the Associate Administrator, and she killed it.”
Skepnek continued: “Ultimately, the federal judge in Wichita determined that because the FAA hadn’t done anything about it, then that meant that the FAA found it was all good.”
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also sided with the opinion of Boeing engineers and the FAA.
It might be surprising to the average person that the agency tasked with aviation safety doesn’t perform physical inspections and investigations itself. But according to Dreikorn, most judges are unaware of the fact .
“They think that the FAA is infallible. I’ve stood in front of many state and federal judges, and told them that the FAA system is flawed, and they wouldn’t accept it,” he said.
“And as a lone expert, how can I stand up to the FAA?”
The two aviation experts, an engineer, and a former NTSB crash investigator working with Skepnek on the whistleblower case believe that several Boeing 737 Next Generation crashes remain unexplained.
“What our guys said was, and we actually submitted this to the FAA, the real weak spots were in front of and behind the wings. And there are at least 3 or 4 crashes, hard landings, that should have been tolerated, but the fuselage came apart— with some deaths.
And there were a couple of airplanes that came apart in the sky, and nobody lived through that. These were all Next Generations,” said Skepnek.
Dreikorn said he’s been pushing for the National Transportation Safety Board to look into secondary failures for years, which are often more fatal than the primary cause for the accident. “You can’t always prevent the causing event— but make the survivability better.”
“There needs to be more transparency in the industry with these investigations, because they get put under a federal order of stealth— nobody gets to see what’s going on. And even afterwards, it’s under protective order.”
Dreikorn’s FOIA requests to the NTSB for information on crash investigations in Jamaica, Colombia, Kenya, and Ethiopia were all rejected.
“And the reality is, this is taxpayer money, these are our products, the taxpayers’, they should have a right to see what’s going on and be able to get [data]— whether they’re from the media or academia— to look at this stuff so we can understand what’s going on.
“Are our employees, our government employees, working in the best interest of the taxpayers?”
Republican Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, ranking member of the House Transportation Subcommittee, who requested the original OIG audit, told The Crime Report that he was concerned that FAA’s Suspected Unapproved Parts Program “had not been reviewed in more than 20 years.”
“Eliminating the serious risk posed by unapproved aircraft parts is a critical safety matter that must be dealt with,” he said, adding that the Inspector General’s findings “confirm the need for improved tracking of suspected parts by the FAA and continued congressional oversight of the SUPs program.”
Weakening Federal Regulation
That task may now get harder under an administration determined to reduce federal regulation.
DeFazio has been leading a fight in the House against a bill that would privatize the agency’s air traffic control system and remove over 30,000 federal employees from the federal payroll. The bill was rejected by the Senate on Tuesday, and must go to a floor vote before the September 30 deadline for FAA reauthorization.
In the meantime, the FAA Rulemaking Advisory Committee has recommended rolling back several aviation safety standards earlier this month, including those governing pilot training.
Dreikorn believes that change has to begin with the agency’s leadership, noting that the FAA’s new Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Ali Bahrami, was plucked straight from an aviation industry lobbying position in June. He was director of the Aerospace Industry Association, and prior to that, he worked at Boeing.
“Until there’s a decision within the organization to behave differently, until the leadership holds the entire organization accountable to perform as they should for public safety, nothing’s going to happen,” he said.
Victoria Mckenzie is deputy editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.
A Cambodian man who was tried as an adult for crimes he committed as a juvenile now fights deportation, and argues that he’s being penalized twice for the “poor choices” he made decades earlier.
Although there is a large and vast discussion throughout the United States around immigration, a subset of the immigrant population has been virtually ignored: the juvenile offender who is tried as an adult and faces deportation for those criminal convictions, often times many years later, after his or her release from the prison system.
It happened to me.
I was brought to the United States as a child of a refugee. My family fled Cambodia for their lives by trekking across a militarized jungle border and heading into Thailand where I would be born, after they spent two years in emergency refugee camps.
In 1981, I was carried off a plane into LAX and into the U.S. I was 61 days old.
A couple of years later, my parents divorced and my mother abandoned me. I was raised by a single father until I was 16. My father died of cancer at the end of my junior year in high school. I was left to grieve alone. At a time when I needed more support than ever, none was to be had.
I wound up gravitating to my peers on the streets. This ultimately led my arrest at the age of 17. Tried as an adult, I was convicted on three counts of armed robbery. I was sent to prison with 23 years and eight months looming over my head.
Phal Sok, speaking at a demonstration, Photo courtesy of author
After SB260 was passed in California—the result of a trifecta of juvenile offender cases heard in the U.S.Supreme Court—it was recognized that juveniles should not be treated the same way as adults, and that they should not be subjected to mandatory penalties.
That opened the way for me to appear before the parole board, where I was one of the few in that category who met the criteria for release.
For most, liberation brings freedom.
But not for me.
On my release from prison in July 2015, I was put into a cage inside a van, shackled, chained, and hauled off to immigration detention. Two months later, I was ordered deported by an immigration judge.
I was not provided an attorney. The law does not guarantee representation in this type of court. It is not a federal court nor is it a criminal court. It is an administrative court where judges can be fired—and so they are tough.
All those constitutionally supported rules that said I should be treated differently did not apply. Second chances? None. Even though I had legal status as a permanent resident, the nation’s immigration laws offered no mechanism to ask any judge to keep my papers.
After being ordered deported, I was finally released temporarily in March 2016 while I awaited a “travel document” (passport). Four months later, after a passport was issued, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took me back into detention a second time, for a flight to Cambodia. But I had learned a few things during my years inside about U.S. legal procedure.
I filed a Petition for Review of the decision and a motion to stay my deportation in order to stop my scheduled flight to Cambodia-a country I have never been in. While that appeal was in process, I was sent to a private for-profit immigration prison in Louisiana until my deportation case was thankfully reopened.
That opened the door for me to return to California.
At my first court, I requested a bond hearing and one was set for three weeks later. The community came to support me on that day and I was granted bond. Then the community really came together and paid it, so I can be here to fight another day.
But if I am to stay in the States, I must receive a pardon from the governor. That is the only window I have. Soon, my time to see another judge will come and I do not know what will unfold on that day.
In the ten months since my release on bond, I consistently volunteer in the community, just like when I came home the first time in March 2016—when I gave my time at a non-profit to keep children connected with their incarcerated parent(s).
I have fed the homeless and I am part of a local church where I volunteer regularly. I am now an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition (in California) working to protect our youth of today and tomorrow. I am also no longer on parole after earning an early discharge.
I believe I’ve done some good after paying the price for the crimes I committed. But immigration law does not see it that way. It only sees the poor choices I made as a juvenile. It only sees the 17-year old that made those choices.
It only sees the “bad hombre.”
I’m not that person anymore. But will the justice system in the only country I have ever really known recognize that?
Phal Sok lives today in Los Angeles. He is awaiting another hearing, scheduled in February 2018. He wrote this essay as a project for a community writing group in Los Angeles led by The Beat Within, a San Francisco prison writing workshop, and the Youth Justice Coalition. He welcomes readers’ comments.
The Sandra Bland Act, which came into effect this month, has been called an “example for the nation” in setting policies for police reform and dealing with troubled individuals. Texas State Rep. Garnet Coleman, the bill’s sponsor, sat down with TCR West Coast Bureau Chief Joe Domanick to discuss why one of the country’s toughest law-and-order states adopted it.
Now in his 26th year as a Houston Democrat in a conservative Texas House, Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman is the ranking member of the Public Health Committee, and chair of the powerful, wide-ranging County Affairs Committee.
Sandra Bland. Courtesy Wikipedia
He was the sponsor of the Sandra Bland Act, named in memory of the African-American motorist who, while driving in the Houston suburb of Prairie View in 2015, was pulled over by a white Texas State trooper. Both her stop and her subsequent arrest were caught on video, and proved highly controversial. Most striking was how quickly the trooper moved from mild arguing with Bland to suddenly arresting her with no attempt at de-escalation. Later, in an even more contentious development, Bland—who had some history of mental illness—died in custody in the Waller County jail, in what was later ruled a suicide.
The Act, which came into effect this month, has been called an “example for the nation” in setting policies for reform of police practices. Among other provisions, it earmarks money to train law enforcement in de-escalation practices, and requires authorities to divert justice-involved individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues into treatment.
In a chat with West Coast Bureau Chief Joe Domanick, Coleman discussed why he fought so hard for the Act, the peculiarities of Texas criminal justice law, and how legislators in one of the country’s toughest law-and-order states were persuaded to take a major step towards justice reform.
TCR: Your focus in the past has been on children’s issues and mental health, yet you played the key role in passing the Bland Act. Why?
Coleman: It’s very personal. I’m a black, born in the early ‘60s. I grew up at a time when I was a police target for just being me. I was stopped recently [by the police] just before the Bland hearing. And I was scared. All that [police officer] intimidation and worry when you’re stopped. [Editor’s note: In Texas a citizen can be arrested simply for committing a traffic violation, as was Bland.] People react to it differently. But why should someone be fearful for their life when they get pulled over? I have a daughter who is 21, a son who is 25. There were so many other things that this officer [who arrested Bland] could have done to avoid the situation that he didn’t do.
TCR: What advantages did you start out with in getting the Bland Act passed?
Coleman: The County Affairs committee that I chair has wide jurisdiction over [Texas] jails and sheriffs and the department of public safety. I’ve been working on mental illness since 1995, so I knew I could get that piece passed. And that’s the piece that had no opposition. The sheriffs and law enforcement were always for the mental health provisions. So I could say to them—and I did—you are getting nothing if you keep blocking the bill.
[In addition] I went to the [House] speaker and told him that the problem had gotten too big, that something had to be done. [Bland] had died; [there were recent videos] of another woman in Austin being violently thrown up the side of a car; a 14-year-old girl tackled in her bikini by an officer for nothing; and a teenager shot in the back of the head by an officer whom [the state of] Texas admitted was at fault in the civil suit.
Texas State Rep. Garnet Coleman
TCR: Who were the opponents of the Act?
Coleman: The Sheriff’s Association. We have 254 counties. That’s 254 [very powerful] sheriffs. The Texas Metropolitan Police Association. The Police Chiefs Association. Most of your law-and-order members of the legislature were opposed. They were all opposed. At first, we couldn’t even get it out of the committee in the House.
TCR: Eventually, as I understand it, the governor and lieutenant governor, who are powerful players in Texas, came out in favor of the bill.
Coleman: They did not come out for it [at first]. They asked us to remove some important things from the bill: gathering data on pretext stops, on consensual searches and stop-and-frisk vehicle data—the kinds of things that really lead you to being able to have a provable finding of racial profiling. But once that happened, it passed out of the Senate. And I do believe that once the lieutenant governor and governor said this draft is fine with us, that everyone just backed off.
TCR: So the fact that they were not opposing it, was in itself a message?
Coleman: That’s exactly right. Once it got to the floor of the Senate, it passed unanimously and I picked it up in the house and the bill went through.
TCR:Do you still think the law has teeth?
Coleman: Most definitely. There are [now] more and easier ways to complain about police stops and abuse. Also included is [the requirement to keep] data on every stop and data on [police] violence—whether it’s a death or assault. And then there’s the big increase for de-escalation training.
TCR: Let’s talk about the Act mandated de-escalation training
Coleman: Every peace officer in Texas now has to go through 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training; meaning they have to undergo 40 hours of de-escalation training in dealing with people who have mental illness; and we also mandated de-escalation training that has nothing to do with crisis intervention—that is to be used routinely in general circumstances. The police departments in Dallas are already using de-escalation techniques.
TCR: Every peace officer statwide?
TCR: Do you think the 40 hours of training, even if it’s best practices, is enough?
Coleman: Most definitely. That’s the ideal number of hours, according to best practices in mental health Crisis Intervention Training. Now it’s the law, part of the suite of training that all peace officers must have.
TCR: Will that 40 hours of training be ongoing?
Coleman: Yes, it’s on-going. They do the training again every couple of years. It’s not just at the academy. And it’s for both styles of de-escalation—mental health and in general circumstances. [The provisions of the Act] are there in perpetuity unless somebody removes them by law.
TCR: What does de-escalation mean to you?
Coleman: Peace officers should not approach people with a command-and-control stance, but use their soft skills to approach in a way that keeps everyone safe. Using distance, using reason to see how that person is at that moment and not rile everybody up, just trying to get everyone to obey what the officer is asking.
Fort Worth just adopted de-escalation training. Dallas is already doing it. So I believe it’s a way to move law enforcement in a different direction rather than just the same old actions every single time.
TCR: Did you give up anything in terms of the de-escalation provisions now?
Coleman: No. We still haven’t instituted the de-escalation rules and protocols yet. We want to make sure the training standards are strong, and meet current best practices in de-escalation training, and that we are not doing something that’s four or five years old.
TCR: So all that still has to be developed.
TCR: You spoke about the mental health provisions bill, which survived and became law?
Coleman: First, [informational] card swipes now have to be posted on the jail cells of people being jailed who are at risk of suicide or have emotional distress [so that jailers will be aware of a prisoner’s status.]
Second, the Act also mandates telemedicine and telemagistrates to be on call so that in smaller areas of the state so that [diagnosis and treatment] can be very quickly available.
TCR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Coleman: I guess that I’m still in disbelief the first bill in Texas named for somebody that was a victim of the police actually passed.
Joe Domanick is West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration – at a rate more than twice the national average. On Wednesday, legislators, activists and academics will explore how to reduce the rate in a livestreamed conference hosted by The Atlantic magazine in collaboration with Reveal, of California’s Center for Investigative Reporting.
The stories behind Oklahoma’s disproportionately high female incarceration rate are the subject of an upcoming investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reportingand a forum in Oklahoma City that will explore the experiences of women in the state’s justice system.
Defining Justice will confront key questions surrounding women in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: Why is the women’s incarceration rate in Oklahoma so high? What are the long-term human costs to women and children affected by the justice system? And what solutions would create a criminal justice system more responsive to women?
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin will join the program for a one-on-one discussion on the political path toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, moderated by The Atlantic’s contributing editor Alison Stewart.
Stewart and Branstetter will moderate discussions throughout the day, along with Allison Herrera, a reporter and social media editor at Public Radio International; and David Fritze, executive editor of Oklahoma Watch. Herrera and The Frontier, an Oklahoma-based news website, partnered with Branstetter on Reveal’s investigation.
Speakers include policymakers, advocates, justice experts, journalists and women who have been incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons. Among the experts taking part in the discussions are Sheila Harbert, chief community outreach officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; and Mimi Tarrasch, executive director of Women in Recovery.
Also scheduled to speak are: Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry and former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives; and Susan Sharp, presidential professor emerita at the University of Oklahoma and author of “Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.”
“Defining Justice” is the first in a series of three events by The Atlantic examining aspects of the American criminal justice system and how they affect women and children in cities across the country. TheAtlantic.com is running an ongoing digital reporting series, The Presence of Justice, which focuses on efforts across the nation to move beyond the age of mass incarceration.
Reveal will release its investigation into Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate on our website, podcast and radio show with PRX later this month. Sign up for our newsletter to get the story sent straight to your inbox.
Defining Justice will be recorded and streamed live online by The Atlantic. You can follow the discussion on social media using the hashtag #DefiningJustice.
TCR is pleased to republish this article, produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based nonprofit news organization. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ announcement that she wants a “better” approach to campus sex assaults has stoked fears that the Trump administration will weaken existing federal legislation banning gender bias in education. TCR examines the reaction from both sides.
Betsy DeVos’ plan to develop a “better” approach to campus sex assaults has stoked fears among activists and victims that the Trump administration is bent on weakening three-decades-old protections from gender-based discrimination in education.
In a speech last week at George Mason University, the Education Secretary criticized the previous administration’s directive mandating that universities take “immediate and appropriate action” to address cases of sexual violence, rather than waiting for cases to be adjudicated through the court system.
The so-called “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Obama administration in 2011 was a response to concerns—supported by statistics—about high rates of assaults against women on campuses around the country, and the failure of the justice system to address them properly.
The directive said a “proactive” response by university administrators would be within the spirit of the protections provided under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act passed in 1972 prohibiting educational discrimination based on gender.
Photo by USM MS via Flickr
But according to DeVos, the directive has “burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate.” She said a decision on whether to formally rescind the directive would await a “notice and comment” period for views on both sides to be heard.
But many activists believe DeVos’ comments, such as her warning that the directive sets up a “kangaroo court” for men accused of assaults, suggest she has already made up her mind.
The secretary met with critics of the directive and supporters in separate meetings during a Title IX “summit” in July. Some of the attendees claimed DeVos exhibited dramatically different attitudes towards both groups.
“DeVos did not appear very affected or somber after meeting with us, even though the stories told were powerful and devastating,” one attendee at the meeting with sex assault survivors told The Crime Report. “She certainly did not appear as affected or somber as the men’s rights activists describe her being after their meeting.”
“It’s like DeVos had already made up her mind going in.”
But those who support revising or abandoning the Obama-era directive said they welcomed DeVos’ announcement.
“Schools don’t have access to forensics, they can’t put anyone under oath, they don’t have trained lawyers on each side, so it should surprise no one that there are tremendous injustices in both directions,” said Joe Cohn, policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights for Education (FIRE), an organization that advocates for due process of students accused of rape or sexual assault.
“You cannot create a just world by replacing one injustice with a new injustice. We need to be thinking through ways we can encourage complainants to come forward, where they are treated with decency and respect, but due process isn’t thrown out either.”
According to the 2011 letter, university authorities must take “immediate and appropriate action” on any cases of sexual violence that are brought to their attention, and they do not have to forward the case to law enforcement.
The directive was intended to clarify Title IX provisions that require all federally funded educational institutions to comply with laws prohibiting sex discrimination, or risk losing their funding. Under Title IX, allegations of discrimination are investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which has already begun keeping a public list of schools subject to investigation, according to The Atlantic.
DeVos supporters have dubbed these “shame lists,” meant to pressure colleges into siding with the victim in order to avoid investigation.
Cohn argues that, although under the current system both the accused and accuser are allowed to have an advisor of choice present with them at a university hearing (which could be a lawyer), that person is prohibited from speaking or taking part in the process, making such advisors “no more useful than a stuffed animal for comfort.”
Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), an organization created by mothers of sons accused of sexual misconduct, told TCR that DeVos appeared moved by the stories she heard at the meeting with critics last July.
“(She) listened so intently to each person’s story,” Garrett said. “She remembered the story, the names and the details. The room was silent. When we walked out of there, it was like a funeral procession.”
But advocates of greater protection for victims of sexual assaults on campus argued that DeVos showed she did not understand the depth of the problem.
“I think for DeVos and others to assume due process is granted in a criminal or civil setting more than at the university level is making an assumption without [a basis in] criminological theory,” said Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, a criminologist at George Mason University.
“The whole system put in place is the trial, which the vast majority of cases never make it to: 95% of the cases are plea bargains.”
Orozco added that she would like to ask DeVos whether she understood the difficulties involved in the trial process, particularly in sexual assault cases.
“If you were familiar (with those difficulties),” she said she would ask DeVos, “How could you remove any types of avenues from these survivors?”
Survivors of sexual assaults worry that removing the directive will add to women’s fears of impunity for perpetrators of campus assaults.
Jessica Davidson, managing director at End Rape on Campus, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, said “It’s important to note that mandatory police reporting is not a good thing for Title IX. Its simple: survivors don’t want to sit next to their rapist in math class anymore, and they don’t want to go to the police for that.”
Douglas Harms, a teacher advocating for reduced sexual assault on campuses, told TCR: “Studies show that the vast majority of campus sexual assaults are not reported to campus authorities, and even fewer are reported to the police; increasing the burden of proof (e.g., from preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence) would, I believe, discourage even more survivors from pursuing justice.”
“Clearly DeVos and the Trump administration have no grip on the epidemic that is happening on campuses,” said one survivor who asked to remain anonymous. “Defending rapists through changing rhetoric is unacceptable, upsetting and invalidates victims’ experiences.
“More than 90% of sexual assaults/ rapes on campus go unreported—including mine—and that’s because the current rules don’t go far enough.”
But the administration’s skepticism about efforts to extend Title IX protections has also received support from law enforcement.
“Title IX can hamper a criminal investigation by alerting suspects to the allegations,” said prosecutor Tim Bookwalter of Putnam County, IN. “In any other case, we approach the suspect for an interview without telegraphing him the allegation in advance.”
According to Bookwalter, sex assault investigations on campus should be handled by law enforcement agencies, just as all such assaults are handled.
DeVos and her supporters argue that the risk to due process posed by investigations conducted by universities is too grave to ignore.
Betsy DeVos. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
“One person denied due process is one too many,” DeVos said, arguing that universities use the lowest standard of proof when evaluating cases of sexual assault.
According to women’s advocacy groups, DeVos has not followed up with any survivors since the July meeting, despite promising them that this was “just the start” and this “would not be a one-time thing.”
Jessica Davidson argues that DeVos falsely portrays the problem of sexual assault as two equal sides.
“To say that assailants and survivors go through something equal is tremendously insulting to survivors of sexual assault,” she said. “Why would anyone equate violent rape and being kicked out of school? The problem is just not the same.”
Both sides seem to agree that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is not one of men vs. women. Yet, can a system that has been biased for so long be re-created to ensure equality for both sides?
Christina Seung, former President of Code Teal, a student organization fighting against sexual assault, thinks it can’t.
“The system is already skewed to result in very few consequences for the accused,” she said in an interview. “I do not support weakening protection for sexual assault survivors under the guise of legal fairness.”
Meanwhile, as both sides lined up for the comment period, the future of federal policy towards sexual assault on college campuses is unclear. Survivors worry this may be the beginning of a systematic attempt to weaken anti-discrimination protections.
“I have never felt completely safe on my campus, even with our current Title IX policies,” another survivor told TCR.
“To know that DeVos plans to rescind regulations that many have fought for years to establish makes me fear for students, particularly those who enter college with knowledge of how frequent sexual assault happens.”
Megan Hadley is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.
A bill pending in Congress to make websites liable for publishing information that facilitates sex trafficking doesn’t address the real issues at stake—and may do more harm than good, writes a trafficking expert.
Last month, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would make websites liable for publishing information that facilitates sex trafficking.
But the fundamental problem with the bill, sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), is that it doesn’t address the real issues at stake —and in fact may do more harm than good.
The measure is not based on any theoretical or empirical research; nor does it reflect an authoritative understanding of the scope and history of how commercial sex and sex trafficking are sold in the United States.
Proponents of the bill make two critically flawed assumptions:
Certain websites make it easier to sex traffic than others, instead of the internet as a whole;
Website administrators can accurately discern the difference between a law- abiding business, a consenting adult sex worker, and a victim of sex trafficking—something that trained law enforcement have trouble doing.
Legislators, their constituents and anti-trafficking advocates should first understand the history and landscape of commercial sex advertisements before they rush to pass this bill.
Periodicals have been used to disseminate information about the commercial sex trade for centuries. Between 1757 and 1795 Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies—a concise almanac of prostitutes available for hire in London—was published annually and disseminated to middle and upper class men.
Harris’s descriptions suggest that many of the sex workers were actually trafficked adults or juveniles.
Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, Blue Books containing brothel advertisements and a directory of sex workers were given to visitors and tourists and those seeking a “good time” while in New Orleans, Louisiana and San Antonio, Texas.
By the mid- to late-20th century, conventional newspapers and specialty erotic magazines, like Swank in New York, were used to share information about the commercial sex trade locally, by various publishers across the country.
These ads eventually transitioned online with the popularization of the internet.
Despite the claims by some legislators and anti trafficking advocates, who typically are narrowly focused on classified advertisement websites like Craigslist.org and Backpage.com, one particular website did not facilitate sex trafficking.
Many are hosted internationally, possibly beyond the reach of U.S.-based law enforcement, such as USASexGuide.info, InternationalSexGuide.info, and USAAdultClassifieds.info, or on the dark web.
Advertisements hosted on one website are often cross-posted on other forums, social media, dating websites and even in print.
For example, a recent edition of Korean Entertainment Weekly (a free publication for Korean residents in the D.C. Metropolitan Area) features prominent ads for massage parlors that are also advertised on Backpage.com:
When Craigslist.org acquiesced to that request in 2010, the ads were simply displaced, some to the casual encounters dating section of the same website and many to Backpage.com. When Backpage.com also shuttered its adult section earlier this year, the ads were again displaced to the dating section.
Eradicating these commercial sex ads completely is a Sisyphean task.
Third-party businesses should not be held accountable for the crimes committed by traffickers. Instead of avoiding hard decisions for cheap headlines, legislators should start facilitating cooperation between these websites and law enforcement.
In order to combat the historically clandestine crime of sex trafficking, we must increase the capabilities of law enforcement to use online ads as the catalyst for more arrests and rescues.
Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco holds a Ph.D. in Criminology, Law and Society from George Mason University, with an expertise in human trafficking. She currently serves as a human trafficking expert witness for criminal cases and her book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,” will be published by Praeger/ABC-Clio this year. Dr. Mehlman-Orozco’s writing can be found in The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, The Baltimore Sun, The Diplomatic Courier, among other media.
U.S. policymakers have begun to focus on the security threats from Trinidad and Tobago, just off South America’s north coast. According to a new study, the island nation of 1.2 million is emerging as a narcotics shipping hub; and on a per capita basis, it has sent more foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria than anywhere else in the region.
Trinidad and Tobago, just off the north coast of South America, has the dubious distinction of being the country which has sent the greatest number of foreign terrorist fighters in the region to Iraq and Syria on a per capita basis.
And as the U.S. fights against narcotics flows, Trinidad and Tobago is playing an increasing role in transit routes for smuggling drugs to the U.S. and Europe through the Caribbean.
Trinidad and Tobago. Illustration by Rick McCharles via Flickr
Trinidad and Tobago, a tiny nation of 1.2 million people, straddles two islands: Trinidad, by far the larger of the two, is an industrial powerhouse and a financial center for the Eastern Caribbean, having leveraged significant offshore and onshore natural gas resources to build a major petrochemical industry, including a petroleum services sector that supports numerous projects in the surrounding region.
Tobago, often forgotten, including when people abbreviate the name of the country (to just “Trinidad”), is a beautiful island with an economy based on tourism and enjoys a degree of self-government.
Despite its small size, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest, most economically developed, and most ethnically diverse countries in the region, with populations of African, Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, and European descent. Its diversity is both reinforced and complicated by its relatively open borders and its tradition of being a nation of immigrants, with significant recently arrived communities from Venezuela, China, Syria, and Africa.
Despite its high per capita GDP, Trinidad and Tobago has the highest incidence of violent crime in the Eastern Caribbean, with 463 homicides in 2016, approximately 35 per 100,000 residents. The country also has a significant gang problem and was the subject of an attempted coup in 1990 by the local radical Islamic group Jamaat al Muslimeen (JAM).
It also has the dubious fame of being the largest contributor in the region on a per capita basis of Islamic fighters to Iraq and Syria. Only diverse and quirky Trinidad and Tobago could have a group calling itself “Unruly Isis.”
Beyond the headline-capturing problem of the radicalized youth who have left Trinidad and Tobago to fight for ISIS, the principal symptoms of the malaise affecting the country are gangs, guns and drugs.
Yet endemic corruption is arguably the underlying problem that allows the cancer to spread. Indeed, in August 2017, Prime Minister Keith Rowley acknowledged corruption as the principal challenge facing his government.
Islam, Gangs and Youth
The present foreign-fighter problem must be understood in the context of the 1990 coup attempt by the JAM, and the convoluted interaction between Islam and gangs in giving purpose to a portion of the country’s alienated youth.
Trinidad and Tobago’s original Muslim population was of East Indian descent and lived fairly harmoniously with other parts of the population. The JAM, by contrast, had its origins in the marginalized afro-Trinidadian youth of slums such as Laventille.
Its leader, former police officer Lennox Philip (who converted to Islam and assumed the name Yasin Abu Bakr), built his movement on the alienation of such youth and the perceived widespread corruption that permeates Trini government and society.
Following the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the state in 1990, and the government’s decision under duress to pardon the JAM leadership, the movement metastasized into multiple afro-Trinidadian youth gangs, ever more loosely connected with JAM founder Abu Bakr. Those groups interacted with numerous other small and medium-sized gangs concentrated in the urban East-West corridor in the north that extends to the western coast.
With respect to the approximately 150-175 persons who have left Trinidad to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the majority have not come directly from the JAM, nor do they attend its principal mosque in the Port of Spain suburb of St. James. Rather, most have their origins in the afro-Muslim gangs which have spun off from the JAM since 1990.
They attend or have been influenced by mosques with more extremist teachings, and in particular, mosques in Rio Claro, Carapo, and the Enterprise area. There is, nonetheless, still a connection between the JAM and the foreign fighters insofar as the leaders of the more radical mosques, including Nazim Muhammed of the Rio Claro mosque (from which the greatest number of presumed ISIS recruits have come), and Hassan Ali, head of the Carapo mosque, were part of the movement that led to the 1990 JAM coup attempt, and still maintain ties to the JAM and its leader Abu Bakr.
In another case, a JAM-affiliated leader from the Rio Claro mosque has left the mosque with a group of followers, and has reportedly set up a new temporary facility for prayer services and other activities more consistent with the group’s radical beliefs in a compound of makeshift tents in Diego Martin.
Despite some connections, in the context of Trinidad and Tobago as a democratic society with freedom of expression, the public discourse of Imams in radical mosques during prayer service does not necessarily violate the law. Similarly, at least one of the JAM mosque compounds has an obstacle course that could be used for paramilitary training. Yet such a facility is no more inherently threatening on paper than a rock climbing wall in a U.S. community center.
With respect to the foreign fighters, very few are known to have returned, yet little is known about those who have left. Trinidad and Tobago has a relatively strong anti-terrorism law, passed by parliament in 2005 and strengthened on three separate occasions since (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014).
As with the rhetoric of Imams and the facilities in radical mosques, taking legal action against foreign fighters under Trinidad and Tobago’s 2005 terrorism act has been challenging because of the difficulty of proving, at the level required to achieve a criminal conviction, that an Islamic citizen traveling from Trinidad and Tobago to another Islamic country such as Turkey, is necessarily doing so with the intention to fight for ISIS.
Not only has the movement of foreign terrorist fighters from Trinidad and Tobago to the Middle East contributed to the problem of ISIS there, but their return presents risks of terrorist incidents in, or from, Trinidad and Tobago, and the rest of the region, with implications for the United States.
The recruitment of foreign fighters from the portion of Trinidad and Tobago’s gangs identifying themselves as “Islamic” is only one part of the corrosive situation of gangs in the country.
While the previously noted shared ancestry of the Islamic gangs always gave them a greater level of organizational cohesion than the others in the society, particularly after 1990, the interactions between the gangs, both in urban slums such as Laventille, and within the country’s prisons, forced the diverse universe of gangs into three groupings:
Islamic criminal gangs;
A more atomized set of non-Islamic groups sharing the same neighborhoods, referred to as “Rasta City;” and
“Independent” gangs, often away from the urban centers, or occupying territory around key logistics sites such as ports.
The latter grouping, sometimes because of their separation from the struggle between the Muslim gangs and other gangs in poor urban areas, tend to work with both in order to make money moving and selling drugs, or facilitating other types of illicit activities.
Sources of Revenue
By the end of 2015, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service estimated there were 147 gangs, with 1,698 members, responsible for approximately 34% of all murders in the country.
The growth of the gangs, particularly in the north and west-urban corridor of the country, concentrated on the greater Port of Spain area, has been fueled in part by the role of the gangs in a range of revenue-producing activities.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley. Photo by Jim Mattis via Flickr
In response to the government’s efforts to provide economic opportunity in marginalized areas through the Unemployment Relief Program (URP) and Community Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Program (CEPEP), the gangs have organized their own small businesses to win the contracts, and obliged outside companies to employ their members and others that they designate.
The ability of the gang leaders—either as the heads of the construction firms or neighborhood points of access for contractors—has allowed them to expand their hold over the communities by effectively determining who works, and by doling out the resources that come from the execution of the contracts. Instead of helping to reduce gang power and violence in marginalized neighborhoods, URP contracts for projects like box drains have arguably fueled bloody struggles between gangs to win them.
Beyond government projects, drug trafficking and local sales have been an important source of gang revenues. Although involvement in drugs theoretically violates the precepts of the Islamic faith, both the Rasta City gangs and those identifying themselves as “Islamic” have been involved in trafficking activities to some extent.
Nonetheless the nature of that involvement appears to differ among gangs, with some groups actively engaging in moving, selling and using drugs, and others “taxing” the trade through the area they control.
As with other powerful gangs in the region, gangs in Trinidad supply a degree of alternative governance in the area that they control. Through the previously noted exploitation of the URP and CPEP programs, the gangs have become de facto providers of employment.
Similarly, by making it too dangerous for representatives of the public utility services companies from entering the neighborhoods to cut off electricity and cable service to customers who don’t pay their bills, the gangs are perceived by some as helping community members maintain access to such services for free.
In the context of the perceived corruption and non-responsiveness of the legitimate authorities, gangs have imposed their own codes of justice on the neighborhood (in some cases in writing), and have become involved in resolving domestic disputes such as spousal abuse or helping parents deal with unruly children.
Gang leaders have also become involved in providing resources for community members on an individual basis, such as providing money for poor children to buy food or school books. In at least one case, the local gang boss in Beetham Estate Gardens reportedly throws a local Carnival (Mardi Gras) party for the neighborhood, so that its residents do not have to leave their neighborhood to celebrate.
For Trinidad and Tobago, the region and the U.S., the presence of criminal gangs decreases the areas over which the state has positive control, as well as indirectly weakens governance by depressing economic activity and advancing a culture of violence, which ultimately creates a space in which narcotrafficking and illicit networks impacting the United States can flourish.
As seen in this section, the gang culture is also directly tied to the foreign fighter threat, and thus the U.S. fight against terrorism.
Although Trinidad has always been the major commercial airline and shipping hub for the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, its emergence as a major narcotrafficking hub is recent.
The increasing isolation of Venezuela and attention given to commercial and other vessels leaving it, have made it more attractive for narcotraffickers to move their product into Trinidad and launch it toward the United States from there. In addition, the ability to move drugs from Trinidad toward the United States by advancing island-to-island offers an alternative to taking a more direct route with more expensive and higher-profile boats. Trinidad has twelve widely dispersed small ports of entry, relatively unguarded, that facilitate the traffic.
Trinidad and Tobago’s relatively open borders, high levels of corruption and status as a regional center of finance and industry has facilitated its emerging role as a hub for drugs and other illicit activity. A small number of the numerous yachts which famously are moored in Chaguaramas to wait out the hurricane season are believed to be used to smuggle drugs to Europe and the U.S., leaving the Gulf of Paria free of drugs, then rendezvousing with narcotraffickers near the coast of Venezuela to load illicit cargo before continuing on to their final destination.
Yet either because of the lack of shipments, or the success of corruption in protecting drug shipments, authorities have yet to bring a case against a major narcotrafficking organization within Trinidad and Tobago itself. The last takedown of a great narco-boss in Trinidad and Tobago was the 1996 arrest of Nankissoon Boodram (“Dole Chadee”), and even then he was initially detained on a minor offense and convicted for murder, not drugs. The Trini government executed Chadee and eight other members of the gang during a four-day period in June 1999.
However, authorities have not yet even resolved the previously mentioned three-and-a-half year old case of the shipment of cocaine to the U.S. disguised as orange juice.
Experts consulted for this work make a loose distinction between a small number of actors who appear to be major transporters of cocaine through the region, and others more focused on the retail trade.
The former category includes Vaughn Mieres (“Sandman”) who is believed to control drug trafficking through the north coast, and Phillip Boodram (“The Boss,”), who is now in custody. They argue, however, that even such local facilitators are relatively minor actors in the movement of cocaine from source countries like Colombia through Venezuela to the United States and Europe.
From a U.S. perspective, narcotrafficking through Trinidad and Tobago not only directly contributes to the drug problem (although U.S. demand is still the major problem); like the gang threat, it also contributes to corruption and weak governance that facilitate the operation of illicit networks in the region, and the recruitment of foreign fighters.
The relatively high level of violence in Trinidad and Tobago and the relative power of the gangs to rob and intimidate have arguably been magnified by the large number of firearms in the country, with some three-quarters of murders involving the use of firearms, and gang members twice as likely as non-gang members to use firearms.
In the matter-of-fact words of one Trini security expert, “there is an oversupply of guns in the country relative to normal criminal needs.”
Trinidad security experts believe that firearms enter the country through the country’s commercial ports, Port of Spain and Port Point Lisas, hidden in commercial cargo, as well as from Venezuela.
Not only do Venezuelans cross the narrow stretch of water that separate the two nations to sell guns for needed food, medicine and other merchandise, but merchants from Trinidad reportedly travel to Venezuela to buy guns there. Although very few guns have been seized entering the country, 1,456 illegal arms of all types were collected by police in 2015 and 2016, due in part to a financial incentive program that the police have for such seizures.
While guns have generally been captured in small numbers, there have been a handful of larger seizures. In August 2010, for example, police found 18 high-powered rifles and other gear in the compound of Indian businessman and narcotrafficker Hafeez Karamath.
By contributing to the culture of violence in Trinidad and Tobago, the ready availability of firearms contributes to refugee flows and weakened governance throughout the region and threatens U.S. interests.
Decline in Kidnapping
If there is one bright spot in the Trinidad criminal landscape, it is the drastic reduction in kidnappings, which have fallen from over 100 per year seven years ago, to less than ten per year today.
Subsequently there were no further kidnappings of prominent Lebanese families.
Trinidad and Tobago’s social composition has also shifted from the arrival of a significant number of Venezuelans, Syrians and Chinese.
….With respect to Syrian immigrants, a large but ultimately unknown quantity of Syrians has arrived in the country as a result of the ongoing civil war, with their incorporation into Trinidadian society facilitated by the wealthy and close-knit community of Lebanese and Syrians who migrated in the 1940’s and whose numbers have increased since the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s.
While very little is known about them, the introduction of some potentially radicalized Syrian Muslims into an established community of 5,000, and into an environment with a radicalized afro-Muslim community, could raise uncertainties and risks.
Experts noted the cash-intensive nature of the restaurants themselves, the gambling machines installed in both Chinese and other restaurants and stores across the country, a lottery run out of such stores based on the national lotto “Play Whe,” and the informal role of such establishments as informal money changing houses, buying U.S. dollars at a premium rate.
Trini security experts interviewed suggested that local narcotraffickers may use the gambling in such establishments to launder their own earnings. Yet those experts also unanimously acknowledged that authorities have almost no visibility into the Chinese community.
Overall, the flow of Venezuela, Chinese, and Syrian refugees through Trinidad and Tobago negatively impacts U.S. interests because it both strains the socioeconomic fiber of the countries involved and potentially facilitates illicit networks.
The closure of the Arcelor Mittal plant in March 2016, with the layoff of 650 workers, although occurring for a complex array of reasons, is a high-profile example of the job losses that have occurred during the recession. While the evaporation of jobs in the formal sector has contributed to crime and violence, the government’s loss of tax revenues and royalty payments from the oil sector has reduced its resources to sustain police presence in troubled neighborhoods, and otherwise respond to the security challenge.
What Is To Be Done?
While the issue of foreign fighters from Trinidad and Tobago has drawn greater U.S. attention to the country, outside of the U.S. embassy team and other experts whose job is to follow and engage with the country, the scant attention paid to the country at the policy level has been focused primarily on the “foreign fighter” issue, and not the broader interrelated problems of narcotrafficking flows, gangs, migrants, guns and corruption that influence U.S. security in the region.
The interdependent problems in the country are not exclusive to Trinidad and Tobago, but are found to different degrees throughout the Caribbean and the region.
Understanding how to successfully work with the partner government of Trinidad and Tobago to tackle the interrelated challenges of foreign terrorist fighters, gangs, guns, drugs, and corruption is fundamental to strengthening governance across the region and, in the process, advancing U.S. strategic and security interests.
Reciprocally, the solutions that the U.S. finds in its engagement with Trinidad and Tobago may help to advance more effective engagement across the region.
The U.S. embassy team in the country has done a laudable job in the country with limited resources available. But the position of U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago has been vacant since Ambassador John Estrada left in January 2017. While the U.S. Security Cooperation Organization, operating from the embassy, has managed helpful training engagements and technical assistance programs, and has conducted important exercises such as Tradewinds, the U.S. Senior Defense Official in the country is operating with almost no support staff.
It also appears likely that security cooperation and other institution-building programs administered through the Department of State through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, could be cut significantly in the coming years.
To address the challenges outlined in this paper, the U.S. should consider the following:
Incorporate into a future version of the U.S. National Military Strategy and National Security Strategy, the strategic importance of stability and strong governance in the Caribbean, with respect to the vulnerability to the United States presented by violence, narcotrafficking, refugees, illicit networks, and the presence of adversarial extra hemispheric actors permitted by weak governance in the region;
Increase attention to U.S. engagement with Trinidad and Tobago, explicitly reflecting lessons learned regarding what works and does not work in the cooperative, multidimensional engagement against its challenges, with the eye to applying those lessons in other parts of the English-Speaking Caribbean, and the region more broadly;
Significantly expand funds allocated to Trinidad and Tobago for security cooperation programs, through both the Department of State and Department of Defense, including but not limited to CBSI programs;
In conjunction with such increases, allocate additional staff to the Security Cooperation Office to accommodate the effective administration of those programs; and
Make a priority the naming and confirmation of a new full-time ambassador to the country.
The strategic location of Trinidad and Tobago vis-à-vis Venezuela, the Caribbean, and regional oil reserves make the country of strategic importance to the United States.
Evan Ellis/courtesy GlobalAmericans
It is important that the U.S. not overlook the very serious problems occurring in its not-so-distant partner.
Evan Ellis, PhD, is Senior Non-Resident fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a research professor of Latin American Studies.This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a paper published earlier this month in Global Americans. Click here for a complete copy of the paper. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The “Reid Interrogation Method” was developed in the mid-20th century to eliminate abuses in police interrogations. But it hasn’t eliminated concerns about false confessions and should be shelved, writes a University of Virginia law researcher.
This year 20 million viewers of Making a Murderer had ring-side seats to the interrogation of Brendan Dassey. The video is a play-by-play of how to extract a confession using what is known as the Reid Method.
This interrogation technique is employed by virtually every law enforcement agency in North America. Over the past half-century, hundreds of thousands of officers have been trained to use it. The point of the Reid Method is not to gather information that will help solve the crime; it is to obtain a confession from a suspect that the police have decided is guilty.
To that end, the detectives bullied and cajoled their 17-year old, 73-IQ suspect, all the while feeding him information about the case, which Dassey compliantly regurgitated. These were not overzealous, rule-breaking detectives. They were following protocol.
As Justice White put it, “A confession is like no other evidence.” It’s a shortcut to a conviction, a complete reversal of the presumption of innocence. Until the mid-20th century, the Third Degree was the dominant method of interrogation. The police would beat a suspect until he confessed and lie about it in court.
They got away with it because judges looked the other way.
Then, in 1931, a commission appointed by President Hoover to investigate Prohibition-related corruption, issued the Wickersham Report, which documented the ubiquitous use of the Third Degree. The report, popularized in a widely-read book, shocked the American public.
The Third Degree had to be abandoned when juries started rejecting confessions and doubting police witnesses. This left police without an effective method of extracting confessions. Into this void stepped John Reid, who obtained convictions in several high-profile cases, including that of Darrell Parker in 1955. Reid touted his technique as a reliable way of obtaining confessions without physical abuse.
The Reid Method embodies the spirit of the Third Degree. It seeks to overcome the suspect’s will by deploying coercive psychological tactics, many of them on display during the Dassey interrogation: magnifying his feelings of helplessness by isolating him for extended periods; lying that there’s overwhelming evidence against him, or that he flunked a lie detector test; minimizing the seriousness of the crime and suggesting, falsely, that he’ll suffer minimal punishment if he fesses up.
Moreover, the Reid Method’s tactics are inherently subject to abuse. For example, it is common for interrogators to feed suspects details known only by investigators and the perpetrator. At trial, prosecutors then argue that the confession must be genuine because it contains details that only to the culprit would know.
The detectives work hard to get Dassey to volunteer that the victim was shot in the head, but come up short again and again. Finally, an exasperated detective says: “I’m just going to come out and ask you—who shot her in the head?”
Dassey responds that Avery did and, in doing so, incriminates himself.
Innocent people are particularly unlikely to invoke Miranda, naïvely believing that the truth will set them free. Miranda also creates the presumption that the confession is voluntary, making it next-to-impossible to prove it’s coerced. False confessions, time and time again, prove themselves so powerful that they convict innocent defendants even in the face of exculpating DNA evidence.
Americans have great faith in their justice system—law enforcement in particular. But they react forcefully when that trust is betrayed.
The Wickersham Report’s outing of the Third Degree led to its abandonment. When the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo became public, law enforcement had to find other methods of interrogating suspected terrorists. Documented police abuses are forcing change in the way police patrol many urban areas.
If the public were to become aware of psychological torment inflicted on criminal suspects using the current Reid Method, many of them innocent, they would force law enforcement to adopt new methods of interrogation that do not trample on constitutional rights.
America is waking up. It’s time for another Wickersham Commission to investigate the uses and abuses of the Reid Method by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities—some 20,000 nationwide. Wickersham II should include representatives of all interested parties—police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, criminal justice scholars and, most importantly, exonerated false confessors who can report first-hand how they came to inculpate themselves in heinous crimes they did not commit.
If the Reid Method can withstand the tsunami of criticism compiled in my paper, then it will be validated as a useful law enforcement tool. I believe, however, that the Reid Method will be shown for what it really is: The Third Degree of the psyche.
Wyatt Kozinski is a student at the University of Virginia Law School. He has an undergraduate degree in Cognitive Psychology from the University of California at Irvine. He welcomes comments from readers, and can be reached on Twitter. @WyattKozinski
In most prisons in America, LGBTI inmates face systematic discrimination and cruelty. But the Stafford Creek facility in Washington has implemented model policies that address their special needs.
One day last year, when I was enrolled in a vocational program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington State, a classmate of mine disappeared.
The reason behind his vanishing act was strange and, to me, seemed to be nothing more than prisoner rumor-mongering.
Here’s the story. While working in the kitchen he went outside to dump the trash and then proceeded to climb the security fence that separated the kitchen area from the facility’s industrial complex.
He wasn’t trying to escape—he could only have gone from one part of the compound to another. Instead, it appeared to be an attempt at suicide-by-correctional officer.
Or a loss of sanity.
The rumors of his fence-climbing turned out to be true. When he was released from disciplinary segregation three weeks later, he was allowed to go back to school and he ended up seated next to me in the classroom. I couldn’t help but ask what led him to pull a stunt like that.
Voice tinged with sadness, my classmate quietly revealed to me that he was a “she”—that is, transgender. She had felt alone and depressed, and had long been struggling with her sexual identity.
That was the last thing I expected to hear that morning. But once I heard this, I realized that I understood just where she was coming from—at least with respect to feeling alone and depressed.
I have long known how cruel life can be for gay, bisexual and transgender prisoners.
It can be a miserable existence.
Over the 25 years that I have been confined, the treatment they often receive is amongst the foul things I have had to turn a blind eye to—and it haunts me.
Most prisons are “an all-male world shaped by deprivation” and it can be especially loathsome for a prisoner who is a “gal-boy,” according to prison author Wilbert Rideau. He recounts how such inmates of Louisiana’s Angola prison were often forced to serve as sexual outlets and “sold, traded, used as collateral, gambled off, or given away” by their “owners.”
Victor Hassine, an inmate in Pennsylvania’s Graterford Correctional Institution, recounts in his book, “Life Without Parole: Living in Prison Today,” incidents when (presumably homosexual) staff members in Graterford isolated, overpowered and raped openly gay prisoners; and in other instances, denied “entitlements, such as positive parole reports, until victims agree to have sex.”
Such is life for many gay and gender-nonconforming prisoners in America. It is a portrait of a world of depression.
From an evolutionary standpoint this is understandable.
In his book, “Origin of the Species,” Charles Darwin explains how depression “is well adapted to make a creature guard itself against any great or sudden evil.”
According to the original flyer, the purpose of the group was to foster “a supportive and educational environment” and “provide a safe platform for open dialogue about topics such as Gender Identity, Stigmas, Spirituality, Resources, Self-Acceptance [and] Incarceration.”
This group is now dubbed the “Community,” and one of the ground rules is to “Have Each Other’s Back.”
In the nine months since the Community began to meet regularly there have been noticeable changes throughout the facility.
LGBTI prisoners have been seen to wear pants so tight that—were any other prisoner wearing them—they would be rushed to the clothing room to receive pants that are looser fitting.
The appearance of some prisoners has been altered dramatically by the plucking of eyebrows and application of homemade rouge on cheeks.
Sports bras have been issued and some at times are obviously stuffed with…something.
And correctional officers can be made to perform “modified” pat searches if a prisoner proclaims her gender non-conformity.
Make no mistake about it: This is a social experiment under the auspices of Stafford Creek Superintendent Margaret Gilbert.
While many believe these changes are predicated on the whim of highly-placed sympathizers within the state Department of Corrections (DOC), they’re actually rooted in pre-existing policies and legislative decrees.
Over the years, such dictates have led to accommodations being made for prisoners besides those who are marginalized due to their sexual identity.
For instance, there was a time when African-American hair products were not sold within the DOC system, but the Black Prisoners’ Caucus successfully advocated for Afrocentric conditioners and hair grease.
Non-Christian faiths are given the freedom to practice their religions even when correctional officials have reason to believe the “religion” is simply a front for a security threat group
Muslim prisoners can even be seen every Friday at Stafford Creek wearing religious garb to their prayer service.
Ironically, many of the very prisoners who have the freedom to express their minority cultures and non-conventional religious ideologies are staunchly opposed to LGBTI prisoners having a Community with the stated vision of creating “A Positive, Pro-Social Environment that Nurtures Acceptance, Individuality & Equality.”
Grumbling aside, I seriously doubt that Associate Superintendent Cotton and other administrators at Stafford Creek are simply hell bent on enforcing political correctness. There is actually an argument to be made that such policies and practices further the goal of rehabilitation.
It all comes down to programming.
According to researchers Keith O’Brian and Sarah Lawrence of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, job training, vocation educational programs, and work release “produce modest but statistically significant reductions in recidivism.”
My fence-climbing, transgender classmate’s experience demonstrates quite clearly how prisoners’ desire to take advantage of program opportunities can be inhibited when they feel alone, isolated, and are struggling with their sexual identity in a hyper-masculine subculture that views them contemptuously.
Without such programming (or the ability to do so effectively), there will not be “statistically significant reductions in recidivism” for prisoners who are marginalized due to their sexual identities.
In light of all this, my suggestion to the dissenters inside prison is this: Bite your tongue and consider your acquiescence a fulfillment of your personal obligation to the correctional system.
If you feel differently, go ahead and say or do the wrong thing and I promise that you will feel the full wrath of bureaucracy.
Or maybe not.
Soon there will be a new regime at Stafford Creek when Margaret Gilbert retires on September 15.
In Gilbert’s farewell message she wrote, “Every time you make a decision to do the right thing you’re creating a future. Every time you make a bad decision it affects someone else.”
Only time will tell what the future will bring for LGBTI prisoners at Stafford Creek.
Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he is currently serving 25 years to life for a crime committed when he was 14. He welcomes comments from readers.