Grenade Launchers, Armored Personnel Carriers, M-16’s, All Standard Fare on Campus:

At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments (see table of equipment).

Campus police departments have used the program to obtain military equipment as mundane as men’s trousers (Yale University) and as serious as a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (Ohio State University). Along with the grenade launcher, Central Florida acquired 23 M-16 assault rifles from the Department of Defense.

Luckily none around these parts, but nice to see Kennesaw University representing in the M-16 assault rifle’s category. Go Owls!

Some argue that the procurement of tactical gear doesn’t help with the types of crimes that occur more frequently on college campuses, like alcohol-related incidents.

Are you kidding? Nothing would clear a rowdy, drunken frat party faster than a mine-resistant personnel carrier, grenade launchers and drawn bayonets.

Here’s the typical myopic, bureaucratic response, justifying the unjustifiable:

“For me, this is a cost savings for taxpayers,” said Jen Day Shaw, associate vice president and dean of students at the University of Florida and chair of the Campus Safety Knowledge Community, a forum for members of Naspa: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. When police departments “have the ability to get equipment that will help them do their jobs at a greatly reduced price,” Ms. Shaw said, “it is a benefit for the whole campus.”

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen “scaring your student body into submission and intimidating student dissent” referred to as a “benefit,” but uh, go Gators.

“It is a force multiplier for us,” said David Perry, chief of police at Florida State University and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. “Typically, we are not staffed at optimum levels. We are not given budgets comparable to some large cities and municipalities, so we need to find ways to make it reach.”

Maybe you’re not given budgets “comparable to large cities” because, uh, you’re not a large city, Chief.

Michael Qualls, an associate professor of criminal justice at Fort Valley State University, in Georgia, agrees. A retired Army officer, Mr. Qualls worked for several campus police departments before he began teaching. “If we continue on with the 1033 program, as those items become obsolete at the military level and if they become available, why not get ’em?” Mr. Qualls said. “It’s better to be prepared than not prepared.”

For what? An invasion of Fort Valley State in south Georgia?

Most of this is driven by the “active-shooter” scenarios, along the lines of Virginia Tech in 2007. And while there is a remote possibility of this occurring on any campus anywhere in the U.S., the chances are infinitesimally slim.

For Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami, the possibility that an extraordinary event could occur doesn’t justify the procurement of assault rifles and armored vehicles. The real danger Ferguson residents faced came not from a terrorist attack, she said, but from police officers armed with this sort of equipment.

“Mostly, I’m wondering why,” she said. “As much as one might wonder about why major cities are getting this type of equipment—which I think we should wonder about and ask questions about—it seems even stranger to talk about it happening in voluntary communities that don’t experience much violent crime.”

Ms. Franks raised another concern: As students become aware of the military gear some police departments possess, she said, that may curtail their willingness to express themselves and protest.

Precisely. Imagine protesting outside the dean’s office for lower tuition (or whatever) and suddenly the jack boots and body armor, tanks and grenade launchers show up. “Hey, Hey, tuition’s high, I’m going broke, but don’t want to die!”

Anyway, it’s just another extension of the militarization of policing that’s been going on throughout the U.S. the past 40 years or so. At the end of the day, we deploy the same spectacle of brute, state force on college campuses for the same reason we do it in low-income and minority neighborhoods: social control.

Cross posted from: The Power-Elite Blog

Last year, I posted about the first season of In The Flesh, a BBC zombie show that I liked quite a bit. Season 2 finished airing on BBC America last week and it is still very good. Season 1 was only three episode-long, but season 2 has six episodes, so, it allowed a more complex and multi-dimensional storyline as well as more character development.

[Spoilers included]

Season 2 picks up a little later and is marked by backlash on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, the living are no longer as frightened of the PDS sufferers as they were in season 1, and that leads to both interpersonal and political backlash, with the rise of the UKIP-type political party, Victus. Hence the arrival of the new Victus MP for Roarton, Maxine Martin, one of the new characters for this season.

The rhetoric of the party is very fascist and soon after her arrival, MP Martin starts registering PDS sufferers, and later on forcing them in to the new Give Back scheme, a forced labor program, supposedly designed to make PDS sufferers “repair” some of the damage they did during their time as zombies.

Why would they participate? Because concurrently, their basic civil rights have been suspended, and, supposedly, they can only get them back after completing the Give Back. Needless to say, this is a system of exploitation and abuse that generates resentment on the part of the PDS sufferers.

And, of course, no discrimination and stigmatization scheme would be complete without a visual status signal. So, it’s not a yellow star, obviously, but the orange vest that tells the world that one is a PDS sufferer working on the Give Back scheme, which makes enforcement of all the restrictions easier.

That resentment is then used to unofficially reactivate the Human Volunteer Force (under a new name) to enforce the Give Back scheme. That scheme is hilariously presented in all its hypocrisy, with fancy brochures and cheesy DVD presentation to the community. Also, most of the PDS sufferers are made to work building a fence whose purpose is not yet really known. And, of course, one of the rules is to use lenses and make-up. PDS suffered are forbidden from leaving their present location (so, no trip to Paris for Kieren). Any deviation from the rules marks the PDS sufferer as non-compliant, which can lead to their return to the treatment center.

On the other side, there has been radicalization on the part of the PDS sufferers as well, with the introduction of a social movement organization, the Undead Liberation Army (ULA), that conducts terrorist attacks, using a substance called “Blue Oblivion” that temporarily returns the PDS sufferers to their zombie state.

The ULA is led by a mysterious “prophet” (whom we do not see during this season) who appoints people to lead PDS rebellion in various areas. That is how another new important character shows up in season two, Simon, “the Irish” as some Roarton denizens call him. This dual radicalization (Victus v. ULA) has religious undertones on both sides, and the show treats religious fanaticism as inherently violent.

Whereas fear was still somewhat present in season 1, it is mostly mutual hostility that sets the tone of season 2, which is much darker than its predecessor and the entire season leads up to an ultimate confrontation by religious fundamentalists from both sides, exposing the absurdity of their beliefs.

Season 2 is also marked by the disappearance of older patriarchal figures, and their replacement by different, more diverse figures. Last season ended with the death of HVF leader, Bill Macey, shot dead by Ken Burton, who, himself is killed in an ULA attack in the first episode of season 2. Later on, Vicar Oddie, a big anti-PDS agitator, dies of a heart attack (and MP Martin could have helped him but decided to do nothing, in effect, letting him die). So, three old white men are out. Enters the black female MP (Martin). And then, younger characters take more center stage: Phil Wilson (the young town councillor who used to take his marching orders from Vicar Oddie, and now from MP Martin… up to a point), Gary Kendall (the new HVF leader who claims for himself the rank of captain), Simon (of the ULA), and Kieren Walker and Amy Dyer, of course.

In this season, the themes of the previous one (stigmatization) are still here, but the in-group / out-group dynamics are much more salient and obvious. Living and PDS sufferers position themselves in opposition to each other, extremist living not longer considering PDS sufferers as humans, and extremist PDS sufferers rejecting the label and considering themselves a kind of superior race to the living. How these distinctions and ideologies are created, sustained, amplified, and transmitted is the most interesting part of this season.

There is one narrative thread that is started in season 2, and, is one the most promising for season 3 (hopefully, there will be season 3): the two doctors that created the drug that keeps PDS sufferers from “turning rabid” also created the pharmaceutical company that mass produces it. In the last episode, the government agents are sent to Roarton to collect someone (we never know who it is until the very end) but we don’t know why. That government / corporate storyline will hopefully be developed more in season 3, as there are references throughout the season, to experiments (torture, really) conducted on PDS sufferers at treatment centers (Nazi experiments, anyone?).

In all, it is hard to avoid the comparisons with the rise of fascism and seeing the PDS sufferers as the racial/ethnic target of hatred, along with their economic exploitation, and the curtailing of their rights. It is hard not to think about the current situation in Europe, with the rise of far-right / fascist parties all over the EU.

There are also still interpersonal storylines going on throughout the season, that add a human (see what I did there?) dimension to the socio-political aspects.

I like the way that Kieren’s homosexuality is treated as a non-issue in itself, and so, his burgeoning affair with Simon is only a story because because of Amy’s crush on Simon, or the fact that Simon is then tasked by the Undead Prophet to kill Kieren. There is the Amy / Philip story, the Jem / Gary / Henry storyline, and a series of other secondary characters that really add texture to the entire series.

I highly recommend it.

This is Todd’s turf more than mine but check out this dataviz from the New York Times:

06TK-nat-ARMS-web-Artboard_1

The big question is how and why considering that crime rates are not exactly exploding right now, and it’s not like US law enforcement is fighting the Sinaloa cartel.

Well, first, there is supply to be dumped, according to the article:

“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.

During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”

And in a very bureaucratic and Weberian fashion, once the tools are there, they will be used. And sure enough:

“The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs.Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.””

And so you end up with a militarized police force even though the crime statistics do not justify it. In addition, the use of militarized gear changes the way police forces approach situations, i.e., they do so more aggressively since the balance of force is more in their favor. And since the equipment is free or would be scrapped if unused, it is easy to see why police chiefs would get stuff that, really, they don’t need. But once they have it, the equipment acquisition has to be rationalized. So, you get jewels like these:

In the Indianapolis suburbs, officers said they needed a mine-resistant vehicle to protect against a possible attack by veterans returning from war.

“You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.’s and to defeat law enforcement techniques,” Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department told the local Fox affiliate, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs. Sergeant Downing did not return a message seeking comment.

(…)

Some officials are reconsidering their eagerness to take the gear. Last year, the sheriff’s office in Oxford County, Maine, told county officials that it wanted a mine-resistant vehicle because Maine’s western foothills “face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.””

What it does though, is turn police officers into soldiers in occupied territories where all civilians are potential enemies and neighborhoods into potential war zones. And we all know which neighborhoods will face militarized police forces, of course, because we already know who bears the brunt of heavy policing.

Via The Guardian:

Amnesty International executions around the world

Click on the image for a larger view.

There are no big surprises there (although, frankly, I thought the US had more executions). However, it seems rather clear that most Western countries have no longer the death penalty, which is, at this point, a phenomenon of developing countries and non-democratic (or nominally democratic) regimes. The trend is definitely downwards, in terms of numbers of countries still having it on the books and using it.

It is also interesting to see the types of crimes that lead to death sentences. But no doubt that China is in a class of its own.

Two Powerful Signals of a Major Shift on Crime:

Two decisions Monday, one by a federal judge in New York and the other by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., were powerful signals that the pendulum has swung away from the tough-on-crime policies of a generation ago. Those policies have been denounced as discriminatory and responsible for explosive growth in the prison population.

Critics have long contended that draconian mandatory minimum sentence laws for low-level drug offenses, as well as stop-and-frisk police policies that target higher-crime and minority neighborhoods, have a disproportionate impact on members of minority groups. On Monday, Mr. Holder announced that federal prosecutors would no longer invoke the sentencing laws, and a judge found that stop-and-frisk practices in New York were unconstitutional racial profiling.

Alfred Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has studied race and incarceration issues, said Mr. Holder’s speech and Judge Scheindlin’s stop-and-frisk ruling both addressed policies that “were attempts to stop crime, but they weren’t terribly effective.”

Together, he said, the events indicated that society was “trying to become more effective and more targeted and, in the process, to reduce the heavy impact on particularly African-Americans.”

Michelle Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor who wrote “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” an influential 2010 book about the racial impact of policies like stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimum drug sentences, said the two developments gave her a sense of “cautious optimism.”

I prefer Alexander and Blumstein’s comments to some of the other overwrought proclamations regarding Holder’s speech and the ruling on Stop and Frisk (and yes, for those long-time readers wondering “do you still think Holder is the most inept AG ever?” the answer is yes).

Was it a good speech (and about 5 years too late)? Sure. The judge’s ruling was also a step in the right direction. But “historic” or “game-changing” or “ground breaking?” Shake yourself.

Why? Because Holder’s policy for ratcheting down the mandatory-minimum sentences affects only federal level prosecutions, convictions and incarceration. The federal system accounts for slightly more than 200,000 of the 2.2 million people behind bars. A reduction of even 10% in the federal system will barely even register in the national numbers.

Most of those incarcerated in the “War on Drugs” are incarcerated at the state and local level. Until they move away from the get tough policies (which some, admittedly, are doing) we won’t see a wholesale de-carceration take place for quite awhile.

The ruling against Stop and Frisk is also welcome. Stop and Frisk was a relic of the Guiliani era in NYC, part of the Wilson/Kelling/Bratton “Quality of Life” zero-tolerance policing which adherents claimed reduced crime in Gotham and elsewhere.

Of course, it had nothing to do with lowering crime, as critics have pointed out for over a decade, but it took Judge Scheindlin’s ruling to not only point that out, but perhaps begin putting nails in the coffin of the heavy handed police tactics which have been used to muscle and intimidate lower-income, disproportionately black residents of New York for nearly 20 years.

But if you think everyone’s on board (cautiously or deliriously), think again. The proponents of git tuff still exist and they will be heard.

William G. Otis, a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, described Mr. Holder’s move as a victory for drug dealers that would incentivize greater sales of addictive contraband, and he suggested that the stop-and-frisk ruling could be overturned on appeal.

Mr. Otis also warned that society was becoming “complacent” and forgetting that the drug and sentencing policies enacted over the last three decades had contributed to the falling crime rates.

And this, from my favorite group of conservatives over at Crime and Consequences:

 I will make no attempt to summarize the arguments on their merits.  I will just say very briefly that the AG’s action seems to take root in a jaundiced view of our criminal justice system, a system that, certainly in the view of its inmates, is a failure.

At a tiny fraction of the cost of entitlement programs, stern sentencing has helped drop the crime rate 50% in 20 years, thus contributing to thousands if not millions of crimes that were never committed, and thousands if not million of potential victims who were not abused, beaten up, molested, swindled and robbed.

May all our social policies be that “broken.”
For some, the fantasy that the get tough policies produced the drop in crime will never die, no matter what the overwhelming evidence shows to the contrary. And as I’ve warned for several years on this blog, all it will take is a slight uptick in crime nation-wide (more likely to occur as the economy turns around), and they will be bleating down your door with calls to return to the good old days of the lock ’em up 80’s and 90’s.
Meanwhile, to continue the good news of the day, and updating a story I’ve written about a few times, Whitey Bulger was convicted yesterday in Boston.
James (Whitey) Bulger, the mobster who terrorized South Boston in the 1970s and ‘80s, holding the city in his thrall even after he disappeared, was convicted Monday of a sweeping array of gangland crimes, including 11 murders. He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
Looking back on it, Bulger’s defense erred by not invoking the Stand Your Ground laws of Florida and elsewhere. I mean, dude was just defending his territory, wasn’t he? Snicker.
Anyway, a good day over all for those of who study crime and punishment. Cautiously optimistic, indeed.
Cross Posted from The Power Elite

California Is Facing Prison Catastrophe:

Just six months after declaring “the prison crisis is over in California,” Gov. Jerry Brown is facing dire predictions about the future of the state’s prison system, one of the largest in the nation.

A widespread inmate hunger strike in protest of California’s policy of solitary confinement was approaching its second week on Sunday. The federal courts have demanded the release of nearly 10,000 inmates and the transfer of 2,600 others who are at risk of contracting a deadly disease in the state’s overcrowded prisons.

State lawmakers have called for an investigation into a new report that nearly 150 women behind bars were coerced into being sterilized over the last decade. And last week, a federal judge ruled that prisoners were not receiving adequate medical care.

And what has been Governor Moonbeam’s response?

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, has aggressively fought several federal court orders in the two years since the United States Supreme Court ruled that conditions and overcrowding in the system amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment — cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, federal judges overseeing the case have repeatedly declared that the state was not making changes quickly enough, and that conditions in the prisons remained appalling — that the state had been “deliberately indifferent.”

The judges have twice threatened to hold the governor in contempt if he does not comply with their order to release prisoners. Last week, Mr. Brown appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the order, arguing that the system had already improved drastically and that stopping the release of prisoners was essential for public safety.

Jeffrey Beard, the state corrections commissioner, said that the hunger strike was simply a sign of how powerful the prison gangs are and dismissed the notion that it indicated deeper problems.

Mr. Beard and Governor Brown have repeatedly argued publicly that medical and mental health care in state prisons have greatly improved. They have also maintained that California is being held to an unfair standard on overcrowding because many prisons around the country double-bunk inmates.

If California is being held to a different standard, it’s because California raised the bar to a bat-shit crazier level than any other state during the imprisonment binge of the 90’s. Even Texas, with whom one does not mess, has been more sane and filled with foresight than California.

James W. Marquart, a former Texas prison official who has testified for California in the court cases, said that when Texas faced similar federal lawsuits, it “made the changes and got on with it.”

“Everyone believes that California is the leader, but decades ago Texas just said, ‘To heck with it, we have to do what the court says,’ ” Dr. Marquart said. “It’s layer upon layer of problems that you either have to deal with or you are going to get bled dry on the legal fees to fight it to the death.”

BTW, Marquart is a sociologist and the same James Marquart who identified the stages of unofficial violence in prison, along with other landmark penological publications. He knows what he’s talking about.

But Governor Moonbeam and other state officials remain clueless. Long after the rest of the country has begun moving towards prison and punishment reform, the granolas on the left coast remained mired in the muddy thinking of the lock ’em up 90’s, when talking about punishment reform was enough to get you branded a communist (or a “liberal”…LOL), and releasing inmates was dubbed political suicide.

California is one of five states left who spend more on corrections than they do on higher education. And while California universities and colleges have been financially decimated by the Great Recession, suffering continuous cutbacks by Moonbeam and the rest, the prison system has remained unaffected.

Well, unaffected financially. Those in its death grip are experiencing conditions that the Supreme Court itself has dubbed a “vile” prison system and ruled unconstitutional and a violation of cruel and unusual punishment. And Cali’s officials are apparently willing to keep spending billions on lawsuits and upkeep to defend the whole mess.

I’m reminded of the words from a favorite group of mine, Halloween Alaska, from the song “Hollywood Sign”:

“California knows full well, it’s gonna fall into the sea, that’s why it never acts too serious, never gets too serious.”

And apparently hunger strikes, forced sterilization, madness and triple bunking filth are just all good, bro.

A Conservative Case For Prison Reform:

CONSERVATIVES should recognize that the entire criminal justice system is another government spending program fraught with the issues that plague all government programs. Criminal justice should be subject to the same level of skepticism and scrutiny that we apply to any other government program.

But it’s not just the excessive and unwise spending that offends conservative values. Prisons, for example, are harmful to prisoners and their families. Reform is therefore also an issue of compassion. The current system often turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in, so prison and re-entry reform are issues of public safety as well.

So far, so good. But then there’s this:

These three principles — public safety, compassion and controlled government spending — lie at the core of conservative philosophy. Politically speaking, conservatives will have more credibility than liberals in addressing prison reform.

Why? Because conservatives were more outrageously “get tough on crime” back in the 80’s and the 90’s, and now feel a bit of buyer’s remorse? That hardly sets up “credibility” on the issue. Not to mention, so-called liberals are just as guilty of the imprisonment binge of the 80’s and 90’s as conservatives. It was a bi-partisan wave of stupid that put us in the current bind we are in today.

The United States now has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of its prisoners. Nearly one in every 33 American adults is in some form of correctional control. When Ronald Reagan was president, the total correctional control rate — everyone in prison or jail or on probation or parole — was less than half that: 1 in every 77 adults.

That should read: “When Ronald Reagan became president…” because the prison population and incarceration rates doubled during the “war on drugs” 1980’s, then doubled again under Clinton during the 1990’s.

The prison system now costs states more than $50 billion a year, up from about $9 billion in 1985. It’s the second-fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid. Conservatives should be leading the way by asking tough questions about the expansion in prison spending over the past three decades.

Increased spending has not improved effectiveness. More than 40 percent of ex-convicts return to prison within three years of release; in some states, recidivism rates are closer to 60 percent.

Too many offenders leave prisons unprepared to re-enter society. They don’t get and keep jobs. The solution lies not only inside prisons but also with more effective community supervision systems using new technologies, drug tests and counseling programs. We should also require ex-convicts to either hold a job or perform community service. This approach works to turn offenders from tax burdens into taxpayers who can pay restitution to their victims and are capable of contributing child support.

This is all true, but again, the problem is that the community corrections programs mentioned above were the first to be cut and eliminated during the Great Recession. The author would do well to counsel his fellow conservative governors to restore some of the billions in funding that were sliced during the past five years.

As I’ve mentioned time and again over at the Power-Elite blog since 2007, corrections budgets were cut, community corrections programs were cut, and some prisons were even closed. But not one inmate in the U.S. left prison early because of the recession. Those in prisons that were closed were merely consolidated to other prisons, double and triple bunked in the process, and now are in even worse shape than before.

As this great article in yesterday’s Atlantic points out, the abuse and mistreatment of inmates that has surfaced in U.S. prisons during the past five years, namely in southern prisons where budget cutbacks were worse, is only just now coming to light. And while this is more problematic among mentally ill inmates, the point is that we’ve decimated rehabilitative programs over the past 30 years, including the last five years. Rhetoric is cheap. Put your money where your mouth is.

Right on Crime exemplifies the big-picture conservative approach to this issue. It focuses on community-based programs rather than excessive mandatory minimum sentencing policies and prison expansion. Using free-market and Christian principles, conservatives have an opportunity to put their beliefs into practice as an alternative to government-knows-best programs that are failing prisoners and the society into which they are released.

These principles work. In the past several years, there has been a dramatic shift on crime and punishment policy across the country. It really started in Texas in 2007. The state said no to building eight more prisons and began to shift nonviolent offenders from state prison into alternatives, by strengthening probation and parole supervision and treatment. Texas was able to avert nearly $2 billion in projected corrections spending increases, and its crime rate is declining. At the same time, the state’s parole failures have dropped by 39 percent.

Of course, crime rates have plunged to historic new lows everywhere, including those states that didn’t pass any reforms. In fact, the crime rate in the U.S. today is the same as it was in 1968, and yet we have 2 million people behind bars today, but back then only about 200,000.

Since then more than a dozen states have made significant changes to their sentencing and corrections laws, including Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, New Hampshire and Ohio. Much of the focus has been on shortening or even eliminating prison time for the lowest-risk, nonviolent offenders and reinvesting the savings in more effective options.

The key phrase there is “reinvest savings,” which is a conservative euphemism for “spend money elsewhere.”

I know I should be jumping up and down in joy, welcoming all-comers, be they conservative or liberal, to the prison reform table. But my hesitancy is borne of watching crime and punishment become politicized (and bastardized) during the 80’s and 90’s. My first reaction whenever anyone of any political or ideological affiliation starts with the “we’re better or have more credibility about it than you do” rhetoric is to cringe. It’s exactly that sort of partisan chest-thumping that got us into the mess we’re in today.

But the optimist in me holds out hope, I suppose. Whatever you want to call it, Left on Crime, Right on Crime, Whatevs on Crime…if you are serious about getting Smart on Crime, then welcome to the table. Let’s put our money where our mouths are, restore community-based corrections, and get the low-level, non-violent people who don’t belong in prison the hell out of there.

Cross Posted to: The Power-Elite

Psychiatry’s New Guide Is Out Of Touch With Science:

Just weeks before the long-awaited publication of a new edition of the so-called bible of mental disorders, the federal government’s most prominent psychiatric expert has said the book suffers from a scientific “lack of validity.”

The expert, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in an interview Monday that his goal was to reshape the direction of psychiatric research to focus on biology, genetics and neuroscience so that scientists can define disorders by their causes, rather than their symptoms.

Well, he’s half right. The DSM is completely lacking in scientific validity and has been so since the first edition came out in the 1960’s. We should not, however, be focusing more on the “biology, genetics or neuroscience” of behavioral disorders, but instead on labeling and social control.

“As long as the research community takes the D.S.M. to be a bible, we’ll never make progress,” Dr. Insel said, adding, “People think that everything has to match D.S.M. criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”

Neither did sociology, because most Labeling theorists would tell you that mental illness is a subjective label applied to behaviors that violate social norms. You can dig for all the biological or genetic “causes” you want: at the end of the day, it’s the behavior that is being labeled as “mentally ill.”

But don’t expect the psychiatric-industrial complex to  roll over in the face of criticism.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the D.S.M., said that the new edition’s refinements were “based on research in the last 20 years that will improve the utility of this guide for practitioners, and improve, however incrementally, the care patients receive.”

He added: “The last thing we want to do is be defensive or apologetic about the state of our field.”

LOL. They should be down on their hands and knees, begging for absolution and forgiveness from the millions of lives and minds ruined by unscientific diagnoses and chemical lobotomies.

But what do a bunch of sociologists know?

Cross posted to: The Power Elite

Attention Deficit Drugs Face New Campus Rules:

Fresno State is one of dozens of colleges tightening the rules on the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. and the subsequent prescription of amphetamine-based medications like Vyvanse and Adderall. Some schools are reconsidering how their student health offices handle A.D.H.D., and even if they should at all.

Various studies have estimated that as many as 35 percent of college students illicitly take these stimulants to provide jolts of focus and drive during finals and other periods of heavy stress. Many do not know that it is a federal crime to possess the pills without a prescription and that abuse can lead to anxiety, depression and, occasionally, psychosis.

Although few experts dispute that stimulant medications can be safe and successful treatments for many people with a proper A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the growing concern about overuse has led some universities, as one student health director put it, “to get out of the A.D.H.D. business.”

The most surprising thing about this is the percentage…we’re talking over a third of college students amping up in some capacity with prescription amphetamines come finals time. And while limiting access to the drugs via campus health centers is a good start, this is more of a legal affairs issue than it is a campus health issue.

Changes like these, all in the name of protecting the health of students both with and without attention deficits, involve legal considerations as well. Harvard is being sued for medical malpractice by the father of a student who in 2007 received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis and Adderall prescription after one meeting with a clinical nurse specialist.

You knew this had to involve law suits in some capacity. Decisions like these have less to do with the welfare and best interests of the students, and everything to do with covering the colleges collective back sides from litigation.

But asking students to take the equivalent of virginity pledges when it comes to abusing stimulants (“I am making a commitment to myself, my family, and my Creator, that I will abstain from amphetamines of any kind before graduation”) is going to do little to stop the push back from the pro-A.D.H.D. crowd.

Still, many student health departments regard A.D.H.D., a neurological disorder that causes severe inattention and impulsiveness, as similar to any other medical condition. Eleven percent of American children ages 4 to 17 — and 15 percent of high school students — have received the diagnosis, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New college policies about A.D.H.D. tend not to apply to other medical or psychiatric conditions — suggesting discrimination, said Ruth Hughes, the chief executive of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Such rules create “a culture of fear and stigma,” she said, adding that if students must sign a contract to obtain stimulants, they should have to do so for the painkillers that are also controlled substances and are known to be abused.

Which is absurd given that painkillers are not academic steroids and are not used to cheat (er, perform better) on tests, papers, and so forth. Talk about a straw man.

And are we really going to hear the cries of “discrimination” from these people? That’s like saying athletes suspected of using PED’s are being “discriminated” against, or that wanting to cut down on cheating and abuse is just a “culture of fear and stigma.”

I’m also bothered by the phrase “A.D.H.D, a neurological disorder…” It’s a behavioral diagnosis (label) with no grounding whatsoever in neurology, biology or anything that meets the scientific method. In fact, new evidence suggests that the behavior so labeled as attention deficit may actually be nothing more than sleep disorders.

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused. Researchers and reporters are increasingly seeing connections between dysfunctional sleep and what looks like A.D.H.D., but those links are taking a long time to be understood by parents and doctors.

A number of studies have shown that a huge proportion of children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also have sleep-disordered breathing like apnea or snoring, restless leg syndrome or non-restorative sleep, in which delta sleep is frequently interrupted.

I had forgotten about “restless leg syndrome,” better known as The Rockettes Disease. But seriously…

One study, published in 2004 in the journal Sleep, looked at 34 children with A.D.H.D. Every one of them showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a handful of the 32 control subjects.

There has been less research into sleep and A.D.H.D. outside of childhood. But a team from Massachusetts General Hospital found, in one of the only studies of its kind, that sleep dysfunction in adults with A.D.H.D. closely mimics the sleep dysfunction in children with A.D.H.D.

Thakkar also notes the correlation between the rise in sleep disorders and the explosion of A.D.H.D in the 1990’s…right around the time the internets exploded as well.

And to illustrate the very subjectiveness of the diagnosis that I and others have been railing about for years, this:

As it happens, “moves about excessively during sleep” was once listed as a symptom of attention-deficit disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That version of the manual, published in 1980, was the first to name the disorder. When the term A.D.H.D., reflecting the addition of hyperactivity, appeared in 1987, the diagnostic criteria no longer included trouble sleeping. The authors said there was not enough evidence to support keeping it in.

“The authors”…I love that, like the DSM is a work of fiction (cough).

One would also assume that the removal of the sleep criteria was based solely on money. There simply isn’t as much money to be made in sleep disorders as there is in the ever-expanding criteria for A.D.H.D.

At the end of the day, colleges and universities are fighting a losing battle here. As the first article notes, students are more likely to bring their prescriptions with them to campus. And lacking that, why bother with the health center when you can score Adderall via the underground, black market (Biff’s fraternity brother knows a dude who knows a dude who…)? It’s everywhere.

This is a classic case of the fish rotting from the head down. Until we recognize the power of the psychiatric-industrial complex and Big Pharma to keep imposing its biomedical view of madness on every single social behavior, we’re doomed.

And like mold, its spread is harder to stop the longer we wait.

Cross posted to: The Power Elite

By SocProf.

This seems to be the message of The House I Live In, Eugene Jarecki’s latest film.

I think this is a very important film to understand fully the War on Drugs. For many years, I used the PBS Frontline documentary Snitch to discuss the war on drugs in the US, but that movie has gotten old and a bit outdated. THILI can comfortably take its place because things have not gotten any less messy than they were when Snitch was made.

The film itself is about 1h40 long and the first half felt a bit disorganized to me as Jarecki jumped from one thing to another, from one case, one city, one person to another. I don’t really care for personal, tearing-at-your-heartstrings stories. But as the second half rolled around, it became gripping, and, to me, at least, way more interesting because it was less about individual cases, and more about the sociological aspects of the war on drugs.

I was especially glad to see a whole group of excellent contributors such as the great William Julius Wilson, Michelle Alexander, David Simon, of The Wire fame, Marc Mauer, Charles Ogletree, and Lincoln historian Richard Miller.

And, I won’t have to do my usual song and dance in class anymore, explaining how drug policy in the US is guided by racist considerations. There is a great short segment on just that. The film also does a great job of explaining how urban policy, by creating ghettos through redlining, fostering white flight to the suburbs, and the loss of inner-city jobs, also created the conditions for the emergence of an underground, informal economy based on drugs. And then, how the war on drugs policies unleashed the whole criminal justice system on disadvantaged, impoverished and precarized groups. And in inner cities, drug dealing is the only company in a company town. The film also shows the web of contradictory constraints that drug offenders face when they get released.

Interestingly as well, Jarecki interviews a lot of people from law enforcement and courts and demonstrates how the war on drugs distorted the functioning of these organizations by creating new systems of incentives based on mass arrests, mass conviction, and mass incarcerations, and how it distorted relationship between law enforcement and low-income communities. And how it has made a lot of private industries very profitable. And it only all cost $1 trillion dollars and 45 million arrests to get there.

David Simon:

“Nobody respects good police work more than me. As well as being a police reporter, my first book was about good police work. And there are a lot of detectives who I admire for their professionalism, for their craft, for their skill, for their nuance. The problem is that the drug war created an environment in which none of that was rewarded.

In a city like Baltimore, you can sit in your radio car and make a drug arrest without understanding or requiring probable cause [reasonable suspicion], without worrying about how you’re going to testify in court without perjuring yourself, without learning how to use and not be used by an informant, without learning how to write a search and seizure warrant, without doing any of the requisite things that makes a good cop into a great cop, somebody that can solve a murder, a rape, a robbery, a burglary. These are crimes that require police work. A drug arrest does not require anything other than getting out of your radio car and jacking people up against the side of the liquor store.

The problem is that that cop that made that cheap drug arrest, he’s going to get paid. He’s going to get the hours of overtime for taking the drugs down to ECU [the evidence control unit]. He’s going to get paid for processing the prisoner down at central booking. He’s going to get paid for sitting back at his desk and writing the paperwork for a couple hours. Then the case is going to get called to court and a prosecutor’s going to sign his overtime slip for two, three hours to show up for a case that’s probably going to be stetted [dropped] because it’s unconstitutional. And he’s going to do that 40, 50, 60 times a month. So his base pay might end up being half of what he’s actually paid as a police officer.

Meanwhile, nobody is learning the rudiments of police work that might make a patrolman into a good detective. In Baltimore, the clearance rates – our percentage of arrests for felonies – for rape, murder, robbery, auto theft, for the things that make a city unlivable – are half of what they once were.

Our drug arrest stats are twice what they once were. That makes a city unlivable. It creates a criminal atmosphere that has no deterrent. It makes a police department where nobody can solve a fucking crime.”

As the film progresses, the contributors’ words get harsher, as they take in the broader and broader picture of what has happened for the past 40 years (40 years!). David Simon, especially, explains how this policy – the war on drugs – is a way of disposing of the bottom 15% of society, considered to useless and disposable, and get rich (for some) while doing it. Ultimately, he calls the war on drugs a holocaust in slow motion.

In that sense, the war on drugs is a success. Not a success in terms of its publicly stated goals, but a success in terms of social control of the precarized classes. There is especially a very good segment on how methamphetamine is the new crack, except, this time, it is the displaced white, blue-collar workers who are targeted, and increasingly going to prison. The connection between economic deterioration for the working class, informal illegal economy and drug policy is a direct one. It is the social control of this potentially volatile population that mass incarceration successfully accomplishes.

So, again, with some qualification regarding the first half of the film, this is a great documentary with a lot of different, shorter segments that can be used separately. And, if my students are representative, they love to talk about drugs, so, this film has many segments that should provoke good discussions.

By The Power Elite

I wish this post were an April Fools joke.

I have been writing extensively, from a Labeling theory standpoint, about the arbitrary and haphazard spread of psychiatric diagnoses over the past several years. From ADHD to Bi-Polar to Autism, the spread of these “diseases” and “disorders” for which there are no scientific or methodological way to prove, has been alarming. Driving all of it, of course, is Big Pharma and the increasing use of medications as a form of social control.

Which is why today’s NYT report on the explosion of ADHD and the corresponding tidal wave of prescriptions for Adderall and Ritalin is neither surprising nor unexpected.

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.

The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

Really? I’m surprised it isn’t higher than that, frankly. But here’s the bad news: it’s about to get worse.

Even more teenagers are likely to be prescribed medication in the near future because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills.

Or it’s a social behavior that violates cultural norms (sitting still and being quiet); a condition that exists on paper, which can’t be proven objectively, based on a set of diagnostic criteria so broad it can apply to every man, woman and child in the universe, but particularly those who step outside the behavioral norms of society.

While some doctors and patient advocates have welcomed rising diagnosis rates as evidence that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, others said the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school. Pills that are shared with or sold to classmates — diversion long tolerated in college settings and gaining traction in high-achieving high schools — are particularly dangerous, doctors say, because of their health risks when abused.

Academic steroids, as I dubbed it awhile back. If PED’s are illegal in sports, why is Adderall legal in an academic setting? Cheating is cheating, fundamentally, but if we medicalize the behavior, diagnose it only among white, suburban, middle class kids, and then give it the seal of approval by the psychiatric-industrial complex, well, that’s ok, isn’t it?

Experts cited several factors in the rising rates. Some doctors are hastily viewing any complaints of inattention as full-blown A.D.H.D., they said, while pharmaceutical advertising emphasizes how medication can substantially improve a child’s life. Moreover, they said, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades.

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of “How Doctors Think.”

Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.

Rates by state are less precise but vary widely. Southern states, like Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, showed about 23 percent of school-age boys receiving an A.D.H.D. diagnosis. The rates in Colorado and Nevada were less than 10 percent.

And the cocaine (er, prescriptions) being pushed on these kids comes in all kinds of flavors and fun packs, all designed to push the rats through the standardized test maze we’ve created in the educational system. Rote memorization = social control. Critical thinking = subversive.

The medications — primarily Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse — often afford those with severe A.D.H.D. the concentration and impulse control to lead relatively normal lives. Because the pills can vastly improve focus and drive among those with perhaps only traces of the disorder, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades, some experts said, with many students unaware of or disregarding the medication’s health risks.

“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has A.D.H.D.,” said James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and one of the primary A.D.H.D. researchers in the last 20 years. “If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable — some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence. And with all those pills around, how much of that actually goes to friends? Some studies have said it’s about 30 percent.”

So how’s that War on Drugs going? Remember when drug pushers were creepy looking guys hanging around the school parking lots, and not psychiatrists in lab coats? I guess the simple rule is, drugs that get in the way of a smoothly functioning capitalist economy = illegal (pot, ecstasy, hallucinogens); drugs that aid a smoothly functioning capitalist society = legal (Adderall, Ritalin, et al).

And don’t think for a minute that Big Pharma, which makes the Medellin Cartel look amateurish in comparison, isn’t laughing all the way to the bank.

Sales of stimulants to treat A.D.H.D. have more than doubled to $9 billion in 2012 from $4 billion in 2007, according to the health care information company IMS Health.

Social control, big corporate profits, and a lobotomized generation of kids drooling in the corner on its meds.

I can only quote John Mellencamp: “Ain’t that America, something to see baby? Ain’t that America, the land of the free.”

Cross posted to: The Power Elite