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Archive for November, 2012

New Hampshire Labor News asked me for an update on the private prison issue.  Check them out at http://nhlabornews.com/

With Governor John Lynch leaving office and a significant turnover in the membership of New Hampshire’s Executive Council, the danger that the state would turn over management of its prisons to a private firm has diminished.  However, privatization foes remain vigilant until the proposal is not just really dead but really most sincerely dead.Imprisioned

The possibility of privatization was raised in a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the state a year ago.  The RFP explicitly invited private firms to offer plans to build and operate a prison for women, a prison for men, or a “hybrid” facility for both men and women.   Private firms were also invited to submit plans to build such facilities and lease them to the state, or renovate existing facilities for the same purpose.  Four firms responded to the detailed RFP, reportedly with enough paper to fill a room in the State House Annex.  None of the bids proposed to build or renovate a facility just for women, despite the fact that the existing women’s prison in Goffstown is badly over-crowded and inadequately designed.

Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader, revealed it would consider sites in Lancaster, Northumberland, and Hinsdale.  Management and Training Corporation cast its sights on land on Hackett Hill Road in Manchester.  The Hunt Group (now known as CGL) proposed to build on land already controlled by the state prison in Concord.  The fourth, the GEO Group, did not reveal the location of its proposed facilities.

CCA, GEO, and MTC also contracted with local lobbyists to help them make their cases.

Due to the complexity of the request and the responses, the Departments of Administrative Services and Corrections determined they were not able to evaluate and compare the proposals by themselves.  With a vote from the Executive Council, the State signed a $171,000 contract with MGT of America to help analyze the documents.  MGT’s report was due October 5 and their contract was to expire October 31.  Those dates have come and gone with no report yet.  “It’s unlikely it’s going to be resolved this year,” Gov. Lynch said at the October 17 Executive Council breakfast.

While we wait for the consultants (who happen to have deep ties to the private prison industry) to complete their report, Gov. Lynch has not stopped talking up the possibility that the state would contract with a private firm to finance and build a prison, which it would then lease to the state.   Lynch appears to be convinced that the men’s prison needs to be replaced and that the Legislature would never approve funding through the capital budget process.  From his perspective, contracting out prison ownership is a way to get around the normal budgeting process.  That there has been no public discussion of the need for a new men’s prison does not seem to factor into his position.  Moreover, such a proposal would give a private firm a foot in the door to promise cost savings down the line if they were given full control.

The experience from other states shows clearly that privatization is not a path to cost savings.  Despite anti-union policies and reduced expenses of wages, benefits, and training, private firms in other states have been unable to save money for the states.  What they have accomplished is a pattern of increased violence within the walls leading to a less safe, less secure environment for prisoners and staff alike.  This in turn has led to high levels of staff turnover, feeding less security.  And it means prisoners — most of whom will return to the free world — will be less likely to get the support they need to live productive lives outside the prison walls.

Incoming Governor Maggie Hassan has been explicit that she has no interest in turning over the prison keys to private firms.  Whether she agrees with her predecessor that the men’s prison needs to be replaced is not yet clear.  What is clear is that the state does need to do something about the women’s prison, which is already the subject of a civil rights lawsuit the state is likely to lose.

What is also clear is that approaches to crime and corrections that emphasize alternatives to incarceration, provide counseling and education to those who need it, and that interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline can be more effective and save money for taxpayers.  The most active anti-privatization groups — including the State Employees Association,  the NH League of Women Voters, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, the NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the NH Civil Liberties Union, and the American Friends Service Committee — are optimistic they can claim victory soon.  They are already turning attention to development of a more humane approach to corrections, one that would preserve good jobs and save the state money.

For more information, visit www.nhprisonwatch.org. 

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NH Slim was listening to the Beatles on a classic rock station , grateful it was not some ‘80s metal hair band, when he remembered Eric Wolfe used to include at least one Beatles song in every puppet show he wrote.  Slim has no idea if Eric is still puppeteering, but he asked me to send this one Eric’s way just in case.

 

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Jones begins to sing,

Mourn the dead but fight hard for the living.

And when it gets confusing her voice sounds to me clear as a bell

Fight hard for the living, fight like hell.

Fight like hell, fight like hell, fight like hell, fight like hell,

Mourn the dead and fight hard for the living.

When I find myself in times of conflict AJ Muste comes to say

There is no way to peace, peace is the way

When war and strife surround me and it gets worse each and every day

That’s when AJ says peace is the way.

Peace is the way, peace is the way, peace is the way, peace is the way

There is no way to peace, peace is the way.

Joe Hill and John L Lewis sometimes show up right before my eyes,

They have only one word, organize.

We’re in it for the long haul with our eyes set firmly on the prize

And there’s a way to get it, organize.

Organize, organize, organize, organize,

There’s a way to get it, organize.

And in my times of struggle Mahatma Gandhi calls out something strange

Means are ends and you must be the change.

Although it seems intuitive to work for what you want arranged,

There’s a better answer, be the change.

Be the change, be the change, be the change, be the change

Means are ends and you must be the change.

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honorees manchester 11-17-12 098

The role of youth and the importance of elders were both spotlighted yesterday in Manchester at the Manchester NAACP’s Freedom Fund dinner.  The local branch of the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights organization honored five community leaders and also heard comments from Azekah Jennings of the US Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service.

Those honored were:

manchester 11-17-12 086Joni Esperian, who heads the NH Commission for Human Rights, a state agency  charged with promoting and enforcing state law dealing with discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation.  In brief comments she noted her own mother’s role challenging segregation in Alabama.

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Ernesto Pinder, whose “youthful enthusiasm led to us being here today,” said Woullard Lett, recalling Ernesto’s role in rejuvenating the Manchester NAACP several years ago.  Ernesto, who said he has recently turned 40, called on  young people to get involved and also called on the NAACP to give attention to racial disparities in the delivery of mental health services.

linda manchester 11-17-12 090 Linda Gathright, longtime leader of Southern NH Outreach for Black Unity and a recently elected State Representative from Nashua.  “She’s a great woman who does not give up,” said Linda’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bertha Perkins.   Pastor Perkins also noted Linda’s role as a communicator and a go-to person for the Nashua community.  manchester 11-17-12 054

Sandra Sepulveda, owner of Don Quixote Restaurant in Manchester, an  establishment that has become a hub for community, not just a dining place.  “How lucky we are she came to Manchester,” said Lillye Ramos-Spooner.

Selina Taylor, a community organizer with the NH Coalition selina manchester 11-17-12 120 to Abolish the Death Penalty, who was described by Jacqui Davis as “a young woman who exemplifies commitment to justice in our community.”  Like Joni, Selina called her own mother as a role model, noting that “leaders are raised.” 

“You can make a difference no matter how old or young you are,” Selina said.

Azekah Jennings described his own path from federal prosecutor to the Community Relations Service, where he feels he can make a contribution at the “front end” of the criminal justice system.  CRS helps governments and communities deal with racial conflict as well as bullying and violence related to other matters, including anti-gay sentiment.  manchester 11-17-12 011

The program was emceed by Joanne Dowdell, who was introduced by Bill Davis, currently the president of the Manchester chapter.  William Cavanaugh provided music as people gathered.  The Rev. Alan McKillop delivered an invocation.  The program concluded with a singing of “We Shall Overcome” and closing remarks from Claudette Williams

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afternoonvigilcropped11-14-12

NH Supremes Hear Addison Appeal

The New Hampshire Supreme Court building is made of cold granite and cold brick, with a cold, gold dome perched on top.  Some people might say that’s appropriate for a building dedicated to justice.

But today’s hearing on the state’s intent to execute Michael Addison for killing Michael Briggs seemed only abstractly related to “justice.”  Certainly the Court represents “law” and represents “order.”  But “justice?”  vigil@courthouse11-14-12

Inside the Court, lawyers were arguing arcane details of 22 arguments made by defense lawyers.  As one observer noted afterward, it was hard to tell they were discussing whether or not the State of New Hampshire should kill a human being.  The word “execution” was not uttered, she said.

Outside, in the warm sun for most of the day, a band of death penalty abolition activists conducted a vigil to summon forth a form of justice that goes beyond the realm of legal procedure.  About 30 people stood silently outside the Court from 8 to 9 am as participants and observers arrived for the Court hearing.  Another group of more than 40 people, mostly a different crew from those who had been there in the morning, stood vigil from 3 to 4 pm as the Court hearing adjourned. 

Unitarians, Episcopalians, Quakers, Catholics, even a person who identified herself  as being from the “Church of Witchcraft,” bore witness to the simple concept that the State should not take life in order to punish the taking of a life. 

Most noteworthy was the presence of John Breckenridge, a former Manchester police officer.  Breckenridge was the partner of Michael BrBreckinridge-interview11-14-12 014iggs and was with him on October 16, 2006 when they pursued two crime suspects through the dark streets of Manchester.  Michael Addison, one of the suspects, turned and shot Officer Briggs as he ran.  Briggs died from the gunshot wounds in the hospital.  Addison was soon caught and charged with capital murder, a crime for which he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death.  

Arriving shortly after the vigil’s start this morning, Breckenridge quietly took his place and stood silently facing the Court.  Although he did not seek publicity, reporters from WMUR-TV recognized him.  Speaking in a calm and straightforward tone, Breckenridge told them he is against the death penalty as a matter of his religious faith.   The story aired on the noon news.

New Hampshire’s death penalty could have been repealed years ago had it notexecutejustice11-14-12 been for the power of the police lobby.  With John Breckenridge joining the public ranks of death penalty opponents, the balance may have tipped.

Today’s vigils were organized by the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. As the sun went down, participants lit candles and continued their silent witness, knowing their presence outside the Court was just one step toward abolition.

 

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