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Archive for March, 2013

Democracy is a 24-Hour Enterprise, Manchester Occupiers Explain in Court

The spirit of the Occupy movement reappeared this morning in Hillsborough County Superior Court, where three activists arrested on criminal trespass charges October 19, 2011 took their case before a jury.

That day, the fifth in which occupiers were encamped in Manchester parks to show their displeasure with the imbalance of power in American economic and political life, Manchester police made it clear the city would no longer allow them to violate the curfew which bans public presence in city parks between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am.  As Captain Robert Cunha explained then, and repeated in court today, the occupiers would be warned to vacate the park at 11 pm.  If they did not leave, they would be issued a citation for violating the curfew.  If they still refused to leave, they would be arrested for trespassing.  hillsboro sup court 3-21-13 012 crop

Today’s defendants – Matthew Richards, Beth Grunewald, and Elizabeth Edwards – were among those arrested for trespassing.  Today they had their day in court.  Or rather, their first day in Superior Court.

The three had already been tried in District Court, where they were found guilty.  Unlike most of the others tried that day, the three were eligible to appeal for a jury trial because their arrest on misdemeanor charges meant they could potentially be subject to time in jail.   With the able leadership of Barbara Keshen of the NH Civil Liberties Union, they tried to tell the jury their actions were warranted by the extreme problems facing the country and constitutionally protected.

I was in the courtroom as a witness for the defense.  Unfortunately, that meant I was “sequestered” for the first part of the trial.  No this was not like the current “sequester” of funds by the US Congress.  I did not have to give up a percentage of my income.  It meant I sat out in the hall gabbing with Will Hopkins and Matt Lawrence until we were called as witnesses after lunch.  And that meant I missed the opening arguments by the prosecutor and the defense.

As I understand the case, the prosecution wants to convince the jury that the occupiers knew  their presence in the park after 11 pm was illegal, and that they had ample alternative means to express their political views, for example by being in the park between 7 am and 11 pm.  The defense argued that the rights to speak, assemble, and petition the government for redress of grievances under the NH Constitution is a higher order legal principle than the city’s curfew ordinance.  

As an Occupy participant who observed the police actions which ended the Veterans Park occupation 17 months ago, I was there to help the jury understand the background of the Occupy movement, the principles of active nonviolence, and the role that civil disobedience can play in challenging unjust laws.  Unfortunately, thehillsboro sup court 3-21-13 008 crop judge sustained objections to many of the questions Barbara asked me.  Will  and Matt, both of whom left the park with citations, were similarly constrained.

But the defendants, who were all called as witnesses, were given greater latitude and delivered eloquent explanations to an attentive, mostly female jury.  

Matt Richards was first.  The 21-year-old Manchester native was allowed to describe the Occupy General Assemblies, at which participants practiced horizontal democracy, “where everyone can speak their mind.” 

“I shouldn’t have to leave when I’m protesting in a public park,” he said.  “My right to speech and assembly has more weight than a curfew.” 

Matt said he fled morally obligated to remain in the park, despite the curfew and the police order to leave.  He would not want his actions to imply that protests should take place “only when it is convenient to those in power.” 

Occupy is about endurance.  It is about not giving up when injustice is higher then the clouds and you can barely afford a step ladder.

Matt teared up as he recalled meeting a homeless mother of three in one of the parks.  She was carrying a sign that said, “I’m homeless.  Do I have a voice?”  Matt explained he, too, knows what it feels like to be treated as a trespasser in his own city.  But he said he also knows miracles can happen when people reclaim their voices and speak out for justice.

“Occupy is about endurance,” he told the jury.  “It is about not giving up when injustice is higher then the clouds and you can barely afford a step ladder.”

“The amount of money someone has should not influence how much power they have,” Beth Grunewald said.  The 26-year-old Merrimack native said the occupiers showed by example how to create a consensus democracy that is fair to everyone and takes care of those who need help. 

Refuting the prosecutor’s implications that the occupiers could have made their point without violating the city’s curfew, she said, “Democracy is not a 7 am to 11 pm job.”   By building community, sharing meals, and figuring out how to live together, the occupiers were demonstrating that “another world is possible.” 

Harkening back to civil rights activists arrested and brutalized for being in spaces the law told them they had no right to occupy, she said, “if it takes me staying in a park 24 hours a day, I will stay there.”

The final speaker was Elizabeth Edwards, a 24-year-old Manchester resident who said she joined the Occupy movement because she didn’t like some of the messages coming out of Occupy Wall Street and she wanted to keep an eye on what was developing here.  But she soon found out, she said, that she could be part of a community and engage in dialogue, even with people who might have some different ideas.  “Occupy was about proving that we can create this peaceful camaraderie now,” she said.

Her intent is to create solutions to social problems based entirely on voluntary consent, without government or coercion.  “We could do it with each other right here,” Elizabeth told the jury. 

The demonstrations in Veterans and Victory Parks in Manchester was part of a national movement based on occupation of public space to show the “long haul” nature of what is required to bring about change, she told the jury in response to aggressive questioning from the prosecutor.  “Nothing else is working,” she said.  

Elizabeth also made it clear it was her intent to put the issue before a jury, not a judge or panel of judges.  Her argument:  “In a public park I absolutely have the right of freedom of speech and assembly.”

“Sometimes,” she said, “you have to back down because the system is so much bigger than you are.”  But sometimes, she concluded, you have to stand up and do what’s right even if you don’t know what the consequences will be.

The trial continues in the morning, presumably with closing arguments and jury deliberation.  

POST-TRIAL NOTE:  The jury deliberated for only an hour before finding the defendants guilty.  The were apparently unwilling to see the case as a legitimate conflict between the constitution and the municipal curfew ordinance.  Elizabeth, Beth, and Matt were sentenced to community service.  The  convictions of the larger group for  violating the curfew will be appealed to the NH Supreme Court.  One of the questions:  what is the meaning of the word “inviolable” in Article 22 of the NH Bill of Rights? 

 

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FORM 10-K IS A TREASURE TROVE OF INFORMATION

Maggie Hassan made it pretty clear during her successful campaign for governor that she has no interest in turning over control of New Hampshire’s prisons to for-profit corporations.  The majority of Executive Councilors elected in November feel the same.  While the State is still formally reviewing proposals from four private companies to build and operate its prisons, the chance that a contract for prison operation would be drawn up in the next two years is about as close to zero as it can get.  So why have at least two of the companies (CCA and MTC) bothered to invest in lobbying services to defeat HB 443, a bill which would ban private prisons in New Hampshire?

For insight into this and other questions, the companies’ Form 10-Ks, filed annually with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are worth a read.

According to the SEC, “the 10-K offers a detailed picture of a company’s business, the risks it faces, and the operating and financial results for the fiscal year. Company management also discusses its perspective on the business results and what is driving them.”

Unlike the glossy Annual Reports for stockholders, Form 10-K comes without photos and with a more straightforward writing style.  The SEC says, “Laws and regulations prohibit companies from making materially false or misleading statements in their 10-Ks. Likewise, companies are prohibited from omitting material information that is needed to make the disclosure not misleading.”  In other words, they have to tell the truth, including reporting on what the SEC calls “risk factors.”

Efforts to ban private prisons, even in states that don’t have them and aren’t about to get them, are a risk to the business model of private prison companies.

Corrections Corporation of America

The Form 10-K for the Corrections Corporation of America says, “We are the nation’s largest owner of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one CCA logo of the largest prison operators in the United States behind only the federal government and three states,” but acknowledges,  “As the owner and operator of correctional and detention facilities, we are subject to certain risks and uncertainties associated with, among other things, the corrections and detention industry and pending or threatened litigation in which we are involved.”

Among the risks they face:  “The operation of correctional and detention facilities by private entities has not achieved complete acceptance by either governments or the public.” 

How’s that for understatement? 

In fact, CCA states, “the movement toward privatization of correctional and detention facilities has also encountered resistance from certain groups, such as labor unions and others that believe that correctional and detention facilities should only be operated by governmental agencies.”  

The GEO Group

The GEO Group, the industry’s #2, agrees.  In its Form 10-K, GEO says, “Public resistance to privatization of correctional, detention, mental health and residential GEO Group logo facilities could result in our inability to obtain new contracts or the loss of existing contracts, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.”

“The movement toward privatization of such facilities has encountered resistance from groups, such as labor unions, that believe that correctional, detention, mental health and residential facilities should only be operated by governmental agencies… Increased public resistance to the privatization of correctional, detention, mental health and residential facilities in any of the markets in which we operate, as a result of these or other factors, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations,” GEO adds.  

Immigration reform laws are currently a focus for legislators”

CCA gets pretty specific about the “factors we cannot control” which consitute risks to their business:

“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Immigration reform laws are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state, and local level. Legislation has also been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”

This interest in a continued and growing supply of prisoners explains the industry’s interest in immigration reform.  CNN reports, “Big tech firms and private prisons represent two industries vigorously lobbying to influence the scope of legislation aimed at overhauling U.S. immigration policy, a political priority in Washington.”

While CCA’s 10-K sates, “Our policy prohibits us from engaging in lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies,” CNN notes “Corrections Corporation of America, which builds detention facilities to house illegal immigrants, [has] contributed heavily to the campaigns of lawmakers who take tough stances on the issue.”

CNN also reports, “Sen. John McCain has changed his views on immigration over the years. For instance, the Arizona Republican first supported and later opposed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  He is also the fourth-highest recipient of campaign donations from Corrections Corporation of America.”  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.  Maybe not.

If corporate persons can be said to have a corporate conscience and a corporate mind, we can say that private prison companies are morally flawed.  But we shouldn’t discredit their brains.  They know how their bread is buttered, and they are acutely aware that we can cut off the butter by changing immigration laws, reducing sentences, and de-criminalizing offenses like possession of marijuana.  We can take away the whole loaf by banning private prisons, as HB 443 proposes to do in New Hampshire. 

HB 443 states that incarceration is an “inherently governmental” function and cannot be outsourced to for-profit companies like CCA, GEO, and the Management & Training Corporation (MTC).  An amendment approved by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would allow the Commissioner of Corrections to transfer prisoners to privately operated prisons on a temporary basis in the event of an emergency, such as a fire.  With that amendment and a bi-partisan 13 to 5 “ought to pass as amended” recommendation from the committee, the bill is heading for a vote by the full House this week.  Illinois and New York already have similar laws on their books.  Since passage of HB 443 would have an “adverse effect” on their business model, we can expect the private prison companies to step up lobbying efforts in the Senate if the measure clears the House.

GEO makes another interesting point in its 10-K (page 31 if you want to look it up):  “State budgetary constraints may have a material adverse impact on us,” they say.  This is a curious observation given the fact that the private prison companies insist they save money for taxpayers.  Yet, GEO says, “budgetary constraints in states that are not our current customers could prevent those states from outsourcing correctional, detention or community based service opportunities that we otherwise could have pursued.”  In other words, GEO appears to acknowledge that private prisons aren’t less expensive after all. 

There’s plenty of other data in these reports.  There are lists of their prison facilities.  CCA reports that only 785 of its 17,000 employees are unionized, while GEO says 21% of its workforce is covered by collective bargaining agreements.   Both companies see union organizing as a risk.  Both companies provide extensive details about their creation of Real Estate Investment Trusts.  Enjoy your reading, with awareness that if you are working for immigration reform, reduced incarceration, and the shut-down of the private prison industry, someone in GEO’s and CCA’s corporate offices sees you as an element of their risk profile.

If anyone has the Form 10-K for the Management & Training Corporation, please pass it along. 

 

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