Out of prison, inmates held hostage by debit cards

Image courtesy of David Dominici @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Dominici @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember when a released prison inmate would be given $50, a bus ticket and maybe a new pair of shoes to usher him into his new life as a free man?
Moneywise, those may have been the good old days.
Now, it’s just as likely that the ex-inmate will leave with a debit card drawn from their prison account.
And that’s when the nickel-and-diming begins.
In Michigan, the debit card for JPay, a Florida-based private corrections money management firm, charges former inmates 50 cents just to check their balance, $2 to withdraw cash and 70 cents for every purchase. Don’t want to use the card? That will cost you $2.99 after 60 days. Want to cancel? Fork over another $9.95.
Bank of America is also getting a little piece of the captive-market action: a $1.50 monthly maintenance fee, 25 cents for every purchase and $5 to shut the whole thing down.
Losing a little here, a little there can make a big difference in an unemployed and newly released inmate’s life.
And that’s why 68 groups have joined Lake Worth’s Human Rights Defense Center in asking the federal Consumer Protection Financial Bureau to include protections for prisoners as part of a proposed rules change regulating prepaid debit cards.
The center is headed by Paul Wright, who founded the widely-respected Prison Legal News from his prison cell 25 years ago.
Paul Wright
Paul Wright

Wright is out of prison – has been for years – and running PLN from a Lake Worth walk-up. The paper’s influence is out of proportion to the smallish digs. Academics, lawyers, reform advocates and researchers are fans of the paper’s meticulous reports on legal rulings, databases and research.
So it’s not surprising that joining the Center in its comments to the federal consumer agency are criminal justice reform groups, civil rights organizations and public interest law clinics.
For the full text of the Defense Center’s comments to the CPFB:HRDC comment
And for a critique of the prisoner/banking issue:http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/10/02/15812/megabanks-have-prison-financial-services-market-locked

St. Louis Cardinals have no plans to leave Jupiter, but team’s not ready to extend lease beyond 2027

Caught up with Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, for his thoughts on the proposed West Palm Beach spring training stadium and the future of the Cardinals in Jupiter.

Here’s an edited transcript of my interview:

What’s your reaction to the progress made by Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach to open a second spring training complex in the county?

Dewitt,bill%20III[1]“We are pleased the Astros and Nationals are working towards finalizing that deal. We need teams to play on the east coast and this is a great location for us in terms of spring training. We are happy to see it progress.

“As we look well out into the future, we want to stay in southeast Florida and this is obviously a big step in that direction for us in terms of how we look at it long term.’’

It’s also important for the county to get the Cardinals and Marlins to extend their leases to 2045, the same year the proposed lease by the Astros and Nationals would expire.

“We have kind of gotten that sense that they want to lock up those two teams for a long period of time as part of the new ballpark and then they would turn their attention to us. So we are open to that.

“We don’t really know what that would look like. But it’s hard to believe we have been there going on 18 years. There are things we’d like to improve on and we are watching the development adjacent to and everywhere around the ballpark carefully as it relates to the fan experience. Parking is one issue and some other things.

“We obviously love it. We’d love to stay and we’d love to extend but I think we need to wait and see a little bit more before we even start talking about that stuff…

Cardinals play Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in March 2014
Cardinals play Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in March 2014

“All those things that hopefully will come into play will set the stage for something that we can work on with the county.’’

What do you think about the development of Abacoa?

“It is interesting. It has been fun for our fans. It’s a nice residential community. Obviously the retail has gone through some cycles and seems to be picking up yet again with the new proposal for some additional retail.

“I look at it really as our fan experience. We come down and visit. Many of us, for example in the ownership group, some of us have places down here. All of that good is for the Cardinals and baseball and for Cardinals fans coming down.’’

Hall of Famer Lou Brock signs autographs at Roger Dean Stadium in 2011
Hall of Famer Lou Brock signs autographs at Roger Dean Stadium in 2011

In terms of attendance, the Cardinals clearly are the main attraction at Roger Dean Stadium. That will give the team leverage when it sits down with the county to talk about upgrades at the stadium as part of the negotiations on a long-term lease extension. (The Cardinals and Marlins plan to open negotiations around 2023).

“We are only in 2015. I can imagine by then there will be some things we need to do.”
For now, though, the Cardinals and Marlins are only willing to commit to Roger Dean Stadium through 2027.

“First, get the ballpark deal done with the other two teams and kind of take stock of what that means for us. In the meantime, we have done some work in terms of thinking about our facility here, but it’s very preliminary and, to be honest, I think we will probably get some ideas from the Astros and Nationals when we see what they come up with. Not that we need to copy what they do, but just in terms of what’s the state-of-the-art for spring training.’’
In 1998, Roger Dean Stadium was the latest “state-of-the-art” spring training stadium. But that was almost 20 years ago. The Cardinals, because of the team’s success and tradition and branding, will probably attract interest from other towns in Florida and Arizona 10 years from now.

“Cardinals fans, you see them when they come down here, staying in the hotels and going to the beaches and coming to the ballgames. It’s an amazing tradition. It is portable to some extent, but we’d just assume keep it here and keep it going in Jupiter.’’


In prison, a death by peanut butter

PB sandwich
A freshly minted state memo on investigating “unnatural” state prison inmate deaths may not do certain dead and dying prisoners a lot of good.
The memo between the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) enables FDLE, not DOC, to investigate unnatural inmate deaths -think homicide, suicide- from here on out.
But that doesn’t appear to include deaths by accidents, and accidents are sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
Take Marvin Morris. It’s not clear whether he had mental problems, but it certainly looked that way in April 2013, when Morris crashed his head into a metal door at least once and ran wildly about an enclosed area, eventually falling to the concrete floor.
According to statements given to state investigators, guards waited until Morris was on the floor, unresponsive and dying, before entering the area.
Much was made of the fact that Morris was smuggling a peanut butter sandwich out of the chow hall at the time. And Morris’s elderly mother said she was told by DOC that her son had choked to death on the peanut butter.
His death is categorized as an accident.
There is much about this accident that FDLE would not have looked at under the new agreement with DOC: Would Morris have lived if guards intervened earlier to subdue him? If nurses had?
In fact, DOC investigators recommended criminal charges be brought against two health care workers in connection with Morris’s death.
That didn’t happen.
But Morris’s death, officially an accident, illustrates how possible criminal behavior could escape notice by FDLE, if its investigative scope is limited to homicides and suicides.
Of course, the vast majority of inmates dying in Florida prisons are dying from natural causes, not homicides, suicides or even accidents.
Then again, deaths from natural causes can be every bit as troubling, as some have been accompanied by gross misdiagnosis and maltreatment, including giving three dying inmates Tylenol and ibuprofen for their end-stage cancers.

Sucker-punched by fake tweets

supreme leader

Humiliation is the unsung hero of American journalism: the stomach-churning thought of a public correction telling the world you blew it is enough to keep many a reporter scrupulously fact-checking.
But not all.
In a simultaneously hilarious and horrifying series of blog posts, one contributor on Popehat.com explains how his patently ridiculous fake Twitter account – identified as the official voice of North Korea- sucker-punched Slate, CNN and, most notably, Greta Van Susteren of Fox.
The merry prankster doesn’t appear to have intended for mainstream media to pick up and run with his posts, which have included such gems as Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un freezing Obama’s assets and an urgent report that Ebola had been found in Atlantis.
No, Big MSM missed those clues and instead picked up tweets entirely suitable to the news cycle, which was focused on North Korea’s antics. Entirely fake suitable tweets.
But that’s not the bad part. The bad part is what some newsies did- especially Van Susteren- when they were notified the Tweets were a sham.
Humiliating point-blank public correction? As if.
No one tells that tale better than the author, though, or explains why Gwynneth Paltrow and Kim Jong-un are sharing this screen: https://www.popehat.com/2014/12/20/the-curious-case-of-the-t-v-attorney-and-twitter/
Read it and weep.

Wexford and the $500,000 foot

gold foot This jury was ticked.
It’s the only explanation for the $510,000 Illinois jurors awarded Michael Beard, a prison inmate whose serious foot injury went untreated for years by Wexford Health Sources.
The jury awarded Beard $10,000 for his pain and suffering.
The half million? That was Wexford’s punishment.
“They came back with a verdict in less than two hours,” said Tom Plieura, Beard’s attorney.
Wexford is appealing.
Plieura, like most attorneys representing inmates in medical suits, was concerned jurors would not be able to get past the fact that Beard is a convict.
He needn’t have worried.
“It was a really brief summation,” said Plieura. “Just the highlights.” He also threw in a variation of a well-known saying: “You can judge the level of civilization by looking in a society’s prisons.”
Inside his Illinois prison cell, Beard had been seen by at least eight different doctors. For years, almost a1l referred him for a surgical consult.A bony growth on his Achilles tendon was growing, eventually rendering him unable to walk. His leg muscles atrophied.
Wexford repeatedly denied doctors’ requests for a referral to a specialist, documents showed.
Plieura, who is also a doctor, worked in a prison at one point. He understands that state medical care gets it wrong, too. He knows some prisoners lie.
But he points out that Illinois is paying Wexford $1.4 billion over the life of a 10-year contract, and taxpayers deserve to get their money’s worth.
“Who paid for this trial?,” Plieura said. “Taxpayers, when in fact we shouldn’t have been there if they had just paid for the surgery.”
Wexford also handles medical care for prison inmates in Florida, though its contract, and its problems here, pale in comparison to that of Corizon Inc, the Florida provider linked to terminal cancer victims treated with Tylenol and ibuprofen.
In February, after The Post wrote a series of stories about substandard inmate medical practices, the Florida Department of Corrections tossed the companies’ contracts, valued at more than a combined billion dollars. They will be rebid.
For a look at what The Post found: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/privatized-prison-health-care-in-florida-deadly-pa/nhWkX/?icmp=pbp_internallink_invitationbox_apr2013_pbpstubtomypbp_launch#f4be1578.3545241.735667

Like foul balls, baseball puns fly at Palm Beach County Commission meeting

Palm Beach County mayor Shelley Vana, above the Astros logo, with city and county officials last month at a baseball ceremony
Palm Beach County mayor Shelley Vana, above the Astros logo, with city and county officials last month at a baseball ceremony

When it comes to public officials making bad baseball puns, the Palm Beach County Commission is knocking them out of the part much better than the West Palm Beach City Commission.In fact, the city commission continued its shutout streak Monday when it approved an access agreement to the spring training site without any comment.

A week earlier, the county commission had plenty to say before approving an initial $5 million so the teams can start preliminary work on the land where they hope to build a $135 million complex.

“I don’t think we should balk here at approving this,’’ County Commissioner Hal Valeche said, prompting laughter from his colleagues.

“That’s a baseball term, right?’’ County Mayor Shelley Vana asked. “It took me a minute.’’

Commissioner Steven Abrams chuckled a few moments later and said, “I may come out of the bullpen later when this comes back…’

Both governments are partnering on a deal to bring the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros to West Palm Beach.

The county is helping finance the project with $108 million in hotel tax revenue while the city is providing the land for the complex through a land swap with the county.


Coming soon to West Palm Beach: Teddy, Abe and the Racing Presidents?

Could Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln and the other three racing presidents one day sprint along the outfield at the proposed new spring training complex in West Palm Beach?

The so-called Racing Presidents are a hit at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., where the big-headed mascoted Commanders in Chief race along the warning track in an event often more exciting than the actual games.

If the Nationals and Houston Astros can build a $135 million complex south of 45th Street, it might mean local appearances by Teddy, Abe, George Washington,Thomas Jefferson and William Howard Taft.

As for the Racing Presidents, they got their own workout this morning in Washington D.C. Here is what went on before the doors opened to tourists, in photos from the U.S. National Archives twitter feed.




The return of Dr. Evil (as if he could stay away)

Ah, Dr. Evil, how we’ve missed ‘ye.

Not that we ever doubted you would be back in the fray.

It was just about a year ago that Richard Berman and his ticked-off kitty landed in Palm Beach.
The notorious Washington lobbyist was behind mailers featuring a cantankerous cat urging the island’s wealthy residents to think twice before donating to The Humane Society of the United States.

Dr. Evil's anti- Humane Society kitty
Dr. Evil’s anti- Humane Society kitty

Going after a group dedicated to helping small furry critters is mere child’s play for Berman: Through various companies, he’s gone after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and advocates for weight loss. He’s worked for Big Tobacco and defended mercury-laden tuna and tanning beds everywhere.
He’s accused PETA of killing animals.

Unlike many in the forefront of controversies, Berman is a cheerful warrior, reveling in his nickname.
And now, a new year, a new cause: The Doc is focusing on letting carbons run free.
The Guardian reports Berman has funneled money through a nonprofit to five front groups attacking proposed EPA rules limiting power plant carbon emissions, as well as funding 16 anti-regulation studies.

That’s classic Dr. E. Money and lobbying are typically handled by a nonprofit he creates with few direct ties to the industries or people behind it. In a taped speech smuggled to the New York Times, Berman crowed, “We run all of this stuff through non-profit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity.”

Another reason no one has ever accused Berman of being stupid.

Just evil.