12/13/09 - Paul Wright

Century of Lies

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal NEWS + DTN mothership NEWS: "DA's Crack Pipe Policy Stirs Storm"

Audio file

Century of Lies, December 13, 2009

The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

Thank you, my friends, for joining us for this edition of Century of Lies. Our guest today is Mr. Paul Wright. He’s editor of, what I think is probably the only publication of it’s kind, Prison Legal News. Dedicated to protecting human rights. Paul, are you with us?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes I am, Dean. Thank you for having me on the show.

Dean Becker: Well Paul, thank you so much for taking time to join us. You have your hands full. My gosh, I look at these editions of Prison Legal News and the news is… well, it’s not always good. Heck, it’s seldom good, to be honest. Right? Our prisons are not what they’re cracked up to be, are they?

Mr. Paul Wright: Well, I guess it depends on how you determine ’cracked up to be‘. I mean… you have politicians that kind of vie with each other and actively campaign on making American prisons miserable pits of brutality, sadism and neglect.

Which that’s one of the things that kind of sets the United States apart from the rest of the world, is that you actually have government officials actively vying to make prisons’ negative places, where people will be worse when they come out than when they go in. Where in the rest of the world, even countries that have bad prisons, the government excuse there is, “Hey, we’re poor countries.” “We have limited resources.” “We’re doing the best we can”, and I think that’s just one of the significant differences.

Dean Becker: Right. Whereas here, it’s designed to make it a hellhole in many instances and the oversight, through the judicial system and state bodies, is just totally lacking. Right?

Mr. Paul Wright: It’s pretty much non-existent. I mean, generally most states don’t even have any type of mechanism. They don’t have any type of Ombudsmen’s, or Inspector General’s, or anyone with any type of oversight accountability. In theory, the legislatures have some type of oversight. But the reality is, that they don’t… and --- they do, they don’t really care.

So, basically what we’re left with is kind of de facto with the judiciary is the closest thing we have to any type of oversight, over prisons and jails and that’s pretty haphazard at best. It’s really random and hit or miss and for the most part, it doesn’t really mean a lot for the most part.

Dean Becker: Paul, I brought in the, I think the two most recent - you may have a newer one out. The October and November Issues…

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes.

Dean Becker: …of Prison Legal News. The October Issue, the bold headline on the front. Texas Prisoners Still Dying in Houston Jails, Among Other Problems. Let’s talk about the Houston jail situation.

Mr. Paul Wright: OK. I think a lot of your listener’s there in Houston know, is for many decades, I think going back to at least the early seventies, the Houston jail has been the subject of litigation. This is what I think kind of illustrates, I think, the poverty of judicial overview of detention facilities.

Since at least the early seventies, the Houston jail’s been subjected to various litigation and everything else and yet, the reality is that it’s still a pretty bad miserable place. You have dozen’s of prisoner’s dying each year, needlessly. Both as a result of brutality from the guards. Failure to be protected from other, more violent prisoners and the biggest killer is medical neglect and these are all the issues that continue taking quite the death toll on prisoners in the Harris County Jail and it’s been going on for some time now.

Dean Becker: The other thing that always strikes me about your publication, Prison Legal News, is that all the stories about states and prison guards and wardens and the fact that they fail to protect the prisoners -you know, someone comes in, he’s called a child molester, and the guards actually single him out to the other prisoners, for abuse.

Mr. Paul Wright: Whether it’s true or not, is one of the things to point out.

Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah… and again, set them up for beatings, and death sometimes, because the guards have their own grudge going, if you will. Right?

Mr. Paul Wright: Correct.

Dean Becker: Yeah. There’s another story in the October issue about Cory Weinstein. Perpetrators and Enablers of Torture in the US. Abu Ghraib wasn’t anything original, was it?

Mr. Paul Wright: No, it wasn’t and one of the points that I try to make when I’m doing public speaking and stuff like that is, the interesting thing is there’s a lot of outrage, both in internationally as well as some quarters of the United States, about the pictures that were displayed of the Iraqi prisoners that have --- raping, torture. Of course Seymour Hurst tells us that they’re still thousand more pictures that have not been publicly disclosed, including those of children being tortured by American military personnel. But we’ll leave that disclosure for another day.

The reality is that, there’s nothing that’s been disclosed, to date, about what has happened at Abu Ghraib that we do not report as happening on a regular basis, here in the United States, to American prisoners on a regular basis. The beatings, the sexual humiliations, the electroshocks, the denial of medical care; the whole nine yards. That happens here in the United States on a regular basis and we report it in Prison Legal News.

The difference is that, where there’s at least some outrage of people talking about being outraged and saying it shouldn’t happen when it’s happening to Iraqi prisoners, when it’s happening to American prisoners day in and day out here in the United States. We don’t have anyone speaking out against it or much less doing anything about it, except for a few small groups like Prison Legal News and a few other organizations around the country, that are pretty overwhelmed by the massiveness of the problem.

Dean Becker: Once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Paul Wright. He’s editor of Prison Legal News. Paul, I know that your Newspaper is read by prisoners. It’s read by attorneys across the country and if folks would like to sign up to get this, they can access your website, right?

Mr. Paul Wright: Correct. They can go to www.prisonlegalnews.org and they can see sample copies of the magazine, which is a fifty-six page monthly magazine. We have articles… Our website is the most complete collection of everything related to prison and detention facilities here in the United States. We have over twenty-two thousand articles in our database. Thousands of briefs, court rulings and everything else. I mean, we’re kind of the ‘one stop shop’ on anything detention facility related.

Dean Becker: Paul, I know that - well it’s an ongoing thing - the censorship of your publication and other magazines and newspapers by prison officials arbitrarily and in the squelching our constitutional rights, huh?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we just recently filed suite against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice because their banning some of the books that Criminal Legal News distributes. One of the books is, “Women Behind Bars“. One of the other books is, “A Perpetual Prison Machine” and basically these books are critiques of… The first book critiques of how it’s an investigative journalism book and a critique of how women prisoners are treated in this country, including in Texas, and the other book focuses on the ‘for-profit’ prison industry.

I guess for lack of a better term, kind of the monetization of the prisoner’s and how, once people are in prison they kind of become ’money on the hoof’ to the people who profit from the prison industry and both books have been censored by the *TDCJ on rather spurious grounds and we’re in court challenging it.

Dean Becker: You’ve been successful in many of these over the years, right?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes. As of right now, eight states and around five or six jails are currently under Prison Legal News contempt decrees, injunctions, or both and that includes most of the West coast states and some places in the Midwest and the South and Michigan. So yes, we have been pretty successful with these cases.

Dean Becker: This brings me around to… We have, what I’m going to just call, scammers, you know. People out there creating the impression that various communities or areas can benefit, if they’ll just build a prison and… they will come. But sometimes they don’t come, right?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes. In fact, that’s the cover story of the December story of Prison Legal News. We reported on… Some of these companies are Texas based. In fact, one of them is CorePlan and they’re based in Texas and they’ll go to communities and they’ve done this in Reeves County in Texas.

They recently did this in Hardin, Montana, where they go in and they promise townspeople that they’ll build a prison. They’ll use the towns general revenue bonds and it then supposedly the money’s just going to come rolling in and everything’s going to be hunky-dory and most of the time it doesn’t happen. In the meantime, CorePlan, they take their fees up off the top and the companies that build the prisons, they take their money up front.

So basically, everyone that’s making money on the front end, they take their money off the top and then the cities or the towns or counties are left with jails that often time that they can’t fill and they’re just sitting there and that‘s one of the things that happened with Hardin, Montana.

This was in the news when a con man, named Michael Hilton, came along with a fake company called American Police Force and he promised to fill the jail up with prisoners on contract and everything else and he promised them the world and basically in a couple weeks it fell to pieces and Prison Legal News, in fact, did some of the investigation on Michael Hilton, which revealed that he had an extensive history of pulling assorted con’s involving stuff like this over the years. So, that was some of the stuff that surfaced.

You could say though, that the big story about this though wasn’t the fact that Michael Hilton who at best, is probably a small time con man, that he took advantage of the town or whatever. But you could say that long before he rolled into town, before the prison was even built, they’d already been bilked and taken advantage of by the big time con-men at CorePlan and the other companies that bankrolled and financed this prison construction project.

Dean Becker: Once again, we’re speaking with Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal New. In the November issue, you have a story dealing with Prison Radio shows, which does mention my mentor, Mr. Ray Hill, of the prison show here at KPFT, the mother-ship of the Drug Truth Network and other outlets across the country, and you began while you were serving time, did you not, working on the first issues of Prison Legal News?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes, I started Prison Legal News in 1990, while I was in prison in Washington state and I edited it for thirteen years while I was in prison and I’ve continued editing it since I got out of prison, in 2003. In fact, this Wednesday is going to be my sixth anniversary of getting out of prison.

Dean Becker: Well congratulations to you on that, sir. Now, I think about the fact that it’s on ongoing series of lawsuits and so forth against prison officials, all over the country, for not providing the services that they’re suppose to. Right?

Mr. Paul Wright: Right, and that’s exactly, kind of… That’s pretty much kind of the problem here and this is why I say that the judiciary has done a very poor source of accountability or oversight of prison’s and jails. Because for the most part, the judges aren’t really well equipped to supervise prisons or jails, nor should they be and there’s a difference between what’s constitutional and what’s the minimum required by the constitution vs. what public officials should be doing as best practices and stuff like that.

So, those are all kind of different things there and… But yeah, it is kind of an ongoing thing. The modern prisoner rights movement in this country can probably trace itself back to 1971 in the Attica rebellion in New York. What we’ve seen since then is, conditions got better, there’s a lot of litigation, there was active prison reform movements, at various levels politically, in the legislatures and elsewhere. So things did get better, up until probably around the mid to late 1980’s.

Then starting around then, it’s kind of been a backslide. I think a lot of what’s happened is that, conditions today are as bad, if not worse, than they were in 1971, when the Attica rebellion kicked off and the whole modern Prison Rights Movement started. So in some respects, we’ve just kind of gone back in time here.

Dean Becker: Yeah, we have. I would agree with you. Paul, again looking at the November issue and… I’m just going to read a couple of headlines here. ’Texas Jail Strip Search Policy Unconstitutional, One and a Half Million Awarded in Female Colorado Department of Corrections Prisoners Rape‘. There’s a lot of sexual abuse going on by both prisoners and guards, within these facilities, right?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yes, there is. In fact, it’s quite the massive amount actually. In fact, that’s one of the things we have a lot of reporting and coverage on sexual assault and sexual abuse of prisoners. and it essentially is that recently when congress enacted and President Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, in the law one of the requirements of this law was that state and federal agencies start keeping track of how many sexual assaults were being reported.

What’s kind of interesting is the fact that the numbers that were reported, indicate that about fifty-four percent of reported sexual assaults involved staff member’s sexually assaulting the prisoners in their care. Which a lot of people, including myself, really didn’t expect the numbers to be that high.

So that was one of the surprising things about that and I think it’s also one of the things that also is kind of a big surprise, was that Texas came out of the state with the most reported sexual assaults and I kind of think though, that’s probably because the TDCJ is probably being more forthright about honestly reporting the number of sexual assaults rather than necessarily saying that they’re worse off than other prisons in the country.

Dean Becker: Well Paul, we’ve got just a couple of minute left and I kind of slacked off. I didn’t really send out the number. We do have one caller on-line. I think we’re going to take just this one call. Leonard, you have question or concern for Mr. Paul Wright?

Leonard: I have a major concern about your last topic. The abuse that goes on in prisons and then when your guest said something about Attica in New York, it was caused by the officials and you can see in other various theaters, such as sports. If you get a referee in there that’s not calling the proper call, what generally happens? Fights break out. So the same thing applies to that prison thing.

But then, what you just talked about amazes me the most, was the sexual acts taking place in the prisons and then when I hear this clown Judge Mathis, he’s always threatening all that has taken place, to the black males he talked to on his show, and that’s not correct and he also state that women cut me in and stuff like that. But this has been promoted by the so-called people of authority and who’s positions that --- is using.
That’s like the Hippocratic Oath and this doctor that killed Michael Jackson, is still in the medical field.

What we’re seeing in no fairness. It looks like these people that are in charge are insidious on sex, because look at what goes on just to sell a T-shirt; a pair of shoes. So when we look at what we’re totally involved in, the people that are in charge, are the real criminals.

Have a good night, Dean.

Dean Becker: Well, I don’t think you’ll get any disagreement from me or Paul. Paul, we’ve just got about thirty seconds left. You want to respond to that?

Mr. Paul Wright: Yeah. I’d say it’s pretty much… we’re back to the lack of accountability and you know, we have a two tier criminal justice system. Here is the fact that we’re not seeing any accountability or oversight over prisoner jail officials and that’s kind of the problem that we’ve got, so…

Dean Becker: Alright.

Mr. Paul Wright: …and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, unfortunately.

Dean Becker: I want to thank Leonard. I want to thank you, Paul, for being our guest here on Century of Lies. We’re going to have you back here in the new year. There’s much more we need to talk about.

Mr. Paul Wright: OK. Well, thank you very much for having me on the show, Dean. As always, I love being on your show.

Dean Becker: Same for you, sir. Keep up the good work.

Mr. Paul Wright: OK.

Dean Becker: Happy Holiday.

Mr. Paul Wright: Thank you very much. Same to you.

Dean Becker: Bye, bye.

KPFT: Buckling under mounting pressure, Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos is now re-evaluating a new policy that calls for a downgrade in certain drug charges. Tuesday Lykos announced that beginning in January of next year, the DA's office would no longer file state jail felony charges against suspects found with only a trace - which is less than a hundredth of a gram - of illegal drugs.

Instead, people found with crack pipes, with nothing more than residue inside or other drug paraphernalia, would face a ticket for a class C misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $500.

KPFT: The pending change was hailed by defense attorney's but was highly criticized by police officers. Houston police union members quickly countered that such a move would result in an increase in crime. HPOU Vice-President Hart said, these charges are an essential tool in their crime fighting arsenal.

HPOU Vice-President: It's not quality -- system of ---. That's very misleading that she leads people to believe this, because these cases aren't going to trial. These crack-heads know that they're guilty. These crack-heads are pleading guilty and they're pleading guilty along with a deal that they're making with the district attorney office and/or our narcotics division, to turn bigger fish; to turn their suppliers. It's going to take a tool away from us that we’ve used, to try to work on this war on drugs, that we're not going to have anymore.

They're not going to talk to you if they know they're only going to be in jail overnight. That's the most that's going to happen to them. The probable thing that's going to happen to them, is that they're not even going to get stopped and searched. The reason for that is it takes too much time and focus to try to get one of these crack-heads and find out where they're hiding their crack-pipe and to develop probable cause and that's not worth it for a class C misdemeanor. You're not taking them off the street. You're not making a dent in crime.

KPFT: Well, it goes onto say that this has nothing to do with overcrowding of the jails.

HPOU Vice-President: We want the DA to enforce state law, just like Brett Ligon is, in Montgomery County. Just like every DA in this state is doing, except for the liberal Travis County and the severely overcrowded Bear County. For some reason, every time there's an overcrowded issue, they want to diminish a charge that's the main charge that's putting people in jail.

It happened with burglary of a motor vehicle. If someone breaks into your vehicle twenty years ago, they went to prison. Today, they spend about five to ten days in the Harris County jail and they're released. Why? Because the prisons were overcrowded and they wanted to do something about the most common crime and at that time, it was burglary of motor vehicles.

Today, it's crack pipes. What's tomorrow? Are burglary of motor vehicles been turned into a class C trespassing and they too going to be handled the municipal courts? It's a ridiculous policy. Especially coming from someone who claims to be a conservative. This is not conservatism.

KPFT: Well, for a different perspective on this, we turn to our in-house expert on everything drug related. Dean Becker is the host of Cultural Baggage and Century of Lies. Both show air Sunday, here at KPFT, at 6:30 and 7:00PM, respectively.

KPFT: Well Dean, thanks for joining us.

Dean Becker: Thank you for the invitation.

KPFT: Well first off, let’s have your response to the HPOU’s Vice-President’s Convention. That the proposed change would impact officers abilities to fight crime.

Dean Becker: Well, I find that rather hypocritical, to be honest with you. The fact is, they use drug crimes as a means to circumvent our otherwise solid constitutional safeguards, you know… and I find it ironic, every time there’s talk about treating a medical problem, which use of crack certainly is. Heroin; any of these hard drugs, is a medical problem. Yet, who do we first go to for an opinion? Law Enforcement! I didn’t know any of them were medical doctors.

KPFT: OK. Since announcing the change, the DA does seem to be having a change of heart. What do you make of that?

Dean Becker: First off, I want to commend her for having done this. I’ll just say that up front. It’s a smart step. But they are ’in bed together’, if you will. The district attorney and law enforcement, they depend on one another to get the job done, so to speak, and I guess she doesn’t want to offend them too greatly, so she’s going to do this six month study.

KPFT: Well officers in New York City have a philosophy of a ‘broken windows’ policy where they, kind of, enforce the small offences of law, in order to keep the overall crime rate down and officer’s are saying that arresting these drug users leads to bigger arrests, thereby helping to lower crime. Do you agree with the HPOU’s assessment there?

Dean Becker: For years, America’s been claiming it’s ability to forestall crime, if only we tear more and more pieces off the constitution via these drug searches; via seizures of personal property; via uses of snitches and informants; via increased sentencing and in what appears, from my perspective, to be bordering on slavery. Sending people to prison for what I consider to be minor amounts of drugs. Again, if you’re not shipping a boatload or a planeload or a truckload, you’re not a drug king-pin and you don’t deserve this sort of treatment.

KPFT: OK. Well, what will happen if the DA does not go through with the plans to make this change?

Dean Becker: Well, I think it would be a little bit of egg on her face, so to speak. But secondarily, it’s just not good policy. We have more people arrested in this city for drug crimes, than dozens of the other states across America.

We have prided ourselves on the fact that we arrest all of these minor drug offenders; non-violent drug offenders. Our jails are so overcrowded, we’re shipping them to Louisiana. People sleeping on floors, next to toilets. We can’t provide medical services for these people. It’s a travesty and we need to step away from this jihad of eternal drug war.

KPFT: Dean, do you have any sense of what the actual reduction in the jail population would be, if people who had been arrested for minor possession violations of illegal drugs, were suddenly removed from jail?

Dean Becker: Well, if you talk about for all drugs, it would tens of thousands of people every year, here in Harris County alone. We could then provide the medical attention. Save tens of millions of dollars every year. We’d have no need for prisons or jails, and then officers would have lots of room to arrest and hold anybody who would dare sell drugs to our children. It’s a win-win situation, to step away from this precipice.

KPFT: Well, Dean Becker, thanks so much for spending your time with us today, to talk about this possible change in the DA’s prosecution of minor possession.

Dean Becker: Might I have thirty seconds here?

KPFT: Sure. Go ahead.

Dean Becker: Everyone wants to believe in justice. But if you’re in Harris County, think back to the ongoing series of judicial fiasco’s. Guards killing inmates. Crime Lab fiasco’s. One, two, three and four. The finger print lab scandal. A DA Rosenthal who resigned over his own drug use problems. Ongoing federal investigations. Increasing numbers of unsolved crimes of violence.

Ending the drug war will not end crimes of violence, but it will gut the Mexican cartels, eliminate the reason for most of the violent US gangs and put a bullet in the brain of Bin Laden’s fattest cash cow and give Houston’s law enforcement millions of man hours per year, to focus on dangerous criminals.

KPFT: So what you’re saying, Dean, is that the problem is obviously larger than the drug changes they’re talking about now? But it is a start.

Dean Becker: It is a start and I commend DA Lykos for what she’s doing.

KPFT: OK. Thank you for your time today.

Dean Becker: Thank you.

Melt down, melt down, melt down with the stone of snow-main.

White flakes fall and they twirl around
All day long and they hit the ground.
I hear the sound through the quite hush winter storm.

Coming from the corner, in the back puffin’ bong.
Ice cold bong smoke smell in the hood.
Dude the stoner snowman is always puffin’ good.

Cinnamon red hot eyes all glazed.
Cookie for a nose, been puffin’ all day.

Roll a big. Roll a stone. Than another, than another.
Before you know, you’ve got an ice cold brother.
Dreadlock, mop top, puppet on the cash crop.
Everybody come along.

Roll a big. Roll a stone. Than another, than another.
Before you know, you’ve got an ice cold brother.
Do the donut snowman, the way it…

Alright. That was Jet Baker. I want to thank Paul Wright for being our guest. He’s editor prisonlegalnews.com.

I also wanted to make note of the fact, I’ve been in touch with Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos. Her Chief of Staff says that she will be our guest, right here on the Drug Truth Network early in 2010. That will be good…

…and as always, I remind you. There is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data. No reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped. Please do your part to end the madness of drug war.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

All of us at the Drug Truth Network, wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, all way round.

{guitar strumming}

So tradition in my family is, you know, stockings first. Right? So, go to the fireplace and… chock full of stuff. Right? There’s a candy cane sticking out. There’s like a rubix cube in there, right? Like a key-chain, you know. I don’t know, but a **figgin in there and then the very thought of… at the bottom of the foot, there’s was a baggie, right? There’s a plastic sandwich bag with a reindeer on it, you know.

I got weed in my stocking, man. I got weed in my stocking. I must have been good. Yeah, I was good last year.

This Drug Truth Network program produced at Pacifica Radio. KPFT Houston.

* Texas Department of Criminal Justice
** A small short-crust pasty containing raisins

Transcript provided by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org