Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Monday, November 30, 2009

Arizona : Legislature turning a profit on misery?

This in earlier today from Caroline Isaacs at the American Friends Service Committee in Tucson. Sorry I'm just opening my mail now. Her contact info is below - she has legislative information faster than I do, and knows a lot about private prisons...Please email these legislators Tuesday. 

Along these lines, don't forget that Wednesday, December 2, at 7pm Professor Mona Lynch will be at Changing Hands in Tempe (see book cover to left) discussing her research into Arizona's Department of Corrections, and the effect our take on crime and punishment has had over the past four decades on the crisis of mass incarceration in America. I would imagine she'd have something to say about privatization issues, and I'm sure she'll take questions.

Apart from how informative I think her talk will be, attending would also be a good way to connect with others who share concerns about the need for sentence reform, strengthening of prisoner protections and rights, the high recidivism rate among parolees, the incidence of untreated mental illness and addiction in the criminal justice system (instead of in the health care system, which would actually be cheaper), and the blatant marketing of members of our families and communities as consumers and workers to be exploited while they are also being punished. That exploitation reaches us all.

There are also 10,000 employees with the Department of Corrections to consider, many of whom could lose what little they have left in the way of job security,  benefits, etc. from the state. The whole point of this privatization thing is to do it cheaper than they are already - you know who that's coming out of: prisoners and guards. Selling and leasing back our properties has got to be one of the stupidest ideas I've heard of come out of a state legislature (well, not so much now that I've read Sunbelt Justice). That's like selling my car to a rent-to-own company that will eventually collect from me twice the original value of the car...which, by the time it's been paid off, I'll need to get a new one. 

 I don't think the Republican Party is who my folks and grandparents signed up with anymore. Arizona's GOP has got one mean streak that my grandpa never had - and he was a Republican from the Iowa farmland. There's got to be a better way to deal with the budget crisis than starving our kids today, and committing them to pay our debts for decades more. 

I'm no party member (of any party, frankly), but I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to be part of the GOP platform - people have just been sneaking this right-wing stuff in draped in Old Glory, hushing the resistance among them with tributes to fallen soldiers and protection of their interests with the full force of the law. 

I don't think this charade will last much longer, though. The real Republicans began re-evaluating their affiliation and loyalties a few years ago, when the extremists took power - they are increasingly "Independent" - which may soon be the third party in the middle. I believe the National Republican Party is about to wake up to what an embarrassment the Republican leadership in this state is to them - with Arizona's own Bull Connor racial-profiling and beating down the civil rights marchers, and Wallace desperately trying to keep the Jim Crow South intact (Pearce would be the best parallel there, I think).

The state GOP will hopefully be steered back from the brink of disaster by people like my grandparents who thought carefully about the possible consequences of their investments, and who put their principles and other human beings above their "politics." This year will be the last year those men retain power. The people are taking it back - not the Democrats - all of us.  Not only have a bunch of progressive US citizens moved out here, but the indigenous peoples and early migrants here from the South have been growing in both numbers and influence. And we're all in solidarity against men like Arpaio, Thomas, and Pearce.  We will resist and elect new legislators. In the meantime, however, we must still keep them from privatizing the state prison system.

It just doesn't seem necessary to make it so hard on future generations like this. After what happened to Marcia Powell, I also think there are enough citizens in this state who would stop and try to figure out how to help if they saw all that went down - not just the day she lay dying in that cage, but the years that led up to her being there and being discarded so easily. We need to look at how overcrowding affects the survival of prisoners and the roles and safety of guards.  We need to ask what community-based programs work for people with mental illness, for women with addictions, for survivors of trauma, for those among us who have been so thoroughly institutionalized that we don't know how to deal with the "real world" anymore - many of us messed up by eight years of war. 

There are enough people of privilege here who I think would be willing to give a little more if they understood what was at stake for everyone.  Considering how much we've extracted from the blood and sweat of the indigenous, migrant, minority, and working class communities that fill Arizona's prisons now, we should at least make sure they get decent care when they develop cancer, aren't doomed to contract Hep C or HIV by unsanitary and crowded conditions. We shouldn't be hitting them up with the bill for thier own oppression, either - the poor are already very generous, and the only tax plans being discussed to bail out the state are those which shift even more of the financial burden for running this thing onto us, without giving us any voice in how our money is spent. Zero voice. We pay legislative salaries with our sales tax, but just kicked in the teeth every time the budget or crime bills come up. 

So, whether or not you work, or even whether or not you have the right to vote here, every consumer in Arizona is a taxpayer with a vested interest in where our dollars are spent: warehousing people who are brutalized out of our sight, or invested someplace where it might keep a few kids from ever ending up on the path to prison in the first place. 

Do go to the Private Corrections Institute website and dig into some of their information on these private prison companies. We can't let them take over the state's power to use violence against people. That's a privilege reserved to the state - I believe it's called the "monopoly on violence". Once we give that power to private companies motivated only by profit, we surrender our communities and the future of Arizona's children to corporate interests - all of whom will be invested in lobbying for higher incarceration rates. Imagine their current lobbying influence in the state multiplied exponentially... that's what will happen if they take over the prisons. They begin to take over who makes the laws.

In the meantime, check out who already in the private prison industry's pockets - our lawmakers aren't all clean on this. Don't let them's out there already, and not hard to find.

I guess that's enough for this post - I did edit it, for those of you who are confused now.. I'll put up Caroline's alert separately, below it, so you can skip my editorializing if you want...

Legislative Alert: No Private Prisons.

From the AFSC-Tucson, as noted above.

Urgent Action Alert!!!


The budget deal passed in the special session would sell our prisons to the highest bidder and could privatize most state prison complexes.  This includes the state’s only women’s facility and maximum and supermax security units, including death row. 

This has never been done before, setting Arizona up as a guinea pig in a risky deal that gambles with public safety for the sake of questionable short-term gains. 

If we allow our legislature to award these contracts, it will be Arizona’s largest ever relinquishment of state control over a core government function to the for-profit sector.  There will be no oversight of for-profit corporations that have chronic histories of wasteful expenditures, contractual failures and public endangerment.

This risky gamble has caught national media attention, making Arizona once again the “cautionary tale” for how NOT to handle your budget and overcrowding crises:

Republic Op-ed 10/27/09 

Why Arizona should SAY NO to for-profit prisons:

1.  Privatizing an entire state’s prisons is a reckless experiment that gambles with public safety.  

No private prison corporation has ever attempted to run an entire state’s prison complexes.  Only one (CCA) manages high security prisoners, and only in small numbers.  Even Tennessee, the home state of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), refused the corporation’s bid to take over that state’s prisons. 

This is a risky, unproven strategy that gambles with public safety in the name of questionable returns. These companies have no track record to prove that they can safely manage all security levels and special needs of prisoners in Arizona. 

Every for-profit prison corporation that would compete for these contracts has a history of serious problems, ranging from financial mismanagement, abuse scandals, riots and disturbances, and patterns of violence and abuse.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) found a significantly higher rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in private prisons (66% more) than in public prisons.  Inmate-on-staff assaults were 49% higher in the for-profits.

For specific information on these major problems, please see the attached “Rap Sheets” or go to:

2.  This is a financial boondoggle for Arizona.
This proposal actually requires Arizona to split any cost savings between the state and the private operator!   If the whole point of this plan is to alleviate our budget crisis, why on earth would we give half the money back?

The contracts will allow the private corporation to raise its rates every year.  Giving one private corporation a monopoly over Arizona facilities gives them little incentive to cut costs.  Once they take over the entire state system, the corporation would have Arizona over a barrel and in no position to protest rate hikes.

These contracts will cost far more in the long run and will end up putting Arizona in even worse economic shape.  Even if we can find a private prison company willing to give us $100 million up front in 2010 (and there is no guarantee we will), we will be right back in the same financial hole the following year, and every year after that.  20-year leases on prison buildings will earn the buyers many times more than they will pay the state up front, plus we will be paying prison companies a per-diem rate for every prisoner they house. 

Finally, there’s no evidence that private prisons can do it cheaper.  Maximus, an independent, reputable research firm, compared cost savings in Arizona's public and private prisons in 2006. It determined taxpayers were spending an estimated $1,526,289 MORE annually on two privately run prisons.

3.  Privatizing Arizona’s prisons means lower wages for prison staff, in the middle of a huge recession.

Guards and other staff who currently work for the state Department of Corrections face layoffs, loss of pensions and health benefits, and much lower pay at private facilities. 

Public safety is one of the few remaining employment sectors in Arizona, and privatizing these jobs would be a huge economic blow to the thousands of men and women who work in these facilities. 

The Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association (the state’s prison guards’ union) has come out against the proposal.  J. “J-Rod” Rodriguez, vice president of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association told the Arizona Daily Star, “They’re trying to replace us with lower-paid guards, to handle sex offenders, murders, rapists, inmates with very volatile gang connections.” (“Arizona plan to privatize prisons may not fly,” Arizona Daily Star, 11/7/09).

What YOU can do….
Although the Arizona Department of Administration is in charge of awarding the contracts, the real power behind this process is the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC).  Contact the Chairmen of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee TODAY and tell them to SAY NO TO PRISONS FOR PROFIT!

Arizona Representative John Kavanagh, Chairman, Joint Legislative Budget Committee, 2009

Senator Russell Pearce, Chairman, JLBC 2010
(602) 926-5760,

You might also want to cc the other members of the JLBC, especially if you live in their district:
Rep. Andy Biggs,
Rep. Olivia Cajero-Bedford,
Rep. Cloves Campbell,
Rep. Matt Heinz,
Rep. John McComish,
Rep. Rick Murphy,
Rep. Vic Williams,
Sen. Paula Aboud,
Sen. Amanda Aguirre,
Sen. Chuck Gray,
Sen. Jack Harper,
Sen. Steve Pierce,
Sen. Rebecca Rios,
Sen. Jim Waring,

If you can blind copy us, we will have a better idea how effective this initiative is.  If you receive responses, even boiler-plate ones, please forward those to us, if possible.

Caroline Isaacs
Program Director,
American Friends Service Committee
Arizona Area Program
103 N. Park Ave., Suite 111
Tucson, AZ  85719
520.623.9141 p/520.623.5901 f

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Israel: Private Prisons Unconstitutional

From the Yale Law blogs - amazing argument - I'd love to see this play out in the US courts...this articulates an excellent ethical and legal argument against private prisons. Odd that it should come out of Israel, whose prisons are renowned for being over-crowded, brutal, and deteriorating, and are full of Palestinians. The High Court of Justice in Israel seems to pay more attention to prisoner rights than we do...


Prison Privatization Judged Unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Israel

The High Court of Justice in Israel put an end to years of controversy Thursday, November 19, by ruling that privately run prisons are unconstitutional. The full text of this landmark decision is currently only available in Hebrew on the Court's website [here]. I will post the English translation when it becomes available; however, the main reasoning and implications of the case discussed below should be suggestive of its importance.

The panel of nine justices, presided over by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, ruled in an 8-1 decision that a transfer of authority for managing the prison from the state to a private contractor whose aim is monetary profit would severely violate the prisoners' basic human rights to dignity and freedom. (See Tomer Zarchin, International legal precedent: No private prisons in Israel, HAARETZ)

In 2004, the Knesset passed Amendment 28 to the Prisons Ordinance, which permitted the establishment of private prisons in Israel. The state's motivation was to save money by transferring prisoners to facilities managed by a private firm, to be chosen by tender. The state would pay the franchisee $50 per day for each inmate, but would be spared the cost of building new prisons and expanding the Israel Prison Service's staff.

In 2005, the human rights department of the Academic College of Law in Ramat Gan filed a petition to the High Court challenging the amendment. The petition relied on two arguments. First, it said, transferring prison powers to private hands would violate the prisoners' fundamental human rights to liberty and dignity. And second, a private organization always aims to maximize profit, and would therefore seek to cut costs by, for instance, skimping on prison facilities and paying its guards poorly, thus further undermining the prisoners' rights.

President Beinisch held that, while the amendment was passed in part due to a desire to improve prison conditions, the main purpose of the change was economic - namely, to save the state money. Normally, the ruling noted, the court does not intervene in economic policies decided upon by the cabinet and Knesset. But in this case, Beinisch wrote, the legislation harms basic constitutional rights. Thus the amendment's economic aspect is not the decisive factor that the court must weigh in exercising its power of judicial review.

Israel's basic legal principles, she continued, hold that the right to use force in general, and the right to enforce criminal law by putting people behind bars in particular, is one of the most fundamental and one of the most invasive powers in the state's jurisdiction. Thus when the power to incarcerate is transferred to a private corporation whose purpose is making money, the act of depriving a person of his liberty loses much of its legitimacy. Because of this loss of legitimacy, the violation of the prisoner's right to liberty goes beyond the violation entailed in the incarceration itself.

Beinisch also argued that in a prison run by a private company, prisoners' rights are undermined by the fact that the inmates are transformed into a means of extracting profit. Efficiency, she wrote, is not a supreme value when the most basic and important human rights for which the state is responsible are at stake.

The implications of the case
Following the decision, the state is expected to have to pay hundreds of millions of shekels in compensation to a company that had already completed construction of the first private prison, near Be'er Sheva.

Attorney Gilad Barnea, who represented the college, told The Jerusalem Post that "the ruling is very
important because it establishes clear boundaries regarding what is permissible and what is not when it comes to transferring functions from the state to private hands. It is also important because the court determined that the social covenant is an important element in human liberty and that the court may overrule legislation that diminishes it." 

Barnea added that the ruling set a world-wide precedent. So far, there had been only one other court challenge to the legality of a private prison - in Costa Rica - and the court rejected it. He said he was certain that other countries would study the High Court ruling carefully and that, at least in this sense, "we will be a light unto the nations."

He also said the ruling would have an immediate effect on three other cases involving the state's intention to privatize. One of the cases involves the hiring of private instructors at the police training center. A second involves the hiring of private instructors for the huge army base near Ramat Hovav in the Negev. The third is the government's intention to privatize the Bailiff's Office and the center for collecting fines.

Another article in Haaretz describes the Israeli Supreme Court's decision as dropping a bombshell. According to the article, the bombshell dropped is hidden in one of the ruling's final pages. "Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote that so far, no American, British or New Zealand court has had to rule on whether privatizing prisons is unconstitutional. But many experts, she noted, have argued that if this question did arise in Europe, it would be rejected out of hand as contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Thus four years after the petition was filed and about a year after the concessionaire finished building the first private prison - where 2,000 prisoners were slated to be sent - Israel's High Court has effected a revolution: It ruled in firm, unequivocal language that the problem is not the nature of the prison or the concessionaire.

Rather, it said, the very principle of privatizing prisons is unconstitutional.

The High Court stressed that it was not intervening in the relations between the state and the concessionaire, who hastened to demand massive compensation. Instead, it addressed other aspects of the issue.

This ruling will not only be studied in Israel, it will also doubtless generate a conceptual revolution worldwide.

And Beinisch was clearly aware of this. The ruling rests on the political and moral thought of the great philosophers who discussed the modern state and its administration, as well as on the sharp, clear statements Prof. Aharon Barak used in establishing the basis for his constitutional legislation.

The "social welfare" lobby will probably laud the court as moral and humane, and perhaps even socialist. That would be a mistake. Beinisch cites Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and accompanies every one of her arguments with citations from Barak, who stressed that human rights must not be left in the hands of any legislator."


Last Thursday's judgment comes at the end of a long discussion in Israel about the proper limits on transferring of authority from the state to the private sector that found both supporters and opponents (see, e.g., this Roundtable Forum held at the Israel Democracy Institute) and skepticism in the academic literature (see Uri Timor, Privatization of Prisons In Israel: Gains And Risks, 39 Israel Law Review 81 (2006)); it will probably spur a new round of debates not just in Israel but in other jurisdictions facing the same question.

According to another news item, "prison privatization first came up for discussion [in Israel] in the 90's, when prisons were so overcrowded and badly maintained that they seemed unfit for habitation. The following years saw no improvement. In 2005, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) reported that because of overcrowding, conditions were among the worst in developed countries, with up to eight prisoners in a cell and with many having to sleep on the floor. As of March 2008, there were 22,788 inmates, including 9,068 security prisoners. The average space allotted to a prisoner has dropped in recent years from 3.4 square meters to 2.9. By comparison, the figure in Europe is 4.5 square meters. ...

According to the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), Israel [would be] following the "British model," where the "entrepreneur constructs and operates all systems, including bearing responsibility for the fulfillment of prisoners' rights." The state [would retain] supervision and control by "placing in every privately-run facility a comptroller or team of comptrollers who alone exercise the authority to judge and punish prisoners." (The "US model" goes further, giving private companies the power to judge and punish, while the "French model" is more cautious, keeping security and prison management in state hands.) MOPS [said] that the state [would] retain sole responsibility for classifying and allocating prisoners to the private facility, plus punishment and sentencing."

In the United States, the issue was brought to the fore again when Arizona initiated an effort to put its entire prison system under private control (Jennifer Steinhauer, Arizona May Put State Prisons in Private Hands, The New York Times, October 24, 2009). "[I]n a first in the criminal justice world, the state's death row inmates could become the responsibility of a private company." According to the same article, "[t]he privatization move has raised questions - including among some people who work for private prison companies - about the private sector's ability to handle the state's most hardened criminals. While executions would still be performed by the state, officials said, the Department of Corrections would relinquish all other day-to-day operations to the private operator and pay a per-diem fee for each prisoner."

The privatization of state prisons in the U.S. is part of an effort to balance budgets in view of dwindling state resources. The Israeli Supreme Court took a different path when it reviewed the privatization amendment whose rationale was likewise cutting costs. As President Beinisch wrote, while the High Court usually does not interfere in economic policies formulated by the government and Knesset, it takes a different approach in respect to legislation that undermines the most fundamental constitutional rights.

Posted: Nov 22 2009, 12:34 PM by akis.psygkas

How Life Ends on Nevada's Death Row


Something's going on in Nevada, folks. This is symptomatic of the bad stuff that's been going down there for awhile - they desperately need transparency. Guards and administrators routinely taunt, abuse, neglect, disrupt, and mess with prisoners there. Whatever the sentence or the crime, we have as a society some minimum standards for how prisoners should be treated, and the way Tim Redman spent his last few hours violates all of them - including the one that provides for a process by which prisoners are finally executed. 

No one wants to believe the prisoners (or even question them as witnesses) when this kind of thing happens, in part because it makes the rest of us wonder if we're punishing the right people the right way, and also because it makes us responsible for demanding that something be done about it. Who wants to go out on a limb for justice for a dead murderer? 

It's not just about Redman, though. It's about all Nevada's prisoners. Spend some time at the activist websites below - prisoner abuse and neglect is why they came into being. AZ Prison Watch came about because of Marcia's death. We read again and again about how corrupt and malevolent some guards are, and it seems that even the ones who aren't overtly malicious end up complicit when sucked into the culture. How is it that 16 people ended up being responsible for killing Marcia Powell over the course of 4 hours? I doubt any of them had that intent in mind. 

Anyway, the feds should be on top of this - but probably aren't. They should be placing agents in all the Nevada prisons themselves to weed the garbage out (starting at the top). If they fail to pursue an investigation of Tim Redman's death with all the testimony contradicting the official account of what transpired, then they will share responsibility for further abuse and negligence at Nevada's Department of Corrections.

You know, it's funny how the guards had a different story from the inmates when Marcia Powell died, too - how 20 inmates heard her ask for water and get refused, while every single guard (except maybe two?) swore she had water. I believe the prisoners in both cases - they would be crazy to make something up that may involve perjury and would set them up for treatment of a similar nature to what Marcia and Tim got. Only a compelling reason - perhaps survival, since they are all subject to abuse as well - would have caused them to take that risk to speak up. Survival, and a demand for justice for those with no voice - other prisoners.

This story is being written by folks at Make the Walls Transparent, who are in direct contact with prisoners at Ely prison. It's also being followed on Nevada Prison Watch, who first tipped us off to what was happening.


Posted By MTWT - Lucy On November 29, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

Newspapers within Nevada picked up the story about Timothy Redman’s death and, as we at MTWT and others, knew their “journalism” would be in the defense of the NDOC and would not be the truth in its entirety. The NDOC gives the public what they want us to hear, what they want us to think is the truth. The employees of the NDOC don’t want the public to know what goes on behind the walls of these prisons. The truth will never be heard unless a complete and total federal investigation into the death of Mr. Redman is done. Even then we have to wonder if the entire truth will be told. It is the nature of the NDOC to start a cover-up as soon as an incident happens.

Some of the local newspapers wrote short articles to satisfy the public because of what our site and other sites have published in aftermath of Mr. Redman’s death. People wanted to hear the “official” story. The “official” story has not been touched in the four articles that I have read. All we see in these articles are reporters, Sheriff Watts, and Suzanne Pardee giving the spin we knew would be published. 

Does anyone really think that the Warden, the administrative staff, or the guards are going to tell you, “Yes we sprayed Mr. Redman with 5 or 6 large cans of pepper spray in a locked cell that had no ventilation”. “Yes, he said to us that if we didn’t stop he was going to hang himself”. “Yes, with even knowing he was telling us this we continued to spray him with mace.” “Yes, we saw him hang himself and instead of trying to stop him, we sprayed him again”. No! They are going to tell you just what they want you to hear: Mr. Redman brandished a prison made “shank” and barricaded his door so no one could get in to stop him from hanging himself.

When the stories appeared in the Las Vegas Sun, The Reno Gazette Journal, Las Vegas Review Journal, Nevada Appeal, and The Ely Times we weren’t at all shocked they said an investigation is pending but at the same time, only one paper mentioned the pepper spray used to start the wheels in motion that caused a man to die. We were also not shocked when they focused on the crime that Mr. Redman was convicted of instead of talking about and asking important questions that the public would like to know the answers to...

(finish at Make the Walls Transparent)

Legislation for Parole Reform: MI

Very pertinent to Arizona's budget and crime crisis, from the Detroit Free Press, via the Real Cost of Prisons Project blog:


Revise laws to lower prison costs, keep everyone safer
Detroit Free Press
Nov. 28, 2009

Michigan has more than an economic crisis -- we have a crime crisis, too. And we won't be able to solve the overall budget shortfall without making significant cuts in the corrections budget. Our current criminal justice system is costing us over a billion dollars a year, far more than our neighboring states are spending. Yet despite this huge expense for corrections, our communities are still plagued by crime.

Here are a few troubling facts:

• Michigan's violent crime rate is higher than all other states in the Great Lakes region.

• Corrections is the third most expensive item in Michigan's budget, with only health care and education costing more.

• The Michigan Department of Corrections employs one out of every three state workers.

The current budget crisis requires us to examine every facet of state spending to find ways to make it more efficient. The Department of Corrections is no exception. Nearly half of the 14,000 inmates released this year are expected to return to prison within two years. If the Legislature doesn't adopt smart reforms that reduce this failure rate, corrections costs will continue to devour larger and larger portions of the budget. We can no longer afford to continue the revolving door of prisons.

But we have good news. There are proven ways to cut the high cost of Michigan's prisons without increasing the risk to the public.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her excellent team at the Department of Corrections have developed the Michigan Reentry Initiative, which helps offenders make a successful transition from prison to the community. But executive authority is limited. Some of the reforms require legislation to allow the policy changes.

A bipartisan team of legislators has been working with the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center on the States, Detroit Renaissance and the Detroit Regional Chamber as well as prosecutors, law enforcement leaders and faith groups to adopt programs that have proven effective at keeping the public safe while saving tax dollars. The new legislation promises to make Michigan safer by investing the dollars saved from corrections spending into crime prevention. The working group's recommendations have been introduced in the Legislature by Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, and Rep. Andrew Kandrevas, D-Southgate.

Cropsey has introduced SB 827, which will reform our parole system to:

• Reserve prison space for offenders who truly pose a threat to society.

• Base decisions for parole on an offender's risk to the public.

• Require offenders applying for parole to complete programs proven to increase their chances of succeeding in the community.

• Supervise all released offenders in their communities for at least nine months.

• Ensure that all prisoners serve at least 100% of the minimum sentence imposed by their judge.

Kandrevas has introduced HB 4977, which will:

• Form local community corrections boards so that local factors and needs can be taken into account in placing offenders in community programs.

• Use proven tools to assess the risk of offenders assigned to community corrections.

• Allow only offenders who do not pose a likely threat to public safety in these programs.

A coalition of community leaders, businessmen and pastors is rallying to support these reforms. We need your help to keep up the momentum. Will you join us?

Tell your neighbors why it is so important to pass these reforms. Talk to your service club, pastor, Bible study or other groups you belong to. These reforms are key to improving public safety as well as balancing the state budget.

With your help, Michigan can have fewer offenders returning to prison, and that means budget savings, safer neighborhoods and fewer victims. And that is good news for all of us.

Michael Timmis is a Detroit lawyer and serves as chairman of the Board of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Pat Nolan leads Prison Fellowship's criminal justice reform arm, Justice Fellowship. For more information, go to or

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sheriff Joe's Circus at Cronkite

 Just a reminder that this is an action coming up, folks (for a lot of groups). Looks like a good opportunity to confront the abuse of his office to repress first amendment rights...this should be an interesting protest. I guess tea partiers and minutemen will be counter-protesting.


Large crowd expected at live interview of Arpaio

A live interview with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in downtown Phoenix has drawn so much interest that organizers are making it available on a large video screen and the Internet.

Three professors with Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication are set to interview the sheriff at 7 p.m. Monday.

A Cronkite school spokeswoman says the event was going to be open to the public, but Phoenix police told school officials earlier this week that they expect large crowds, citing a Facebook page protesting Arpaio and showing about 400 people saying they would attend. Another 440 were "maybes."

Meanwhile, the capacity of the interview site is 210 people.

Criminalization of Human Migration

Immigrants, Criminalized

New York Times
November 27, 2009
A bedrock premise of smart immigration reform is the sharp distinction it draws between criminal aliens and Americans-in-waiting. While it acknowledges that illegal immigrants need to get right with the law, it treats illegal status as a civil matter to be resolved by the machinery of naturalization, not by the police and prisons.

To hard-line opponents of legalization, illegal immigrants are irredeemable lawbreakers by definition, and the only thing they should be waiting for is deportation.

The administration’s job, as it works on a long-overdue reform bill next year, is to resist that view. So it was disheartening to hear Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, boast recently about identifying “more than 111,000 criminal aliens” through a jailhouse fingerprinting program called Secure Communities.

That was misleading. The program, now in 95 cities or counties in 11 states, will ultimately require all local police agencies to check federal immigration databases for anyone after an arrest. It has so far identified a few thousand serious criminals, rapists and burglars, the kinds of people whose removal from the country must be part of any sane immigration strategy. But it also uncovered minor traffic infractions and visa violations.

It is easy to understand that the administration wants to sound as tough as possible as it gets ready to battle deep-seated resistance to real immigration reform. It is encouraging that Ms. Napolitano recently repeated the president’s insistence that a clear legalization path must be a pillar of reform. That makes it all the more important for the administration to avoid conflating illegal immigration and serious crime.

Laws must be enforced, but doing it this way hurts the innocent, creating a short line from Hispanic to immigrant to illegal to criminal. Having brown skin, speaking Spanish, seeming nervous in the presence of flashing police lights — none of those things say anything about whether you are here illegally or not, are deportable or not. But any one of them can be enough to get you pulled over in jurisdictions across the country.

In Arizona, it can get you jailed. We know of citizens whose homes were mistakenly raided by reckless federal agents on Long Island, day laborers who were targets of indiscriminate sweeps in California, and others who were singled out at roadblocks in upstate New York.

This hurts public safety. If you want to know the consequences of turning the police and jails into instruments of deportation, ask the law-enforcement officials who have complained about programs that muddy the line between local crime-fighting and federal enforcement, and make immigrants fear and shun the police.

President Obama has repeatedly assured 12 million illegal immigrants that he will fight to give them the chance to earn the right to stay. His administration should not undermine that noble effort by carelessly lending credibility to the view that the future citizens living and working among us are a class of criminals.

Reflecting on private prisons in Arizona

This is a little dated but worth reading for some perspective on Arizona and prison privatization...

Justice Strategies analysis finds cost-saving claims based on flawed, outdated research. 
Arizona's corrections budget has doubled over the last fifteen years, placing a tremendous burden on taxpayers and on the families of state university students. Despite the growth in corrections spending, however, the state prison system remains underfunded and dangerously overcrowded.

Arizona's corrections crisis has led many to call for an overhaul of the state's sentencing system, which packs state prisons with non-violent substance abusers who make up half of all prisoners. Others argue that privatization is the answer to the state's prison woes because private companies can operate prisons at lower cost and finance new prisons the state cannot afford.

Bolstered by reports of cost-savings, supporters of privatization won legislative approval for thousands of new permanent private beds, including a 1,400-bed DUI prison in Kingman and a 1,000-bed prison for people convicted of sex offenses. As a result, state-contracted private prison beds nearly tripled between 2003 and 2005.

But the research used to justify the expansion of the private prison program is methodologically flawed, outdated and, in one case, discredited by the researcher's financial ties to the private prison industry. And critical issues such as the implications of municipal bond financing of private expansion have never been addressed.

Justice Strategies found that no rigorous, independent evaluation had been made of Arizona's private prison program, nor had the cost-comparison figures reported by DOC been independently audited. Existing research failed to account for key factors such as population characteristics, facility design and proper allocation of costs.

Our analysis also determined that prisoners housed in private facilities were far less likely to be convicted of serious or violent offenses, or to have high medical and mental health needs, than prisoners housed in public facilities. Public prisoners were seven times as likely to be serving time for violent offenses, three times more likely to be serving time for serious offenses and two times more likely to have high medical needs than those housed in private facilities.

We also found that private prison costs have risen rapidly since 2002 due to generous contracts approved by former DOC Director Terry Stewart. The new rates range from nine to 35 percent above the old rates and appear to have pushed the cost of private prison beds well above comparable public costs. Finally, the use of municipal bonds to finance construction of new private prisons and re-finance existing facilities carries significant risks for both the state and host counties that have assisted with financing.

The report was authored by Justice Strategies analyst Kevin Pranis and commissioned by the American Friends Service Committee - Tucson and the Arizona Leadership Institute.

Click on the attachment at the end of the page to read the full report as a PDF document.
Public and private prisoners by offense type: August 31, 2003
Public and private prisoners by medical/mental health need: August 31, 2003
Cost-saving_or_cost-shifting.pdf254.61 KB
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CJ Reforms for the Rich: Ed Meese

A little slow this week, but catching up...this is interesting. Really, what it's saying, is that now that the prison industrial system is coming to bite the rich in the a**, they want to reform it. That's fine, as long as our voices don't get drowned out - we always get screwed whenever the "left" and "right" agree on something (No Child Left Behind, welfare reform, Medicare Rx, PATRIOT Act, new nukes, military invasions...this actually doesn't look good for us.) Remember, they are acting in their own best interests, no matter how much they say they may be "on our side." The poor and minorities and political prisoners will rot if we leave reform to these folks...


November 24, 2009

Right and Left Join Forces on Criminal Justice

WASHINGTON — In the next several months, the Supreme Court will decide at least a half-dozen cases about the rights of people accused of crimes involving drugs, sex and corruption. Civil liberties groups and associations of defense lawyers have lined up on the side of the accused.

But so have conservative, libertarian and business groups. Their briefs and public statements are signs of an emerging consensus on the right that the criminal justice system is an aspect of big government that must be contained.

The development represents a sharp break with tough-on-crime policies associated with the Republican Party since the Nixon administration.

“It’s a remarkable phenomenon,” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “The left and the right have bent to the point where they are now in agreement on many issues. In the area of criminal justice, the whole idea of less government, less intrusion, less regulation has taken hold.”

Edwin Meese III, who was known as a fervent supporter of law and order as attorney general in the Reagan administration, now spends much of his time criticizing what he calls the astounding number and vagueness of federal criminal laws.

Mr. Meese once referred to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of the “criminals’ lobby.” These days, he said, “in terms of working with the A.C.L.U., if they want to join us, we’re happy to have them.”
Dick Thornburgh, who succeeded Mr. Meese as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and stayed on under President George Bush, echoed that sentiment in Congressional testimony in July.

“The problem of overcriminalization is truly one of those issues upon which a wide variety of constituencies can agree,” Mr. Thornburgh said. “Witness the broad and strong support from such varied groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Legal Foundation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the A.B.A., the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society and the A.C.L.U.”

In an interview at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group where he is a fellow, Mr. Meese said the “liberal ideas of extending the power of the state” were to blame for an out-of-control criminal justice system. “Our tradition has always been,” he said, “to construe criminal laws narrowly to protect people from the power of the state.”

There are, the foundation says, more than 4,400 criminal offenses in the federal code, many of them lacking a requirement that prosecutors prove traditional kinds of criminal intent.

“It’s a violation of federal law to give a false weather report,” Mr. Meese said. “People get put in jail for importing lobsters.”

Such so-called overcriminalization is at the heart of the conservative critique of crime policy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce made the point in a recent friend-of-the-court brief about a federal law often used to prosecute corporate executives and politicians. The law, which makes it a crime for officials to defraud their employers of “honest services,” is, the brief said, both “unintelligible” and “used to target a staggeringly broad swath of behavior.”

The Supreme Court will hear three cases concerning the honest-services law this term, indicating an exceptional interest in the topic.

Harvey A. Silverglate, a left-wing civil liberties lawyer in Boston, says he has been surprised and delighted by the reception that his new book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” has gotten in conservative circles. (A Heritage Foundation official offered this reporter a copy.)

The book argues that federal criminal law is so comprehensive and vague that all Americans violate it every day, meaning prosecutors can indict anyone at all.

“Libertarians and the civil liberties left have always had some common ground on these issues,” said Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason, a libertarian magazine. “The more vocal presence of conservatives on overcriminalization issues is really what’s new.”

Several strands of conservatism have merged in objecting to aspects of the criminal justice system. Some conservatives are suspicious of all government power, while others insist that the federal government has been intruding into matters the Constitution reserves to the states.

In January, for instance, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Comstock, about whether Congress has the constitutional power to authorize the continued confinement of people convicted of sex crimes after they have completed their criminal sentences.

Then there are conservatives who worry about government seizure of private property said to have been used to facilitate crimes, an issue raised in Alvarez v. Smith, which was argued in October.

“A joint on a yacht, and the whole thing is forfeited,” said Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush.

Some religious groups object to prison policies that appear to ignore the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption, and fiscal conservatives are concerned about the cost of maintaining the world’s largest prison population.

“Conservatives now recognize the economic consequences of a criminal justice leviathan,” said Erik Luna, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.

The roots of the conservative re-examination of crime policy might also be found in the jurisprudence of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The two justices, joined by liberal colleagues, have said the original meaning of the Constitution required them to rule against the government in, among other areas, the rights of criminal defendants to confront witnesses.

“Scalia and Thomas are vanguards of an understanding by the modern right that its distrust of government extends all the way to the criminal justice system,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University.

The court will hear another confrontation clause case, Briscoe v. Virginia, in January. It is a sequel to a decision in June that prosecutors may not use crime lab reports without live testimony from the analysts who prepared them.

The conservative re-evaluation of crime policy is not universal, of course. Two notable exceptions to the trend, said Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute’s criminal justice project, are Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
“Roberts and Alito are coming down consistently on the side of the government in these criminal justice cases,” Mr. Lynch said.

Some scholars are skeptical about conservatives’ timing and motives, noting that their voices are rising during a Democratic administration and amid demands for accountability for the economic crisis.

“The Justice Department now acts as a kind of counterweight to corporate power,” said Frank O. Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri. “On the other side is an alliance between two strands of conservative thinking, the libertarian point of view and the corporate wing of the Republican Party.”

Mr. Meese acknowledged that the current climate was not the ideal one for his point of view. “We picked by accident a time,” he said, “when it was not a very popular topic in light of corporate frauds.”

Kentucky Executions on Hold

From the New York Times:

November 26, 2009

Kentucky’s Highest Court Halts Executions in State

The Supreme Court of Kentucky suspended executions in the state Wednesday, ruling that officials did not follow state law in adopting its procedures for killing inmates.

The decision did not address whether it is inhumane to use a three-drug cocktail in lethal injections, as critics have argued.

The Kentucky case concerned three inmates slated for execution: Brian Keith Moore, Ralph Baze and Thomas C. Bowling.

Mr. Baze’s case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which stopped lethal injections across the country until last year, when it issued an opinion declaring Kentucky’s death penalty method — using the three-drug cocktail — to be constitutional.

The Kentucky justices said the Department of Corrections must follow the rules of the state’s administrative procedures act in the protocol for lethal injection, which include publication of the details of the procedure and public hearings on the matter.

“The Department of Corrections is required by Kentucky law to promulgate a regulation as to all portions of the lethal injection protocol except those limited issues of internal management that are purely of concern to department personnel,” wrote Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson for the majority of the court.

Gov. Steve Beshear issued a statement on Wednesday, saying his administration would “carefully review the decision and consider which steps we need to take.” Kentucky has 36 inmates on death row.

Megan McCracken, a lawyer with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, hailed the Kentucky decision, saying it “will shine light on the lethal injection process and create accountability for the procedures that are used.”

Similar court challenges led to new regulations in California and Maryland, and Nebraska recently published a proposed protocol, Ms. McCracken said.

But Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., a group that supports the death penalty, said, “This has nothing to do with the validity of the protocol, avoiding suffering, or transparency in decision making.” Instead, he said, “It is purely a stalling tactic.”

The dissenting Kentucky justices stated a similar view.

In a partial dissent, Justice Bill Cunningham wrote that the court’s decision “turns on a sterile technicality” and would lead to further challenges and delay — “maybe much more delay” — in death penalty cases. Justice Will T. Scott wrote that all three men’s crimes occurred more than a decade ago, and one, 30 years ago.

“These cases cry out for closure. The families of the victims cry out for closure,” he wrote. “Respect for our law erodes when timely punishment is not given its fair place upon the scales of justice.”

Mr. Baze told The Associated Press that he understood that his execution was likely to go forward eventually, but applauded the decision. “It gets us through Christmas,” he said. “That’s a couple of months. That’s good.”
The Kentucky opinion was handed down on the same day that the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, refused to stop an execution in Ohio based on a challenge to that state’s protocol for lethal injection.

The convict in that case, Kenneth Biros, faces death by lethal injection on Dec. 8, but obtained a stay of execution based on his argument that Ohio’s old protocol — which used the three-drug method — constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. But because of the shift to a single drug, the court said, “any challenge to Ohio’s three-drug execution protocol is now moot.” It left open the possibility that Mr. Biros or other prisoners might challenge the new one-drug protocol.

Prof. Douglas A. Berman, an authority on sentencing law at Ohio State University, said judges around the country were coming down on opposite sides of the same question and asked, “Where are we going to let the risk of error lie?”

Judges who are uncomfortable with the death penalty, he said, “will usually want to be shown that every possible error, every possible risk of error has been eliminated” before allowing an execution. Others, he said, “will say, ‘close enough for government work.’ ”

Corrupting Influence of Private Prisons

We really don't want these people to control the economies of small towns in Arizona - their entire industry is evil. The more they have invested in prisons, the more they invest in padding legislators pockets and passing laws that criminalize more poor people or "non-counting constituents". I don't think a lot of people really get the problems with this dynamic...

This is from Protect Consumer


 Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is sending more inmates to out-of-state prisons run by a private company that recently made a $100,000 donation to a ballot campaign committee controlled by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Daily Journal legal publication reports.

Matthew Pordum of the Daily Journal reports CDCR has agreed to send an additional 2,336 inmates to prisons operated by Corrections Corp. of America, in an extension of a contract with the company that is worth more than $54 million a year.  Six months before the CDCR decision, Corrections Corp. of America contributed $100,000 to Budget Reform Now, the committee organized to campaign for six state budget-related measures supported by Schwarzenegger on a special election ballot in May.

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman told Pordum there was no connection between the donation and the contract extension, saying the governor had nothing to do with the extension.

The Journal story has more details about CCA’s political spending:

“We are politically active and make contributions to Democrats and Republicans alike all over the country, as do all companies of our size and reach,” said Louise Grant, vice president of communications at Corrections Corp.

Corrections Corp. donated $234,500 in 2007-08, and $38,900 so far this year, to several members of the California Legislature and the state Democratic and Republican parties, according to its filings with the Secretary of State.

The firm has also reported spending about $45,000 for each of the last three quarters on lobbyists in California.

The state began sending some inmates to CCA prisons in 2006 in response to Schwarzenegger’s emergency proclamation on prison overcrowding.  If the legislature approves the spending for the extension, California’s contract with CCA would be valued at more than $224 million a year, with state inmates housed at facilities in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The Schwarzenegger administration is not wholly responsible for the decision to send inmates to private prisons. The Legislature approved AB 900 in 2007 giving the state greater authority to transfer felons to private prisons outside the state.

The Florida-based prison prison firm, the Geo Group, also is seeking more California inmates. Geo is a significant campaign spender, giving $50,000 in October 2008 to the Schwarzenegger-backed Proposition 11 redistricting initiative.

Arizona is a Police State. Arpaio is just one cop.

If the FBI and DOJ nail this guy, I will send them a thank you card and offer them dinner myself. In the meantime, they should be dropping commandos into Arizona to rescue minority and oppositional citizens from the whole political slate he's aligned with (Thomas, Pearce, et al), before they do anyone else further harm. What's going on in this state - including the way our legislators conduct business - is criminal.

Sheriff Joe is actually the least damaging of them all, I think. It's the men writing laws and prosecuting them that trouble me. Being arrested is no small inconvenience, even if the charges don't stick. It ties up an activist's time and may limit our voice; it's an intimidation tactic, at the very least. But there's not much even Sheriff Joe can do if the law has no teeth or the prosecutor thinks the case has no merit. He may be the main attraction, but Sheriff Joe is hardly the source of the problem. His racism and failure to deal with real crime in Maricopa County are devastating to migrant communities and families, but to most citizens, even some protesters he arrests, he's a petty clown whose time is almost up. 

 Andrew Thomas, however, strong-arms the vulnerable into plea bargains using the threat of sentence enhancements (agree to three or you'll end up with 20) despite their claims of innocence, and buries innocent people in prison for years at a time, too arrogant to evaluate new evidence in his possession that should free them. He's the one we need to really grill about his agenda as Attorney General, and his plans for decreasing mass incarceration and protecting prisoner rights. I suspect that in his vision for Arizona, though, more people will be criminalized and in prison, and more communities will have prisons as their economic foundation. Our entire future will be increasingly invested in incarcerating people ... look at how the business leaders of Wickenburg and Winslow talk about the prisons and inmates - they don't even consider those they will incarcerate as human. They certainly won't be members of their community.

 That's who we will become, if we don't change the direction of this state: people most concerned with how they can profit from the plight of other human beings...I think they do that because they really believe that justice in America is fair. It's racist and classist and self-interested to its core.


Private Citizens: Joe Arpaio Targeted Us, Too

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio Accused Of Abusing Power

POSTED: 10:33 pm MST November 25, 2009
UPDATED: 9:34 am MST November 26, 2009

In the weeks since 5 Investigates aired its story on allegations that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is abusing his power, more people have come forward to say they, too, were targeted.
Politicians, county employees and private citizens claim the sheriff launched investigations into their personal lives after they criticized him.Terri Leija, who is chief of staff for Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, said she is under criminal investigation because of her employer.“They’re trying to scare me to go after my boss,” she told 5 Investigates.

Leija has not been charged with a crime.“I walk around some days thinking, ‘How is this allowed to be happening?’” she asked.Susan Schuerman, deputy administrator for Supervisor Don Stapley, echoed this sentiment.“I don’t have any criminal history,” Schuerman said. “Why I should be tainted is outrageous." Schuerman said the investigation makes it difficult for her to come to work.“This has been an absolute nightmare,” she said.

Her boss, Stapley, was indicted on 118 charges relating to the nondisclosure of a variety of land deals, business associations and business assets.At the time, the county supervisor said he was falsely accused. Fifty-two of the charges were thrown out in August, and prosecutors requested the rest be dropped in September.Three days after the request was made, deputies arrested Stapley on 100 new counts -- 93 felonies and seven misdemeanors.

Two men who set up Stapley’s legal defense fund said they were targeted, too. 5 Investigates agreed to withhold their names as they feared retribution.The day the fund went online, sheriff’s deputies showed up at all of the “trustees’” homes, asking whether they were promised anything from Stapley in return for their efforts.The deputies stayed until 11:30 p.m. in at least one case, the men said.“I was intimidated,” one said. “I started questioning whether I should have stepped forward and helped Don out … in his time of need.”

 When confronted by 5 Investigates reporter Morgan Loew after refusing multiple requests for an on-camera interview, the sheriff denied the allegations.“I don’t see any pattern,” Arpaio said. “We investigate thousands of people -- my office does -- thousands of people. We’re doing our job, and it doesn’t matter what political background or occupation or profession.” Nevertheless, the FBI is investigating the abuse-of-power claims, sources said, and some of those interviewed by 5 Investigates confirmed they spoke with FBI agents.