Revelry turned to horror early Thursday "after a car plowed through South by Southwest crowds in Downtown Austin," KUT reports.
The Austin American-Statesman describes what happened this way:
"A driver attempting to evade a drunk driving stop hurtled past a barricade on Red River Street and plowed through dozens of SXSW revelers, killing two and injuring 23 in a horrific scene early Thursday morning, police said. The street, home to many popular clubs hosting South by Southwest music showcases, had been closed to motorists and was crowded with music fans waiting to get into the Mohawk nightclub.
"According to police, the man, driving a small Toyota car, went the wrong way down Ninth Street after evading a stop at a gas station around 12:30 a.m., turned onto Red River and drove for more than two blocks, striking numerous pedestrians before hitting a scooter traveling on 11th Street, killing the man and woman on board. The driver then struck a taxi, injuring two, and crashed into a parked van, Police Chief Art Acevedo said."
Police on the scene used a stun gun to subdue the man, who they have yet to identify. According to KUT, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo "told reporters the suspect will be charged with capital murder."
The American-Statesman adds that:
"Ally Hulton, a 28-year-old from Los Angeles, was smoking a cigarette on the balcony of her friend's apartment on Red River when she saw a car drive down the street "at full speed" before hitting someone.
"It then appeared to accelerate into a crowd of people, she said. 'About 10 bodies went flying,' Hulton said."
KUT has posted several photos taken at the scene and writes that "Austin police ask videos and photos of the incident be turned over at the following number: (512) 974-5186. As the event happened at one of the U.S.'s premiere media events, many images are available on social media."
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Afaa Michael Weaver's poetry collection The Government of Nature has won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. The prize, based at Claremont Graduate University, is awarded to a mid-career poet "to both honor the poet and provide the resources that allow artists to continue working towards the pinnacle of their craft." Chief Judge Chase Twichell said of Weaver, "His father was a sharecropper. After serving for two years in the Army, he toiled for 15 years in factories, writing poems all the while. When he learned that he'd won a National Endowment Fellowship, he quit his job and attended Brown University on a full scholarship. He essentially invented himself from whole cloth as a poet. It's truly remarkable." Afaa's devastating poem "If You Tell" begins:
"If you tell, the stars will turn against you,
you will have not night but emptiness.
If you tell, you will live in an old house
in the desert all alone with cactus for friends.
If you tell, people will hide their children
from the monster others say your kind are.
If you tell, the police will add you to the list
of people who might have killed the albatross.
If you tell, you will walk in a hollow room
full of the sound of liar, liar, pants on fire."
- Scrabble maker Hasbro is holding a contest to enter a new word into the official Scrabble Dictionary. Anyone can nominate a word online, and judges will choose 16 finalists, which will be set against each other in a March-madness style voting bracket.
- What I Know for Sure, a book adapted from Oprah Winfrey's column of the same name in O Magazine, will be published by Flatiron Books in September. According to Flatiron, the book gives "readers a guide to becoming their best selves."
- T Magazine visits The Ginger Man author J. P. Donleavy:"J. P. Donleavy is, arguably, the funniest living American novelist, but the circumstances of his life and work require a person making that argument to qualify and amplify and clarify certain facts. For instance, J. P. Donleavy is not dead. At 87, he lives a bit like a genial hermit, a bit like a gentleman farmer. He looks a lot like a stately imp, in his red bucket hat and green flannel shirt, as he sits with his back to a fireplace spilling ages of ashes into the kitchen of his stone manor-house at Levington Park, a rambling estate 50-odd miles west of Dublin. Out on the acreage, four dozen cows graze beneath the gray bowl of the sky."
A new study by an UC-Berkeley graduate student has surprised a number of experts in the criminology field. Its main finding: private prisons are packed with young people of color.
The concept of racial disparities behind bars is not exactly a new one. Study after report after working group has found a version of the same conclusion. The Sentencing Project estimates one in three black men will spend time behind bars during their lifetime, compared to one in six Latino men and one in seventeen white men. Arrest rates for marijuana possession are four times as high for black Americans than white. Black men spend an average of 20 percent longer behind bars in federal prisons than their white peers do for the same crimes.
These reports and thousands of others have the cumulative effect of portraying a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black Americans and people of color in general.
Sociology Ph.D student Christopher Petrella's finding in "The Color of Corporate Corrections," however, tackles a different beast.
Beyond the historical over-representation of people of color in county jails and federal and state prisons, Petrella found, people of color "are further overrepresented in private prisons contracted by departments of correction in Arizona, California, and Texas."
This would mean that the racial disparities in private prisons housing state inmates are even greater than in publicly-run prisons. His paper sets out to explain why — a question that starts with race, but takes him down a surprising path.
Age, race and money
First, a bit of background. Private prisons house 128,195 inmates on behalf of the federal government and state governments (or at least they did as of 2010). There's a continual debate among legislators and administrators as to which is more cost effective: running a government-operated prison, with its government workers (and unions); or hiring a private company (like GEO or Corrections Corporation of America) to house your prisoners for you. States like California, Arizona, and Texas use a combination of both.
In the nine states Petrella examined, private facilities housed higher percentages of people of color than public facilities did. Looking back at the contracts the private companies signed with the states, Petrella figured out the reason behind the racial disparity: private prisons deliberately exclude people with high medical care costs from their contracts.
Younger, healthier inmates, he found — who've come into the system since the War on Drugs went into effect — are disproportionately people of color. Older inmates, who generally come with a slew of health problems, skew more white.
Steve Owens, Senior Director of Public Affairs for Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the nation, calls the study "deeply flawed."
In an email, Owens says, "CCA's government partners determine which inmates are sent to our facilities; our company has no role in their selection."
Furthermore, he says, "the contracts we have with our government partners are mutually agreed upon, and as the customer, our government partners have significant leverage regarding provisions." It's up to the contracting agency, he says, to decide how it wants to distribute inmates and manage healthcare costs.
Owens does not, however, dispute Petrella's numbers.
Gloria Browne-Marshall, an associate professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former civil rights attorney, says "it's a very interesting study."
"What I take away from it is how prisoners are looked at as commodities," she says. "It's all about how the private prisons can make the most money."
Petrella says he used data compiled by state correctional departments, which are divided by census-designated categories, and included African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, non-white Hispanics and Latinos, and essentially anyone except those defined by the census as white.
"I know these categories are fungible, but this is the data we have to work with," Petrella says.
Browne-Marshall points out that Petrella's findings don't necessarily point to a racial motivation on behalf of private prison companies, and Petrella agrees. "Profit is the clear motivation," he says. The racial component is more incidental.
However, he says, "the study shows that policies that omit race continue to have negative impacts." He says there's a larger dialogue to be had about what contemporary racial discrimination actually looks like.
Barry Krisberg, director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute at UC-Berkeley, says the findings surprised him. "I had assumed private prisons were taking a lot of low-risk inmates," he says. "That if you went to a private prison, you'd find a lot of old, Anglo prisoners. That's not the case."
This raises questions about prison conditions for different kinds of prisoners. "The rate of violence is higher at private prisons and recidivism is either worse or the same than in public prisons," says Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News and the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a group that opposes private prisons. Friedmann says that part of the trouble is attributable to lower-paid, lesser-trained staff used in private prisons. But some of it, he adds, may be due to this higher-risk, younger population in private prisons.
So, Browne-Marshall asks, what are private prisons doing for their age-specific populations?
"Public prisons are devoting a lot of resources to the age-specific needs of their prisoners," she says, such as building medical facilities, bringing in highly paid medical staff, and providing expensive mental health care services. "What about the specific needs of the private prison population?"
Younger, higher-risk private prisoners need different kinds of services — especially since they're likely to get out of prison, back into society. And historically, younger prisoners are more likely to re-offend, which Browne-Marshall suggests addressing with education, drug counseling, anger management, and other social services.
The trouble: while courts have intervened to require prisons to have good medical and mental health care as constitutional necessities — things that benefit older and sicker prisoners — programs that mainly benefit younger prisoners aren't usually required. (Another reason why they're cheaper to house.)
"How do we get corporations to do what the incarcerated person needs when the government's not dictating it?" Browne-Marshall says.
That she says, is the next question for study.
Owens says CCA offers "safe, secure housing and quality rehabilitation and re-entry programming at a cost savings to taxpayers. Our programming includes education, vocational, faith-based and substance abuse treatment opportunities." Each year, he says, CCA inmates acquire "more than 3,000" GEDs.
In compiling his data, Petrelle deliberately excludes private prisons with federal contracts from the study. He does so because a large portion of federal prisoners in private facilities are there as immigration detainees, not sentenced criminals. Were he to include federally contracted prisons, the disparities would surely be greater.
Federally contracted facilities also come with their own baggage and civil rights questions.
Federal prisoners in public facilities, as well as state prisoners in private and public facilities, have the right to bring lawsuits based on alleged civil rights violations. This means state inmates in California could sue the state prison system for providing inadequate health care. Arizona inmates in a private facility could do the same against the private corporation that owns their prison and the State of Arizona.
However, federal prisoners in private prisons cannot bring such lawsuits, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
A prisoner of this status could sue for actual damages, but not bring a civil rights suit against a private prison — the kind of suit that usually forces major changes in how prisons operate in the public sphere.
"We've gotten to the point where courts intervene in public prisons, but only under extraordinary circumstances," Krisberg says. For federal prisoners in private facilities, there's even less legal recourse, he says.
Just a few hours after a stunning report from The Wall Street Journal — headlined "U.S. Investigators Suspect Missing Airplane Flew On For Hours" — the officials in charge of the investigation say that story's central premise isn't true.
The last data received from devices installed in the Rolls-Royce engines of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared on Saturday were transmitted at 1:07 a.m. local time, Malaysia's acting defense minister told reporters Thursday. That would be a little more than 30 minutes after Beijing-bound Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur. The minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, appeared at a news conference with the airline's CEO.
If the Malaysian official's account is correct, then the underpinnings of the Journal's story are knocked away. The newspaper reported early Thursday that:
"U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.
"Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program."
As we've written, though, the now six-day-old search for Flight 370 and any sign of the 239 people who were aboard has been marked by confusion and conflicting claims from Malaysian officials. The country's air force chief, for example, was quoted as saying radar had tracked the plane flying at least 200 miles west of its intended course, then denied he had said that, then conceded that the air force did indeed see radar "blips" that might have been the jet headed west.
Meanwhile, Hussein also told reporters Thursday that Chinese satellite images showing some large objects floating in the South China Sea "did not show any debris" from the missing flight, the BBC reports. The release of those photos late Wednesday prompted speculation that the plane might finally have been found.
So, the search continues on both the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula, in the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, and on the western side in the Malacca Strait, where the plane might have flown if it did indeed turn west for some reason.
The Journal said in its report that "as part of its maintenance agreements, Malaysia Airlines transmits its engine data live to Rolls Royce for analysis. The system compiles data from inside the 777's two Trent 800 engines and transmits snapshots of performance, as well as the altitude and speed of the jet. Those snippets are compiled and transmitted in 30-minute increments, said one person familiar with the system."
Also at Thursday's news conference, Malaysian police said reports that the homes of the jet's pilots had been searched were incorrect.
One other development: The airline announced that "as a mark of respect to the passengers and crew of [Flight] 370," it is retiring that flight number and that of Flight 371, the return trip from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur. Starting Friday, the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight's number will be 318. The Beijing to Kuala Lumpur flight will be No. 319.