Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 1/11/2020: Epstein And Facebook And Barr, Oh My!

It’s Thaturday!

Time, once again, to salute the courage of Karen Carpenter’s much less talented brother Richard, who nonetheless had the courage to offer, as his only notable solo offering for the Carpenters, a song that highlighted his speech impediment. Why did he do this? We’ll never know.

And yes, I have “The Wizard of Oz” on the brain. It was so much better when that wonderful movie was only on TV once  a year: then it was special. Now, especially over the holidays (and what it has to do with Christmas, I don’t know) I had to repeatedly change channels to avoid it. Well, after Judy sang “Over the Rainbow, anyway…

1. Is it really so unreasonable and a “right wing conspiracy theory” to wonder about how Jeffrey Epstein, who could have implicated such powerful people as Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew in criminal activities, ended up dead in his cell?

The latest forehead-slapping development: The video  made outside of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan jail cell when during his failed suicide attempt seemed to be missing, and even possibly destroyed. The jailhouse video turned up, however, muting suspicions about whether Epstein’s successful  suicide at the Metropolitan Correctional Center wasn’t something more sinister.  Prosecutors confirmed that the video had been saved. This week, however,  prosecutors revealed that the jail staff  had preserved video from the wrong jail cell, and the Epstein footage no longer existed.

Meanwhile, two guards who were on duty when  Epstein killed himself are being charged with falsifying records and conspiracy. The guards surfed the internet and dozed instead of checking on the prisoner every half-hour, as they were required to do.

Conspiracy or not, this is epic incompetence, and rather convenient incompetence at that. Hanlon’s Razor, however, applies. I guess.

My only other observation is that government efficiency and job performance is obviously so reliable that I don’t know why Bernie Sanders isn’t running away with the Democratic nomination race. Of course we should put government employees in charge of our lives. It’s a no-brainer. Continue reading

Comment the Day: “Exposing America’s Dungeons…”

Maybe Tom Cruise knows how they stored the prisoners in "Minority Report"---that seemed to be a quiet and pleasent prison environment...

Dwayne N. Zechman makes trenchant observations and raises difficult questions in his comment to the post, “Exposing America’s Dungeons: The New York City Bar Report on Supermax Prisons.” The report to some extent answers Dwayne’s primary point by stating that the need for special high-security prisons to prevent violence to inmates and guards cannot justify an unconstitutional solution. If the conditions in the supermax prisons are as described in the report, there can be no doubt that it violates the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” That is an absolutist position like the prohibition against torture: ethically, arguing that “it works” or “there’s no other way” or “oh yeah? What would YOU do?” won’t and cannot prevail…unless we conclude that when we have to choose the lesser of two evils, forcing violent and otherwise uncontrollable criminals to live in dungeon-like condition is preferable to having them kill people might be the winner. Continue reading

Exposing America’s Dungeons: The New York City Bar Report on Supermax Prisons

“…The overriding rationale for supermax confinement is to impose order  and maintain safety in the prison environment.  The unmitigated suffering caused by supermax confinement, however, cannot be justified by the argument that it is an effective means to deal with difficult prisoners. The issue, we believe, is not whether supermax achieves its purposes or is effective at controlling and punishing unruly inmates.
Instead, the question is whether the vast archipelago of American supermax facilities, in which some prisoners are kept isolated indefinitely for years, should be tolerated as consistent with fundamental principles of justice. Even prisoners who have committed horrific crimes and atrocities possess basic rights to humane treatment under national and international law. Although the Constitution “does not mandate comfortable prisons,” it does require humane prisons that comport with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against punishments that are “incompatible with ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” or which “involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” More recently, the Supreme Court stated that “[p]risoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Supermax confinement as extensively implemented in the United States falls short of this standard and must be substantially reformed.”

—-The New York City Bar in its just-released report on “supermax” prisons in the United States.  The report declares supermax imprisonment, which currently holds 80,000 prisoners, to be the equivilent of torture and a violation of international human rights standards.

The report is harrowing, horrifying, and a source of shame for all Americans. The lack of concern by the public and its elected representatives in maintaining humane conditions in our prisons is understandable but inexcusable nonetheless. The New York City Bar has performed  a great service by issuing the report; it is up to us to insist that it is acted upon without delay. The United States of America should not be operating dungeons.

You can, and must, read it here.