08/30/09 - Paul Wright

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News + Abolitionists Moment

Century of Lies
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Paul Wright
Prison Legal News
Download: Audio icon COL_083009.mp3


Century of Lies, August 30, 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.


It’s Time… to Face… The Inquisition!


Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Abolitionist’s Moment.
It’s so sad that Americans are clinging to the belief that anything is justified if we say it is necessary. Torture by Americans? That is what the US attorney general is concerned about. I submit that we have been practicing the philosophy for a hundred years of saving one child by destroying the lives of millions of adults who use drugs.

Lot’s of believers buy the idea to this day. Believers think it proper to kick in the door, throw in some flash bang grenades, maybe set the place on fire… Shoot the dog and maybe the kids, ransack the place to make it look like a tornado aftermath; arrest the parents for possession of plant products. Send the kids to foster care, forfeit the home to state coffers. Take all the worldly goods and cash for the same purpose. Convict and send to prison the parents for sentences longer than for violent crimes.

Then, turn away when the parents and children are raped and beaten by fellow inmates or guards and then once they are released, we send them forth and demand that they prosper while we deny them housing, education, professional licenses, credit or even a job. Is that torture or is it just the American way? Please do your part to end the madness of drug war. Visit our website, endprohibition.org. Do it for the children.


Dean Becker: Alright, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. My name is Dean Becker. We are going to go right away to our guest, Mr. Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News. Are you with us, Paul?

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

Dean Becker: Well, Paul, it’s an honor. I have been meaning to… I have got to lay out some truths here. I have been moving for the past couple of weeks and I am dead tired and I am a little bit lost. I couldn’t find the most current issues of Prison Legal News. I have got March and April but the way I understand it the forthcoming issue is going to focus quite a bit on the gulag filling station as I call it, Harris County, Houston, Texas, right?

Paul Wright: That is actually probably going to be our October issue but we have always got a lot of stuff out of – we always have plenty of news out of Harris County. Unfortunately, very little of it is any good.

Dean Becker: Isn’t that the truth? Paul, let’s talk first about Prison Legal News. What is that all about?

Paul Wright: Prison Legal News is a monthly magazine that I started in 1990 while I was in prison in Washington State and we report on legal and political developments involving the criminal justice system. That is everything from news, legislative developments, litigation, settlements, and verdicts – pretty much everything and by detention facilities not just prisons and jails - it is immigration prisons, juvenile prisons, military prisons - pretty much anywhere where people are being held against their will.

Dean Becker: And you know just the mention of the word prisons. Many people don’t realize, don’t focus on, won’t accept the fact that the United States has become by far the world’s leading jailor and so many times for just such minor stuff. It makes you wonder why we continue down this road. Your thoughts on that, Paul?

Paul Wright: Well, I think that in the United States we currently have five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent or more of the world’s prison population. In that sense we definitely lead the world. But I think that one of the things you have to look at prisons being a tool of social control.

In other words, this is how people that are deemed unemployable, that are mentally ill and pretty much everyone in prison has one thing in common with very few exceptions - pretty much every one in prison is poor and as such they are a pretty expendable population and this is who finds themselves locked up and incarcerated in America today.

Dean Becker: You know, last week I was talking with Fred Gardner, he is editor of O’Shaughnessy’s, the cannabis journal and we were talking about that gentleman Jonathan Magby, I think it was in Washington DC, who was sentenced I think ten days by a judge because he said he would continue to smoke marijuana. The gentleman was quadriplegic and they let him die in the jail facilities because they weren’t going to provide a respirator. But, that is not that uncommon to be denied proper medical help in prison, right?

Paul Wright: No it is not, In fact over four thousand prisoners a year die in American prisons and that is not counting how many die in jails. So we have a lot of people that die every day in prisons and jails around the country and in fact the extent that Untied States leads the world in sentencing people to sentences of life with out parole which I guess is another way of calling, of naming that would be death by incarceration. It’s only a trend that is going to increase and the numbers are going to go up even higher.

Dean Becker: Yeah, OK folks. You are listening to Century of Lies. We are speaking with Mr. Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and here in about five minutes we are going to take your calls. We want to hear your questions and concerns so I advise you to get in the queue. Our number, nation wide toll free is 1 877 9 420 420. And locally it is 713 526 5738.

Paul, you know we hear these stories, and it’s not just Houston, I use it as microcosm if you will. There was a lady here, it has now been about two months ago, who was sentenced to I think ten or twelve days in the jail for a marijuana sentence and a couple of days in to that time, she died.

I haven’t heard any release of information as to how or why that occurred. Too often you hear this phrase from the police or the powers that be that ‘we can’t comment because there is an ongoing investigation.’ And yet many times you never hear any results. Your thoughts on that, Paul.

Paul Wright: Basically it is one of those things where we do a lot of follow ups on this stuff where to find out just what did happen on stuff and we lack the resources at Prison Legal News to do a lot of this. But, yeah, a lot of the time when it happens we actually get they records that basically there was no investigation or someone made a phone call, Did anything unusual happen? No. And that is it.

In other words, there is no real investigation and basically unless people who die in custody have family members that have the ability and the will to pursue the matter by seeking independent investigation or basically what happens in the real world is by filing a law suit – that’s the end of it. People die and you know that’s it. So there is no real oversight.

That is one of the big problems about the American prison and jail system is that nowhere in the country has any kind of independent oversight over what goes on in prisons and jails. Legislators nominally have oversight over detention facilities but back in the real world they don’t really care what goes on in there. There is no powerful interest groups that supervise what is going on in prisons.

They are very closed almost hermetically sealed societies and pretty much nothing – not a lot of information gets out. And like I say, unless some one has a family member or someone like that who can pursue an investigation or a law suit after they die that is pretty much the end of it.

So when they say that they don’t have a comment on someone’s death, more often than not that just means that they are just waiting for the media spotlight to move on and in the course of a couple of days of the news cycle, that is exactly what is going to happen. Reporters go on to other stuff and that is it.

Dean Becker: Paul, I hesitate to say this but it almost seems… And again, I don’t want to be called a conspiracy theorist. But it almost seems like it is a mutual absolution society. The DA protects the cop who protects the legislatures who on down the line – ‘he is a good old boy, his mind was in the right place.’ They were doing the best they can when they shot the kid as they busted through the door. No one is ever held accountable as long as they can put that word drugs in the reasoning, right?

Paul Wright: Well, it’s not just even drugs; I mean it goes to everyone else. It’s like homeless people, people in prison, people accused of a crime and it is not necessarily just drug offenders that get targeted with this and I think that it is not so much that there is an absolution thing going on here. Basically I think what we have is we have a bi-partisan criminal justice policy in this country that basically no one really cares what is going on.

I think it is like the old Frank Zappa song that says as long as the trashed gets picked up, as long as the trash gets locked up. You know, I think that is for most people that is – in elected office and in these positions - that is what they care about. And to the extent that you have you know there is also the old joke with criminal defense lawyers is that a prosecutor is a cop in a suit and a judge is prosecutor in a robe. And that merely reflects the reality that you, know unfortunately a very large percent of the judges in this country are former prosecutors.

And the prosecutors and the police are basically kind of the same you know it is kind of the same folks really and that is why it is so rare to see police, prosecutors for any kind of criminal activity or misconduct. I mean, it happens but it is very unusual and it doesn’t happen that often. So to the extent that it does, it is kind of unusual.

And there is basically no interest because the people that are in prison or jail or that are largely interacting with the criminal justice system – to the extent they are seen as being an expendable or disposable population there is really no one has any interest on standing up for them or seeing that anyone is treated fairly or whatever. I mean that is kind of beyond the pale.

And I think that we would have too look at what the basic role of the criminal justice system is. I mean if you are I think people are mistaken if they think involves anything to do with public safety or anything like that but rather you know I think that the main role the criminal justice system plays is preserving the political status quo and that means ensuring everything continues as it does.

And to the extent that anyone is going to shake that up they have got some problems overcoming that because no one really has any – no one in a position of political power in America today has any problems with the stated and practical goals of the criminal justice system. And that is pretty much why there is no accountability or oversight. It is not only that no one wants to know. It is not that no one cares or knows it is that no one wants to care, no one wants to know.

And to the extent that people are killed like Jonathan Magby, the thousands of prisoners who of die medical neglect every year in American prisons or the hundreds of people that are killed by law enforcement every year. Those are just viewed as expendable causalities in maintaining the status quo. And like I say, prisons are a tool of social control in this country the same as death squads are tools of social control in countries like El Salvador or Brazil. And no one has a problem with it.

Dean Becker: Ah, boy. The word I like to - the pair of words I like to use - is unconditionally exterminable. But folks, I tell you what. We are speaking with Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News. We are going to take a one minute break. I want to hear from you listeners out there across North America please give us a call at 1 877 9 420 420 and locally you can call in at 713 526 5738. And we will be back in one minute.



Darth Drug Czar, you’re a coward, a liar, demon and thief. Seems you can’t face the truth for just one hour.
Too busy looking at pee…
Dean Becker, drugtruth.net


Grizzly, Northern Lights, White Widow.
Pot stinks.
Last year 785,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana - most of them not for aberrant behavior. They were arrested because pot stinks. The pot laws stink worse than super skunk. Learn more, get active. Help bring an end to this seventy year old war on otherwise decent hard working Americans who choose the safer alternative to alcohol. Visit the Marijuana Policy Project at mpp.org


You can hear the drug war blow a hundred years…


Dean Becker: Alright, my fiends, this is the Century of Lies show. We have Paul Wright, editor, Prison Legal News with us on line and we are taking your calls. Starting to get some – well we have got one call but we have got room for you. Please give us a shout at 1 877 9 420 420 or locally call 713 526 5738. And it looks like, is that CC, with us on line one? Hello, CC.

Caller: Yes, how are you doing?

Dean Becker: Your thoughts?

Caller: I am calling in reference to the Harris County Probate Court. Is it OK to talk about that?

Dean Becker: You bet. Jump right in.

Caller: Who is overseeing the Harris County Probate Court? Because over the period of five or six years I have become very interested in how the probate judges are handling the cases that are coming in through the probate court. For instance, you have a judge who appoints a guardian who then in turn, the guardian is a friend of the judge. The guardian then goes into the county treasury to get paid for his legal services if the family cannot afford those services.

So what happens is the judges apparently being paid what campaign contributions and kickbacks, is that how it works?

Dean Becker: Well, I am sure that is how it works. Paul, you have been doing some investigation. Can you answer his question on who runs the probate?

Paul Wright: I don’t know specifically about the probate courts because that is basically what adjudicates you know wills and stuff like that where people die. So I don’t really know – that is kind of outside of the scope of you know the works that I do.

Dean Becker: Right. Well, OK.

Caller: Is it anyone that could possibly call in that could – that can maybe give us some feedback on that and then at the same time you know, what the topic mainly is you know, today, what you all are talking about.

Dean Becker: Well, we will see what we can do CC. We appreciate your interest. Let’s go Larry on line two. Hello, Larry, you are on the air.

Caller: Yeah, I wanted to call in. I have been listening to the station since about 1970 and I am a local businessman. In 1985 was arrested for capitol murder of a police officer on a false police report. When I found the person who had made the police report and turned his name over to the police, of course, they didn’t want to do anything about arresting him for making a police report. But it was OK to arrest me on false information so he is very true about the system not being one of what most people would consider justice but just keeping the wheels turning.

Dean Becker: Alright. Paul Wright, your thoughts?

Paul Wright: Yes, unfortunately that is – this kind of goes towards what turns out to be a no accountability system. And there is also one of the things that we can’t over look is the role of the courts in perpetuating this because the US Supreme Court, for example, they have created a lot of doctrines, like for example, the doctrine of judicial immunity. You can’t sue judges for their actions that they take in the course of being judges no matter how corrupt.

You know you have got the case in Pennsylvania of bribe taking judges who are getting kickbacks from private prison companies to send kids to jail even though they are sent for the alleged offenses and stuff like being late for school and kicking another kid in sixth grade and stuff - don’t warrant the offense. And regardless of that type of corruption, the judges still can’t be sued under this doctrine of judicial immunity.

Prosecutors can’t be sued for most of the stuff that they do in the course of being prosecutors including hiding exculpatory evidence, and police can’t be sued for giving perjured testimony on the stand. This is all stuff that insures that there is no accountability through the civil justice system. And when you couple that with the fact that you don’t have any other type of accountability in the way of oversight or anything like that, it pretty much insures that we have the system that we have today.

Dean Becker: Testalying is permitted. That is what it really boils down to…

Paul Wright: Well, that’s the norm around the country. I am actually kind of surprised that – I am kind of surprised when in some occasion you know law enforcement tells the truth. I mean it like I say you say, Dean. It is so prevalent and so common it even has a name: testalying.

Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah. And that is just America. I mean that PSA I did earlier you know just talking about it is that what it boils down to? Just the American way? And apparently it is and it will be until you folks out there listening get off your butts and go out and do something.

Buttonhole your congressman or your mayor or somebody and let them know, hey my eyes are open and I see what is going on. Stop this, you know. That is what it is really going to take. That is why I think what drives you, Paul, is just to educate enough folks, eventually maybe we will stand a chance of changing this, right?

Paul Wright: Well, that is the theory. I have been banging away at this drum from - for about nineteen years now and part of the problem, thought, is that unfortunately most common Americans were too powerless to actually do a lot about this because unfortunately for most of us you know we don’t have opinions that anyone in a position of power really feel that they need to listen to. And that is part of the problem.

You know, I can give you one example. There is a lot of these. I do a fair amount of public speaking around the country and I think there is a real divide between ordinary Americans and our political rulers. And one of the things I will ask people is, you know if I am in an auditorium with a couple hundred people or more, I will ask them how many people in this room think that marijuana should be illegal? That people should go to prison or be jailed for marijuana possession?

And typically I’ll say you know maybe the people that are showing up to hear me talk are you know a little more liberal on this than say the John Burke Society. But typically, you know very few if anyone will raise their hand and then it’s like, OK let’s go one further… How many of you know someone personally that believes that marijuana should be criminalized and should be a jail able offense. And very few people raise their hands at this.

I know a lot of people personally and professionally even in law enforcement and that said, I don’t think I know that many people that think that marijuana should be decriminalized but then when you go to elected office. If you look at how many politicians are holding state wide elected office. In other words, how many attorney generals, governors, senators and stuff like that that will go on the record and say I don’t think marijuana should be a criminal offense…? I don’t think there are too many.

You probably know better than I do how many there are but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. And when seventy or eight percent of Americans when you do polls and stuff say that they don’t think that marijuana should be a criminal offense, and virtually everyone in elected office that has a state wide elected office thinks just the opposite, what does that tell you about our political process? You know, there is a real disconnect there.

Dean Becker: Yeah, very huge divide. We are speaking with Paul Wright, editor, Prison Legal News. We had a couple of folks on line; I guess they got tired of waiting. I am sorry for the delay. Please give us a call 1 877 9 420 420. That is toll free anywhere in North America to you listening out there on kpft.org. And locally you can call 713 526 5738.

While we are waiting on that, I wanted to – I am looking at the March issue and the bold headline on the front page of Prison Legal News: Cheaper than Chimpanzees – Expanding the use of Prisoners in Medical Experiments. Give us a brief summary of that story, Paul.

Paul Wright: Well, basically what that is about is up until the mid 1970s, just about every drug, cosmetic and other item that was marketed in the United States was tested on prisoners. And this goes back to a thing of – the quote goes back to a doctor for a pharmaceutical company who when he was asked why they were testing all their products on prisoners said well, for instance, they are cheaper than chimpanzees. And unfortunately that was true then and it is true now.

And so recently there has been a push on to change the regulations of the health and human services department so that research groups and companies and the US government – anyone that gets research that gets funding from the United States government would be able to conduct research on prisoners. And that is something that unfortunately Prison Legal News is one of the few organizations that has opposed this.

One of the biggest winners if that change were to go through would of course be the pharmaceutical industry because they kind of have a problem of a lack of test subjects or test volunteers to try out their drugs on and they put them on the market with inadequate human testing. And then it turns out that like Vioxx or Cerebrex and some of these other drugs they have serious side effects and serious problems with them. So…

Dean Becker: Alright, Paul. I tell you what. We do have Drew on line. We might have room for one more call. Our number 1 877 9 420 420. Locally 713 526 5738. Drew, you are on the air.

Caller: Hi! I love you all. christiansagainstprohibition.org.

Dean Becker: Oh yes, Drew. What is on your mind, buddy?

Caller: Well I am wondering about the – I have read about the costs for how much it costs to house people. So, I am kind of wondering what the low cost is and what the high cost is and where those locations are.

Dean Becker: OK. The housing of prisoners nationwide. Do you have a summary on that, Paul?

Paul Wright: Yeah. Basically it varies from it varies very much from state to state. And what you will do is you will have some states like Arkansas and Mississippi they will claim that it only costs them eight or fifteen thousand dollars to incarcerate someone where states like California or New York it is much higher – it will be forty-five or fifty thousand dollars a year to incarcerate someone.

But a lot of these numbers I think you have to take with a big grain of salt because I think they are pretty bogus and one of the ways that they play with the numbers… And the thing to remember is that what drives prison costs is the staffing. Eighty, eighty-five percent of the cost of keeping someone locked up has nothing to do with the food they are being fed or their clothes or whatever.

It is directly related to hiring the guards, to keep an eye on them. That is where the money goes and so of course in heavily unionized states like California, New York, Connecticut, places like that where guards start out at forty thousand a year and after a couple of years on the job they are making sixty, seventy, eighty thousand dollars a year, the staffing costs are a lot higher.

So, what most prisons and jails do to come up with this cost of incarceration, is they take what their annual operating budget is and then they divide the number of prisoners. So you know if you have got ten thousand prisoners then you have got a hundred million dollar budget, they will say oh it costs ten thousand dollars to keep someone locked up but those numbers are deceivingly low.

Because for example and it has to do with the kind of budget tricks that they play when they come up with this. If you started counting the amount of money that they spend on building the prisons and these are typically capitol construction bonds that are paid for out of state budgets having to do with capitol construction same as bridges or hospitals and public universities and stuff.

The states since 1980 they have spent close to a trillion dollars – that is trillion with a T-R, on building new prisons and jails. And this doesn’t show up on their operating budget, instead these are bonds obligating tax payers to pay that amount. And then when you factor in the interest on that, it is a lot higher.

So the so called cost of keeping people locked up – and we are back to the staffing costs. If you talk about the cost of just what it is to pay the staff to run the prison that is one thing but if you start counting their medical benefits and their pension costs it is a lot higher.

So when someone says that it costs twenty thousand dollars or whatever the amount is to keep someone locked up in Texas that might be true at one level but the reality is it is actually down the road and eventually it costs a lot more to keep someone locked up for a year than what the state’s officially let on.

Dean Becker: OK. Drew, I appreciate your call. Paul, we are going to have to start wrapping it up here. And I want to just kind of talk about this. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition says it is sixty-nine billion dollars a year – it’s a good guess, perhaps but due to the fact that in many ways they kind of hide the costs in various categories and so forth as the year develops, it is hard to pin it down specifically. But it is a hell of a lot of money, right Paul?

Paul Wright: Yeah, that is the bottom line. You know we can quibble about whether it is sixty-nine billion or you know, the numbers I hear being bandies about are more like eighty or eighty-five billion so you know, what is fifteen or twenty billion here or there, right? But the bottom line is that it is a lot of money and the thing to remember is that when it comes time to make choices do we want to fund school for our kids? Do we want to have a decent road system? Do we want to have safe food to eat and stuff like that?

Dean Becker: Paul, I tell you what. I do have to wrap it up. Please share your website with us quickly; I have got to get out of here.

Paul Wright: It’s www.prisonlegalnews.org or you can just google Prison Legal News and we will show up.

Dean Becker: Paul Wright, thank you so much, my friend, and to you listening out there. You know we have given you the truth. It is time for you to do your part and remember that there is no truth, justice, logic, there is no reason for this drug war to exist. Visit our website: endprohibition.org. Prohibido esta evilesco.


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.