Law

Get Out of Jail Free

How prosecutors and courts collude to keep corrupt executives from doing prison time. 

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis/Nick Ut/Kathy Willens/Matt Dunham
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis/Nick Ut/Kathy Willens/Matt Dunham This combination made from file photos shows signage for four banks, Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, that will pay $2.5 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminally manipulating global currency market going back to 2007. This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Why Not Jail?: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction By Rena Steinzor 192 pp. Cambridge University Press $32.99 Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations By Brandon L. Garrett 290 pp. Belknap Press $29.95 I n these partisan times, here’s an assertion that cuts across party lines: The United States faces a problem of “overcriminalization,” an explosion of statutes that give the government extraordinary powers to make felons of us all. In 2013, the House Judiciary Committee formed a special task force to address this...

Columbia University Was Invested in Incarceration—Until Students Stopped It

Inside the nationwide campaign to keep university endowments out of the prison business. 

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren In this photo taken on Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 detainees are shown inside a holding cell at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washashington, a facility operated by The GEO Group Inc. under contract from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. T he private prison industry is a growth industry—exploding by 350 percent in just 15 years. As the federal and state governments are facing slimming budgets, contracting out prison operations to private companies is seen as a convenient way to deal with ever-increasing rates of incarceration and detention. At the same time, such rapid growth has made the private prison industry an especially attractive investment for university endowments, prompting a nationwide, student-led divestment campaign that’s lately seen some notable success. Studies have shown that while private prison operations may help ease some budgetary strain, they perform worse than public prisons on a number of metrics: reducing prison violence;...

What Some Black Church Leaders Have Wrong About Gay Marriage -- and Civil Rights

From Stonewall to Black Lives Matter, the African American LGBT community has always been on the forefront of fights for equality.

(Photo: AP/Jacqueline Martin)
(Photo: AP/Jacqueline Martin) On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples had a right to marry anywhere in the country. T he African American church and its leadership have often been at the forefront of movements for equality. But the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has shed light on the resistance to social change among some black church leaders —and has left them sounding more like white conservative leaders. On June 26, the Court ruled that two consenting adults have the right to get married—even if they are the same gender. As conservatives lamented the loss of morality and warned of the hellfire that would soon rain down upon us, President Barack Obama and the White House celebrated the decision. Just a few hours later, Obama delivered a eulogy for Clementa Pinckney. Pinckney was a South Carolina state senator and a pastor at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church before he was shot and killed, along with eight...

Unhappy Justices

The Supreme Court's conservative wing seems increasingly out of touch with 21st century America—and reality. 

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A ll unhappy Supreme Court justices, as Tolstoy never said, have their own stories, and this was never more apparent than it was last week. To be sure, each of the four justices who issued dissenting opinions to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion affirming a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage made the same argument: There was no such right, they each declared, so the decision to establish one should be left to the voters or legislators of the states. But each did so in his own disconsolate (or in Antonin Scalia’s case, dyspeptic) fashion, and digressed in distinctive ways. Not surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts issued the most politic dissent, acknowledging right at the start that “the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling,” and concluding with the goodwill send-...

But Was the Court's Ruling on Marriage Democratic?

Contrary to critics, extending rights to long-oppressed groups lies at the heart of our democratic system. 

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Members of security stand outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday June 29, 2015. N ever has a revolution in moral and legal judgment occurred so quickly. Only 29 years ago, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court dismissed arguments for the most basic constitutional protections for gay people as, “at best, facetious.” Now, thanks to a new majority on the Court, we have something barely imaginable just a few years ago: a constitutional right to marriage equality. Yet there is a potential stain on this victory for equal rights. The four justices dissenting from the Court’s historic same-sex marriage decision charge that it is undemocratic. According to Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court is “stealing this issue from the people.” A “judicial Putsch,” Justice Antonin Scalia declares. The charge of democratic illegitimacy rolls through the four dissents like thunder, and it may resonate widely. Some notable progressive legal thinkers, such as...

Republicans Need to Find a New Culture War to Fight

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais In this Friday, June 26, 2015 file photo, people gather in Lafayette Park to see the White House illuminated with rainbow colors in commemoration of the Supreme Court's ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington. W hile Antonin Scalia's dissents in last week's two blockbuster cases were full of his usual colorful bombast (I can't wait to respond to a line of baloney someone gives me with "That, sir, is pure applesauce !"), there was one line that stuck out for me. In Obergefell v. Hodges , the gay marriage case, Scalia aimed his withering contempt at Anthony Kennedy's assertion in the majority opinion that two people can find "other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality" in the bond of marriage. "Really?" Scalia wrote. "Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest...

Scalia's Presumption of Reasonable Republicans

Justice Scalia's dissent in King v. Burwell rests on a deeply misguided faith in GOP leaders at the state level. 

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
AP Photo/Evan Vucci Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, October 5, 2011, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. J ustice Antonin Scalia’s dissent from the Supreme Court’s recent decision on Obamacare reveals an almost touching belief that his Republican confreres are actually empirically sentient and can, if prodded, respond to reality. In that decision, which was handed down on June 24, the Court upheld the payment of federal subsidies to low-income recipients of Obamacare in states that haven’t set up their own exchanges. Were the Court to strike down the subsidies, as Scalia argues it should have, states without exchanges, he writes, would surely set them up: The Court predicts that making tax credits unavailable in States that do not set up their own Exchanges would cause disastrous economic consequences there. If that is so, however, wouldn’t one expect States to react by setting up their own Exchanges? And wouldn’t...

From Same-Sex Marriage to Polygamy?

Why there is no slippery slope.

AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren
AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren This artist rendering shows Tennessee Associate Solicitor General Joseph Walen arguing before the Supreme Court hearing on same-sex marriage, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Washington. W ith the Supreme Court likely to hand down its decision on same-sex marriage shortly, let’s consider the argument made by conservatives that seems to weigh most heavily with the public. Traditionalists warn against a “slippery slope” from gay rights to more radical change that would include legal recognition of polygamy. According to conservatives, those who want to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples cannot explain why it should stop there. At the Supreme Court’s oral argument Justice Samuel Alito invoked not only polygamous marriage but also the caring relationship of a brother and sister who reside together. Assuming consent and mutual commitment, why not let them all wed? If constitutional principles and reasoned reflection cannot help sort through the nettlesome...

Women as the Loyal Opposition

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senator Elizabeth Warren, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Senator John Kerry's nomination to be secretary of state on January 24, 2014. A version of this article first appeared at The Huffington Post . L ong ago, when I began writing newspaper columns, a wise editor advised me that a column is about one thing. I am about to violate that rule. This piece is about three different things (which are connected if you look hard). One is a 25th anniversary; the second is some Mother's Day musings; the third is the latest in a string of losses for the left, namely the trouncing of the British Labour Party in Thursday's election. Let me explain. In 1990, Robert Reich, Paul Starr and I founded a new progressive magazine, The American Prospect , to try to breathe some intellectual spirit and political backbone into American liberalism. At the time, liberals were getting whacked both by...

Mother's Day, For Real

In the real America, the lives of women—especially black and brown women—are no bed of roses.

In partnership with The OpEd Project, The American Prospect presents this series, curated by Deborah Douglas, examining aspects of life unique to women, on one of greeting card industry's biggest days. (Photo © Christopher Futcher: iStock) Why There Are No Children Here: A Mother's Day Lament DEBORAH DOUGLAS “What have you ever done right?” That was the question that dominated my mind one night two years ago as I lay in my bed, surrounded by fluffy pillows and a sleepy Yorkie at the foot. This wasn’t one of those self-denigrating moments I engage in when I internally chastise myself for not writing enough that day or holding my temper tighter, or not giving one of my journalism students much-needed grace under the pressure they face to prepare for an industry that asks them to do everything at once masterfully. No, this was a true thought experiment to force myself to fully identify the things I’ve gotten right in my life as a way of charting a course to build on something righteous...

Ever the Protectors, Moms Seeking Asylum Need Protection, Too

Obama failed to specify that his enthusiasm for mothers is strictly limited to American moms.

(AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)
(AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca) In this September 10, 2014, file photo, an unidentified immigrant from Guatemala who declined to give her name, is interviewed, while her son paints on a whiteboard at the Artesia Family Residential Center, a federal detention facility for undocumented immigrant mothers and children in Artesia, New Mexico. This essay is published by The American Prospect in partnership with The OpEd Project's Public Voices Fellowship. It is part of a package of commentary pieces centered on Mother's Day 2015. I n last year’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, President Obama recommended we put our moms first “because they so often put everything above themselves.” He said we should “extend our gratitude for our mothers' unconditional love and support” because “when women succeed, America succeeds.” Obama should have specified that his enthusiasm for moms is strictly limited to American moms. Last summer, his administration systematically locked up over a thousand mothers and...

For Mothers Across America, a Somber Day of Remembrance

It seems wrong to celebrate when so many women are in pain over the loss of their children to oppression and violence.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Shelia Price, center, is comforted by a friend as group of mothers and others march against police brutality as mothers from across the country join the "Million Moms March" with the group Mothers For Justice United at the Department of Justice in Washington, on Saturday, May 9, 2015. This essay is published by The American Prospect in partnership with The OpEd Project's Public Voices Fellowship. It is part of a package of commentary pieces centered on Mother's Day 2015. W hen Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914 , it was designed to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children. Though the commercialization of the holiday is undeniable decades later, it remains a day where many of us celebrate and thank the women that birthed and or nurtured and raised us. But this Mother’s Day feels different. Ominous. Heavy with sorrow. It seems wrong to celebrate when so many mothers are in pain. For example, though 300 women and girls were recently...

How Government Policies Cemented the Racism that Reigns in Baltimore

A century of federal, state, and local policies have quarantined Charm City’s black population in isolated slums.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) A boy runs from a public housing development toward the intersection where Freddie Gray was arrested, Friday, April 24, 2015, in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. But the unrest that followed is as much a comment on 100 years government housing policies that continue to the present day as it is about unjust policing. This article originally appeared on the website of the Economic Policy Institute , under the title, " From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation ". I n Baltimore in 1910, a black graduate of Yale Law School purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood. The Baltimore city government reacted by adopting a residential segregation ordinance , restricting African Americans to designated blocks. Explaining the policy, Baltimore’s mayor proclaimed: “Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of...

Pity the Purist in the GOP Primaries (A Tear for Bobby Jindal)

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
I t's the season for pandering to the base, which is as good a time as any to ask whether the glorious, fascinating mess that is today's Republican Party can ever unify enough to win back the White House—or whether unity is something they should even be after. Because it may well be that a fractured, contentious GOP is the only kind that can prevail next November. You probably missed it, but over the weekend nearly all the Republican presidential candidates (with the notable exception of Jeb Bush) hotfooted it back to Iowa to participate in the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Forum, where they testified to the depths of their love for the Lord and their hatred for His enemies, particularly Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The entreaties to this band of the base—important in primaries everywhere, but critically so in Iowa, where 57 percent of the attendees at the Republican caucuses in 2012 identified as born-again or evangelical Christian—are a good reminder of the internal and...

First in the Nation: New Abortion Restrictions in Kansas

The ban of a common medical procedure is giving the state a dubious distinction.

(Photo: AP/John Hanna)
Protesters rally against abortion at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka in January. Kansas and Oklahoma both recently banned a medically safe and common abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation but referred to by opponents as "dismemberment abortions." T ypically, “first in the nation” is a title that a state would feel proud to receive. However, in the case of Kansas’s first-in-the-nation law that criminalizes doctors who perform a certain type of abortion procedure, our policymakers should be ashamed. In a state that is already hostile toward women, this new law prevents doctors from providing the best care to their patients and limits women’s ability to decide what is best for themselves and their families. Even worse, Kansas has already been joined by Oklahoma, with Governor Mary Fallin’s signature on nearly identical legislation. These bills are sprouting up throughout the country as part of an extreme, anti-women agenda that intends to ban abortion care across the U.S...

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