Category: Jena

Controversy erupts as Florida university names its football stadium after a private prison company

By Alan Bean

Florida Atlantic University didn’t know what it was getting into when it agreed to name it’s football stadium after the private prison giant GEO Group.  George Zoley, the CEO of GEO Group calls FAU his alma mater and was willing to hand over a $6 million donation.  The good folks at FAU who gladly took Zoley’s money didn’t realize that private prisons are highly controversial.

As the article below makes clear, GEO Group, like every other private prison company, has been dogged by a long list of abuse allegations in places like Broward County, FL, Walnut Grove, MS, and Jena, LA.  Immigrant rights and DREAM Act groups immediately sprang into action, linking to GEO Groups Wikipedia article to corroborate their unflattering portrait of the private prison company.  In a desperate attempt at damage control, GEO Group gave the Wikipedia article a radical edit, replacing all the unflattering facts with its own corporate propaganda.

I first learned about the FAU-GEO Group connection on Tuesday morning at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference in Dallas.  I had just finished my presentation on the private prison industry when a woman in the audience stood to announce the breaking news.  This morning, my Google Alert on Walnut Grove led me to the article below.

Private prisons are cheap because they cut corners at every turn, diverting tax dollars into corporate coffers and massive bonus checks for men like George Foley.  They must understaff their prisons to remain in the black.   (more…)

Requiem for Catrina

Caseptla Bailey and Catrina Wallace

By Alan Bean

On June 29, 2009, the Jena 6 saga reached an unheralded conclusion at the LaSalle Parish courthouse.  The terms reflected DA Reed Walter’s desire to move beyond a controversy that had enveloped his existence for over two years.  Each of the five remaining defendants in this case pleaded “no contest” to a misdemeanor charge of simple battery and after completing a week of non-supervised probation their records were expunged.

Two weeks later, more than 150 officers, including a SWAT team and helicopters, stormed into Jena’s small black community and arrested over a dozen individuals.

According to Sheriff Scott Franklin, the primary target of the raid was 37-year-old Darren “Nunni” DeWayne Brown, a man Franklin described as the narcotics kingpin responsible for supplying 80% of the narcotics sold in LaSalle, Grant and Catahoula parishes.  The raid also targeted Brown’s partners in crime and a few and other low-level dealers.

During the pre-raid briefing, Franklin spelled out the consequences of the raid for his troops.  The bad guys “will get put in handcuffs, put behind bars today and never see the light of day again unless they are going out on the playground in prison.”

Catrina Wallace, one of the key organizers behind the Jena 6 movement, was among those arrested.

As her three young children looked on, Catrina was arrested at gun point, handcuffed, and hauled off to the LaSalle Parish Jail. A search of her home turned up no evidence of drug use or drug dealing.  In fact, none of the Rambo-style raids conducted that day produced any drugs.  Scott Franklin had predicted that his raid would make the black end of Jena look like Baghdad.  Maybe so, the 150 men assembled for Operation Third Option didn’t find the WMD. (more…)

Scot McKnight gets the kingdom all wrong

By Alan Bean

“Social justice outside the church is not biblical justice or kingdom work. It is social work. Fine, that’s a good thing. But let’s not call this kingdom work.”

So says Scot McKnight, author of “The Jesus Creed: Loving God and Loving Others“.  McKnight has no beef with works of justice performed outside the church, it just doesn’t qualify as kingdom work.  (You can find an extended treatment of his remarks in this Associated Baptist Press article.)

McKnight believes in justice, especially the kind of justice that mattered to Jesus.  But that’s just the problem, few churches share his passion.  Take the issue of mass incarceration, for instance.  Over the past four decades, churches have adopted a law-n-order, lock-’em-up stance.  We wanted to be on the side of the angels, and that meant supporting law enforcement force the bad people (particularly drug dealers) off the streets. (more…)

Jena, Louisiana five years on

 By Alan Bean

Reed Walters doesn’t think he did a very good job explaining his prosecution of the Jena 6.  It wasn’t for lack of opportunity.  The New York Times invited the LaSalle Parish DA to write an op-ed and the Christian Science Monitor published a curious piece of historical reconstruction written by a Walters supporter at the Jena Times. 

In his NYT op-ed, Walters defended his refusal to charge the boys who hung nooses from a tree at the Jena High School with a hate crime.  It didn’t take much ingenuity to make the case.  Charging the noose boys with a hate crime was always a really bad idea.  The kids needed a history lesson on lynch law and the South’s history of racial violence.  A few months in prison would simply have left them traumatized and unchanged.

Things got out of hand in Jena because nobody in a position of power could acknowledge that the noose hanging was racially motivated.  The nooses appeared the morning after a freshman asked if it was okay for black students to sit under the tree in question.  But when the noose hangers insisted they were just acting out a scene from the popular miniseries Lonesome Dove, men like Reed Walters and Superintendent Roy Breithaupt were eager to believe them.


You don’t talk about the South’s racial history in towns like Jena.  That’s why. (more…)

Why Georgia WON’T execute Troy Davis

By Alan Bean

-Can a system that routinely gets it wrong justifiably execute anyone?-

Predictions are always dangerous, but I am quite confident about this one.  The state of Georgia will NOT execute Troy Davis. 

Why am I so sure about this?  Because public officials are averse to embarrassment.  Politicians will back away from a sinful decision for the same reason they generally adopt a tough-on-crime stance–it’s the easiest way to go.   (more…)

They built it, but nobody came: private prisons face bleak future

Prison outside Jena, Louisiana

For decades now, private prisons have been thrown up across America, often at the expense of the taxpayer, on the assumption that the policy of mass incarceration would eventually supply the needed bodies. 

As I relate in Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas, the prison west of Tulia was built on this basis.  One scam offered to Swisher County residents was so flimsy it disintegrated before construction could begin.  The second wave of con artists used junk bonds to finance a building that sat empty for years before being picked by the state for half of its original construction cost. 

The prison outside Jena, Louisiana was built on the same basis, this time with the larcenous cooperation of then-Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards.  The same Houston outfit was responsible for the speculative private prisons built in Tulia, Jena and a dozen other little towns.

If we built it, folks reasoned, they will come.  And come they did.  For a time.

The Tulia prison was eventually filled to capacity.  The Jena prison filled up tool, but was closed on two separate occasions in response to racially-tinged allegations of inmate abuse (it now serves as a massive ICE lock-up). 

But as the rate of incarceration has slowed in response to low crime rates and the financial crisis currently afflicting state and federal governments, more and more communities are paying the bills for superfluous prisons.  (more…)

Does banning the noose change anything?

For the fourth straight year, Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced an anti-noose bill.  The Noose Hate Crime Act of 201 stipulates that “Whoever, with intent to harass or intimidate any person because of that person’s race, color, religion, or national origin, displays a noose in public shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.”

Hate crimes legislation, though admirable at first glance, raises serious First Amendment issues.  In practice, it will be difficult to prove that a specific noose hanger was motivated by a desire to “harass or intimidate”. 

Jackson Lee’s bill was first introduced as a response to the noose hanging in Jena Louisiana, but I’m not sure it would (or should) apply to that kind of situation.  What would have been gained by locking up the Jena noose hangers for two years?  Would this teach them a lesson they would never forget, or would it simply harden the racial resentment that motivated their act in the first place? (more…)

Pardons in a punitive age

By Alan Bean

‘Tis the season for executive pardons–or at least it used to be. 

The editorial board of the Washington Post is criticizing President Obama for making nine trifling pardons, most of which involve small crimes that date back decades. 

In a slashing opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News, Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast questions the prevailing practice of handing out a few scattered pardons like Christmas presents while ignoring entire categories of people who have fallen victim to ill-considered policies like putting non-violent citizens  in prison for simple pot possession.

Meanwhile, NYT columnist Bob Herbert takes a stripe out of Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour and the political establishment of Mississippi for their shabby treatment of the Scott sisters. (more…)

“Support the poor, or go to hell”

Over at Religious Dispatches, Daniel Schultz takes the religious Left to task for being too nice.  Here’s a teaser:

“I’ve been asked a lot over the course of this fall why we don’t have a politically effective religious left in America. The short answer is that there’s a significant trade-off between being nice (or engaging in “civil discourse,” as it’s called these days) and being potent. All the commitment to moral suasion, to building consensus, to reconciliation between political opponents, all the commitment in the world to “speaking out” about your values isn’t going to accomplish squat.”

Pastor Dan’s “support the poor, or go to hell” theme is one of several semi-serious suggestions for giving progressive religious messaging some much-needed bite. (more…)