Criminal Round-Up | Ex-Context | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Criminal Round-Up 

A look at criminal-justice headlines

The last few weeks have been especially eventful in the criminal-justice world. On April 28, Rush Limbaugh was arrested. No perp walk in front of the cameras for Rush. His lawyer, Roy Black, was able to negotiate Rush's surrender at 4 p.m., when it's hard for a camera crew to get across town on short notice.

In 1995, Rush said that people who used drugs ought to be convicted and sent up, including Bill Clinton (even though he never even inhaled). Rush has, however, been able to see his way through an exception for himself. He was addicted to medically prescribed OxyContin, sometimes known as hillbilly heroin (appropriate, huh?).

Limbaugh's largesse does not extend to people who smoke medically prescribed marijuana, however. Just a couple of weeks ago he said, "[T]here's no — zilch, zero, nada — shred of medical value to the evil weed." Rush characterized this as a setback for the "long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking crowd."

A conservative advocate of personal responsibility, Rush stepped up and forked over a pile of money. He gave $30,000 to Palm Beach County, and a whole lot more to Roy Black … and, lo and behold, his problem went away. He was even allowed to enter a "not guilty" plea, which would be a deal-breaker for most people.

On the subject of personal responsibility, the Mexican Congress came up with a plan that would have gotten big government off everybody's back, not just rich people like Rush Limbaugh. Legislators passed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, opium and heroin along with limited quantities of LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, amphetamines, ecstasy and peyote buttons. Everyone was going to be able to take personal responsibility to decide what to put in his own mouth. Not coincidentally, the measure would have freed up the Mexican cops to chase people who do things to other people.

Alas, at the last minute, Mexican President Vicente Fox buckled under American pressure and refused to sign the new law, presumably because it would have contributed to "drug tourism." So, Mexican cops can continue taking bribes and Cancun will remain a safe haven for drunks at next year's spring break.

Closer to home, in Clearfield County, the first for-profit prison has opened in Pennsylvania to mixed reviews. This latest manifestation in the effort to turn the middle of Pennsylvania into a Quaker State Siberia was fought in court for years. Originally conceived as a multi-use facility that would house adult men, women and juveniles in separate sections, the prison, which began accepting guests a few weeks ago, will eventually house 1,300 minimum-security male inmates. In plain English, that means largely non-violent prisoners with less than five years left to serve.

I'm guessing that it really means a bunch of District of Columbia inmates: D.C. supplies way more convicts than the District has bunks for, so they farm a lot of them out to federal and private prisons elsewhere. The new prisoners will be as thrilled to be there as the locals will be to host their friends and families on visiting day.

Surprisingly, some people are in favor of the new joint. It must have been a case of "show me the money." Cornell Companies Inc., the Texas-based company that is operating the prison, told Clearfield residents that the prison will pump some $40 million a year into the local economy. That's around $500 for each person living in Clearfield County. I guess nobody told them that these deals never work out.

Also last week, the jury in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui rejected the death penalty, thereby guaranteeing the 37-year-old terrorist and martyr wannabe to abject misery in the federal torture chamber in Florence, Colo. At least some of the jurors apparently concluded that Moussaoui is either a liar, mentally defective or ape-shit crazy. As if to confirm this appraisal, on his way out of the courtroom Moussaoui announced, "America, you lost, you lost … I won."

The ADMAX unit at Florence is entirely underground. Prisoners are locked in their rooms 23 hours per day, and usually all weekend. They have no human contact. They even read their mail on a small TV monitor.

Maybe Moussaoui isn't so crazy: He said he wanted to be executed. Any con will tell you that's the smart choice.


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