Inmates at Idaho's Kuna facility have banded together to sue Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and more
Although we may blame booze for several bad decisions on a Friday night, we would hardly think to sue beer companies for those mistakes. Five Idaho inmates, however, have drafted a lawsuit against major alcohol companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller Brewing, Belleville News-Democrat reports.
The plaintiffs claim that these companies are partially responsible for their crimes, as the corporations failed to warn consumers of alcohol's addictive qualities.
"I have spent a great deal of that time in prison because of situations that have arose because of people being drunk, or because of situations in which alcohol played a major role," inmate Keith Allen Brown wrote in the lawsuit. "At no time in my life, prior to me becoming an alcoholic, was I ever informed that alcohol was habit forming and addictive."
The plaintiffs are looking for $500 million to make up for the effects of alcohol on their lives.
This lawsuit is similar to another filed last February by an Indian tribe in South Dakota, who accused beer companies and a store of contributing to alcoholism on the reservation; the tribe has a no-alcohol policy, and it claimed the store selling beer was disregarding that rule.
The beer companies have not commented on the most recent lawsuit, but Anheuser-Busch did respond to the South Dakota case, saying in a statement, "When our products become associated with a problem, it is damaging to all of us as parents and members of communities, and to us as a company; it’s the last thing we want for our consumers or our products."
A Lawsuit Against "Big Alcohol" for Advertising to Underage Drinkers Are Minors Accountable for Their Actions?
On November 13, Ayman Hakki filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., against several alcohol producers. The suit claims that in an effort to create brand loyalty in the young, the defendants have for over two decades deliberately targeted their television and magazine advertising campaigns at consumers under the legal drinking age.
Hakki asks for damages including all of the profits the defendants have earned since 1982 from the sale of alcohol to minors. He is also seeking class-action status for his suit. The plaintiff class would consist of all parents whose underage children purchased alcohol in the last twenty-one years.
The lawsuit against makers of beer and liquor resembles earlier litigation against tobacco companies in which plaintiffs identified commercial advertising targeted at children, including the famous "Joe Camel" character. Such suits paved the way for major settlements against Big Tobacco.
Suits against tobacco and alcohol companies for targeting youthful purchasers reflect a particular philosophy regarding people under the legal drinking or smoking age: they are too immature to take full responsibility for their actions. This philosophy is in serious tension with the approach that has increasingly come to dominate our society's approach to juvenile criminal justice: when minors commit crimes, they ought to be held accountable and punished as adults. This inconsistency becomes especially clear when we examine efforts to distinguish the two contexts.
Does the Idea of "Personal Responsibility" Apply to Minors?
Those who criticize litigation against Big Tobacco (and will, presumably, also oppose legal action against "Big Alcohol") argue that all of the lawsuits, including those brought by adults, are premised on the view that individuals are not entirely responsible for their own actions.
Critics charge that even if cigarettes and alcohol are addicting and pose serious health risks to the people who use them, virtually every user somewhere along the line has made an individual, voluntary decision nonetheless to consume these products. For that decision, they urge, the user - and not the creator of the product - must rightly assume responsibility.
Proponents of such suits might respond that even when people are aware of the health risks posed by their behavior (risks which are not now - and perhaps never were - entirely unknown), many begin to use the product at an age at which they are extremely susceptible to peer pressure and other influences that compromise their ability to "just say no."
Once addicted at a vulnerable age, the argument goes, young users grow into adults who find the addicting substances difficult or impossible to resist. By defeating an individual's will at an early stage, it follows, producers of such substances deprive her of the ability to decline further use when she reaches adulthood.
Such arguments are persuasive to many people in the context of tobacco (and in all probability alcohol) litigation. By contrast, however, arguments of this sort have faced repeated and increasingly firm rejection in the criminal context. The criminal justice system routinely moves defendants under the age of eighteen (and sometimes much younger) into the adult courts for committing serious crimes.
A little over a year ago, for example, the State of Florida successfully prosecuted two brothers, Alex and Derek King, for the first degree murder of their father, Terry King. The boys were, respectively, twelve and thirteen years of age when one, at the direction of the other, bludgeoned his father to death with a baseball bat. Yet they were convicted and treated as adult offenders.
And most famously at the moment, Lee Malvo is standing trial for a murder that was part of a three-week spree of shootings that killed ten people and wounded six in the Washington area last fall. Though Malvo was seventeen years old at the time of the shootings, prosecutors are trying him as an adult and will likely seek the death penalty.
The United States Supreme Court has itself weighed in on the issue of underage responsibility. In Thompson v. Oklahoma , decided in 1988, the Court held that to be eligible for the death penalty under the U.S. Constitution, an offender must have been at least sixteen years old at the time of his offense. The implicit premise of the decision, understood as such by courts throughout the country, is that capital punishment is acceptable when the offender was sixteen or older at the time of his crime.
Youthful Responsibility Versus Big Alcohol Lawsuits: An Inconsistency?
Interestingly, the trend favoring full criminal responsibility for young people seems to co-exist with our society's increasing willingness to treat underage smoking and drinking (and derivatively perhaps, the continuing drinking and smoking of adults who began at a young age) as the fault of manufacturers, rather than users. Lawsuits that would have had no traction years ago now survive and sometimes result in impressive settlements.
To reconcile these two trends, one might make the following argument. One can acknowledge that every person is responsible for her criminal actions, as young people and as adults. Acknowledging that responsibility, however, is entirely consistent with the notion that others who encourage and tempt people to commit offenses are worthy of condemnation as well. Guilt on the part of drug users, in other words, does not logically preclude responsibility (perhaps even greater responsibility) on the part of their dealers.
Consider an analogous example of this phenomenon. John pays Jane to kill Dave, which Jane does. John and Jane can now both be held responsible for their roles in the murder of Dave.
Though Jane is guilty of killing Dave, in other words, John is independently guilty of murder. That is because we understand that by encouraging or tempting Jane to commit a murder, John contributes causally and culpably to the murder's actual occurrence, even though the encouragement and temptation do not in any way mitigate the seriousness of Jane's actions.
This argument is persuasive, as far as it goes. But it does not truly address the tension that I identified earlier. In the above example, John and Jane can both be responsible for Dave's death. And that joint responsibility means that both culprits can be criminally prosecuted and/or held civilly responsible in a wrongful death action by Dave's family. The law will not provide a forum, however, for Jane's suing John for having encouraged her to kill Dave in the first place. By responding to John's incentives, Jane does not become John's victim.
In the suits against tobacco companies and manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, the producers of harmful products are like John, encouraging illegal behavior, and the youthful smokers and drinkers are like Jane, succumbing to temptation. As accomplices in their respective misconduct, neither advertisers nor John has standing to sue users and Jane, respectively, for damages.
Put another way, there is no analogue for Dave - the victim of both John and Jane - in the litigation against manufacturers of addicting substances. If the smoker or drinker foreseeably injured a third party, on the other hand, then that third party would provide an appropriate analogue to Dave. For that reason, victims of gun violence might have a stronger case against weapons manufacturers, consistent with the personal responsibility of gun owners, than alcohol and tobacco users have against manufacturers.
Drinking and Smoking Versus Crime: Can Paternalism Offer a Distinction?
Still intent on denying any philosophical inconsistency, one might argue that murder, on the one hand, and underage drinking and smoking, on the other, are quite distinct phenomena. In the case of murder, a person irreparably harms another human being (and the victim's loved ones). In the case of underage smoking and drinking, by contrast, a person harms him or herself.
Because drinking and smoking are self-destructive acts, it follows that laws against underage drinking and smoking are inherently paternalistic measures intended to protect the young. Seen in that light, one might argue, young people are victims of the manufacturers, just as Dave is a victim of John.
To the extent that we accept this distinction, laws against underage use of cigarettes and alcohol are meant to protect the underage user and not a third party. Therefore, enforcement of such laws need not resemble that of laws against murder, which are designed exclusively for the protection of innocent victims. The murder laws are not paternalistic they seek to punish, deter, or incapacitate the murderer (rather than to protect him from himself).
Putting aside non-paternalistic arguments against underage drinking (such as the mayhem and death caused by teenagers' drunk driving), the paternalism argument does seem to distinguish effectively between harmful crimes and so-called "victimless" crimes. This distinction, however, does more to support than to rebut the objection that people should be held responsible for their actions.
Paternalistic legislation protecting minors from harmful substances is itself at odds with the notion of holding minors criminally responsible for their actions. Disgorging the profits of alcohol producers whose products were sold to minors, moreover, suggests that minors should not even be held responsible for their decision to make a destructive purchase.
Alternatively, "victimless" crimes may be justified by non-paternalistic rationales, such as the costs that self-destructive behavior imposes on the wellbeing of the entire community (by reducing the actor's contribution to society). If we accept this approach, then the criminal no longer occupies the status of victim at all. Instead he represents a kind of "accomplice" with the manufacturer in hurting others who must bear the consequences of the actor's vice. On that logic, of course, no compensation is due the user.
Consequences of the Inconsistency
It is hard to predict where this inconsistency - between the juvenile's responsibility for crime and lack of accountability for using alcohol or tobacco will, or should, take us.
Perhaps the alcohol suits will fail, on the same theory of personal responsibility that animates the prosecution of youthful offenders. The choices of a minor who picks up a gun, and a minor who picks up a bottle, or a cigarette, may ultimately be seen as equally free and thus equally attributable to the actors in question.
Or perhaps instead, youth will come to be understood more fully as mitigating criminal actions, particularly as research suggests that adolescent brain development is incomplete in areas associated with self-control. In that event, youthful offenders may receive briefer sentences than their adult counterparts. And their lawsuits against alcohol producers may be able to survive where the same suits by adults would fail.
Finally, there is a third alternative: The logical inconsistency in the way in which we view minors' personal responsibility (or lack thereof) may persist, as so many do, without altering either of the trends that are in tension with one another. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, "[t]he life of the law has not been logic it has been experience."
Sherry F. Colb, a FindLaw columnist, is a Professor at Rutgers Law School in Newark.
Inmates Blame Brewers For Their Crimes, Sue For $1 Billion
Five inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, reportedly, are suing major beer and wine producers for $1 billion because, they say, alcohol led to their crimes and that they should have been warned that the beverages can be addictive.
The inmates say that companies that produce alcoholic beverages should have put labels on their products warning consumers that they are habit-forming.
Thus, the inmates claim they're entitled to be paid $1 billion in damages by the likes of Miller Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch, and Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery.
Omega-3, junk food and the link between violence and what we eat
That Dwight Demar is able to sit in front of us, sober, calm, and employed, is "a miracle", he declares in the cadences of a prayer-meeting sinner. He has been rocking his 6ft 2in bulk to and fro while delivering a confessional account of his past into the middle distance. He wants us to know what has saved him after 20 years on the streets: "My dome is working. They gave me some kind of pill and I changed. Me, myself and I, I changed."
Demar has been in and out of prison so many times he has lost count of his convictions. "Being drunk, being disorderly, trespass, assault and battery you name it, I did it. How many times I been in jail? I don't know, I was locked up so much it was my second home."
Demar has been taking part in a clinical trial at the US government's National Institutes for Health, near Washington. The study is investigating the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on the brain, and the pills that have effected Demar's "miracle" are doses of fish oil.
The results emerging from this study are at the cutting edge of the debate on crime and punishment. In Britain we lock up more people than ever before. Nearly 80,000 people are now in our prisons, which reached their capacity this week.
But the new research calls into question the very basis of criminal justice and the notion of culpability. It suggests that individuals may not always be responsible for their aggression. Taken together with a study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies.
The UK prison trial at Aylesbury jail showed that when young men there were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in the prison fell by 37%. Although no one is suggesting that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, the former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now "absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour, both that bad diet causes bad behaviour and that good diet prevents it."
The Dutch government is currently conducting a large trial to see if nutritional supplements have the same effect on its prison population. And this week, new claims were made that fish oil had improved behaviour and reduced aggression among children with some of the most severe behavioural difficulties in the UK.
For the clinician in charge of the US study, Joseph Hibbeln, the results of his trial are not a miracle, but simply what you might predict if you understand the biochemistry of the brain and the biophysics of the brain cell membrane. His hypothesis is that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain.
We are suffering, he believes, from widespread diseases of deficiency. Just as vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise those fats is causing of a host of mental problems from depression to aggression. Not all experts agree, but if he is right, the consequences are as serious as they could be. The pandemic of violence in western societies may be related to what we eat or fail to eat. Junk food may not only be making us sick, but mad and bad too.
In Demar's case the aggression has blighted many lives. He has attacked his wife. "Once she put my TV out the door, I snapped off and smacked her." His last spell in prison was for a particularly violent assault. "I tried to kill a person. Then I knew something need be done because I was half a hundred and I was either going to kill somebody or get killed."
Demar's brain has blanked out much of that last attack. He can remember that a man propositioned him for sex, but the details of his own response are hazy.
When he came out of jail after that, he bought a can of beer and seemed headed for more of the same until a case worker who had seen adverts for Hibbeln's trial persuaded him to take part.
The researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of NIH, had placed adverts for aggressive alcoholics in the Washington Post in 2001. Some 80 volunteers came forward and have since been enrolled in the double blind study. They have ranged from homeless people to a teacher to a former secret service agent. Following a period of three weeks' detoxification on a locked ward, half were randomly assigned to 2 grams per day of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for three months, and half to placebos of fish-flavoured corn oil.
An earlier pilot study on 30 patients with violent records found that those given omega-3 supplements had their anger reduced by one-third, measured by standard scales of hostility and irritability, regardless of whether they were relapsing and drinking again. The bigger trial is nearly complete now and Dell Wright, the nurse administering the pills, has seen startling changes in those on the fish oil rather than the placebo. "When Demar came in there was always an undercurrent of aggression in his behaviour. Once he was on the supplements he took on the ability not to be impulsive. He kept saying, 'This is not like me'."
Demar has been out of trouble and sober for a year now. He has a girlfriend, his own door key, and was made employee of the month at his company recently. Others on the trial also have long histories of violence but with omega-3 fatty acids have been able for the first time to control their anger and aggression. J, for example, arrived drinking a gallon of rum a day and had 28 scars on his hand from punching other people. Now he is calm and his cravings have gone. W was a 19st barrel of a man with convictions for assault and battery. He improved dramatically on the fish oil and later told doctors that for the first time since the age of five he had managed to go three months without punching anyone in the head.
Hibbeln is a psychiatrist and physician, but as an employee of the US government at the NIH he wears the uniform of a commander, with his decorations for service pinned to his chest. As we queued to get past the post-9/11 security checks at the NIH federal base, he explained something of his view of the new threat to society.
Over the last century most western countries have undergone a dramatic shift in the composition of their diets in which the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to the brain have been flooded out by competing omega-6 fatty acids, mainly from industrial oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower. In the US, for example, soya oil accounted for only 0.02% of all calories available in 1909, but by 2000 it accounted for 20%. Americans have gone from eating a fraction of an ounce of soya oil a year to downing 25lbs (11.3kg) per person per year in that period. In the UK, omega-6 fats from oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower accounted for 1% of energy supply in the early 1960s, but by 2000 they were nearly 5%. These omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from industrial frying for takeaways, ready meals and snack foods such as crisps, chips, biscuits, ice-creams and from margarine. Alcohol, meanwhile, depletes omega-3s from the brain.
To test the hypothesis, Hibbeln and his colleagues have mapped the growth in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils in 38 countries since the 1960s against the rise in murder rates over the same period. In all cases there is an unnerving match. As omega-6 goes up, so do homicides in a linear progression. Industrial societies where omega-3 consumption has remained high and omega-6 low because people eat fish, such as Japan, have low rates of murder and depression.
Of course, all these graphs prove is that there is a striking correlation between violence and omega 6-fatty acids in the diet. They don't prove that high omega-6 and low omega-3 fat consumption actually causes violence. Moreover, many other things have changed in the last century and been blamed for rising violence - exposure to violence in the media, the breakdown of the family unit and increased consumption of sugar, to take a few examples. But some of the trends you might expect to be linked to increased violence - such as availability of firearms and alcohol, or urbanisation - do not in fact reliably predict a rise in murder across countries, according to Hibbeln.
There has been a backlash recently against the hype surrounding omega-3 in the UK from scientists arguing that the evidence remains sketchy. Part of the backlash stems from the eagerness of some supplement companies to suggest that fish oils work might wonders even on children who have no behavioural problems.
Alan Johnson, the education secretary, appeared to be jumping on the bandwagon recently when he floated the idea of giving fish oils to all school children. The idea was quickly knocked down when the food standards agency published a review of the evidence on the effect of nutrition on learning among schoolchildren and concluded there was not enough to conclude much, partly because very few scientific trials have been done.
Professor John Stein, of the department of physiology at Oxford University, where much of the UK research on omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies has been based, agrees: "There is only slender evidence that children with no particular problem would benefit from fish oil. And I would always say [for the general population] it's better to get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish, which carries all the vitamins and minerals needed to metabolise them."
However, he believes that the evidence from the UK prison study and from Hibbeln's research in the US on the link between nutritional deficiency and crime is " strong", although the mechanisms involved are still not fully understood.
Hibbeln, Stein and others have been investigating what the mechanisms of a causal relationship between diet and aggression might be. This is where the biochemistry and biophysics comes in.
Essential fatty acids are called essential because humans cannot make them but must obtain them from the diet. The brain is a fatty organ - it's 60% fat by dry weight, and the essential fatty acids are what make part of its structure, making up 20% of the nerve cells' membranes. The synapses, or junctions where nerve cells connect with other nerve cells, contain even higher concentrations of essential fatty acids - being made of about 60% of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.
Communication between the nerve cells depends on neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, docking with receptors in the nerve cell membrane.
Omega-3 DHA is very long and highly flexible. When it is incorporated into the nerve cell membrane it helps make the membrane itself elastic and fluid so that signals pass through it efficiently. But if the wrong fatty acids are incorporated into the membrane, the neurotransmitters can't dock properly. We know from many other studies what happens when the neurotransmitter systems don't work efficiently. Low serotonin levels are known to predict an increased risk of suicide, depression and violent and impulsive behaviour. And dopamine is what controls the reward processes in the brain.
Laboratory tests at NIH have shown that the composition of tissue and in particular of the nerve cell membrane of people in the US is different from that of the Japanese, who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from fish. Americans have cell membranes higher in the less flexible omega-6 fatty acids, which appear to have displaced the elastic omega-3 fatty acids found in Japanese nerve cells.
Hibbeln's theory is that because the omega-6 fatty acids compete with the omega-3 fatty acids for the same metabolic pathways, when omega-6 dominates in the diet, we can't convert the omega-3s to DHA and EPA, the longer chain versions we need for the brain. What seems to happen then is that the brain picks up a more rigid omega-6 fatty acid DPA instead of DHA to build the cell membranes - and they don't function so well.
Other experts blame the trans fats produced by partial hydrogenation of industrial oils for processed foods. Trans fats have been shown to interfere with the synthesis of essentials fats in foetuses and infants. Minerals such as zinc and the B vitamins are needed to metabolise essential fats, so deficiencies in these may be playing an important part too.
There is also evidence that deficiencies in DHA/EPA at times when the brain is developing rapidly - in the womb, in the first 5 years of life and at puberty - can affect its architecture permanently. Animal studies have shown that those deprived of omega-3 fatty acids over two generations have offspring who cannot release dopamine and serotonin so effectively.
"The extension of all this is that if children are left with low dopamine as a result of early deficits in their own or their mother's diets, they cannot experience reward in the same way and they cannot learn from reward and punishment. If their serotonin levels are low, they cannot inhibit their impulses or regulate their emotional responses," Hibbeln points out.
Here too you have one possible factor in cycles of deprivation (again, no one is suggesting diet is the only factor) and why criminal behaviour is apparently higher among lower socio-economic groups where nutrition is likely to be poorer.
These effects of the industrialisation of the diet on the brain were also predicted in the 1970s by a leading fats expert in the UK, Professor Michael Crawford, now at London's Metropolitan University. He established that DHA was structural to the brain and foresaw that deficiencies would lead to a surge in mental health and behavioural problems - a prediction borne out by the UK's mental health figures.
It was two decades later before the first study of the effect of diet on behaviour took place in a UK prison. Bernard Gesch, now a senior researcher at Stein's Oxford laboratory, first became involved with nutrition and its relationship to crime as a director of the charity Natural Justice in northwest England. He was supervising persistent offenders in the community and was struck by their diets. He later set out to test the idea that poor diet might cause antisocial behaviour and crime in the maximum security Aylesbury prison.
His study, a placebo-controlled double blind randomised trial, took 231 volunteer prisoners and assigned half to a regime of multivitamin, mineral and essential fatty acid supplements and half to placebos. The supplement aimed to bring the prisoners' intakes of nutrients up to the level recommended by government. It was not specifically a fatty acid trial, and Gesch points out that nutrition is not pharmacology but involves complex interactions of many nutrients.
Aylesbury was at the time a prison for young male offenders, aged 17 to 21, convicted of the most serious crimes. Trevor Hussey was then deputy governor and remembers it being a tough environment. "It was a turbulent young population. They had problems with their anger. They were all crammed into a small place and even though it was well run you got a higher than normal number of assaults on staff and other prisoners."
Although the governor was keen on looking at the relationship between diet and crime, Hussey remembers being sceptical himself at the beginning of the study. The catering manager was good, and even though prisoners on the whole preferred white bread, meat and confectionery to their fruit and veg, the staff tried to encourage prisoners to eat healthily, so he didn't expect to see much of a result.
But quite quickly staff noticed a significant drop in the number of reported incidents of bad behaviour. "We'd just introduced a policy of 'earned privileges' so we thought it must be that rather than a few vitamins, but we used to joke 'maybe it's Bernard's pills'."
But when the trial finished it became clear that the drop in incidents of bad behaviour applied only to those on the supplements and not to those on the placebo.
The results, published in 2002, showed that those receiving the extra nutrients committed 37% fewer serious offences involving violence, and 26% fewer offences overall. Those on the placebos showed no change in their behaviour. Once the trial had finished the number of offences went up by the same amount. The office the researchers had used to administer nutrients was restored to a restraint room after they had left.
"The supplements improved the functioning of those prisoners. It was clearly something significant that can't be explained away. I was disappointed the results were not latched on to. We put a lot of effort into improving prisoners' chances of not coming back in, and you measure success in small doses."
Gesch believes we should be rethinking the whole notion of culpability. The overall rate of violent crime in the UK has risen since the 1950s, with huge rises since the 1970s. "Such large changes are hard to explain in terms of genetics or simply changes of reporting or recording crime. One plausible candidate to explain some of the rapid rise in crime could be changes in the brain's environment. What would the future have held for those 231 young men if they had grown up with better nourishment?" Gesch says.
He said he was currently unable to comment on any plans for future research in prisons, but studies with young offenders in the community are being planned.
For Hibbeln, the changes in our diet in the past century are "a very large uncontrolled experiment that may have contributed to the societal burden of aggression, depression and cardiovascular death". To ask whether we have enough evidence to change diets is to put the question the wrong way round. Whoever said it was safe to change them so radically in the first place?
One young offender had been sentenced by the British courts on 13 occasions for stealing trucks in the early hours of the morning.
Bernard Gesch recorded the boy's daily diet as follows:
Breakfast: nothing (asleep)
Mid morning: nothing (asleep)
Lunchtime: 4 or 5 cups of coffee with milk and 2½ heaped teaspoons of sugar
Mid afternoon: 3 or 4 cups of coffee with milk and 2½ heaped sugars
Tea: chips, egg, ketchup, 2 slices of white bread, 5 cups of tea or coffee with milk and sugar
Evening: 5 cups of tea or coffee with milk and sugar, 20 cigarettes, £2 worth of sweets, cakes and if money available 3 or 4 pints of beer.
Meet the Prison Bankers Who Profit From the Inmates
Pat Taylor doesn&rsquot believe in going into debt. She keeps her bills in a freezer bag under her bed, next to old photo albums, and believes in paying them on time religiously. For Taylor, living within your means is part of being a good Christian.
Lately, Taylor, 64, has felt torn between that commitment and her desire to be a loving, supportive mother for her son Eddie.
Eddie, 38, is serving 20-year prison sentence at Bland Correctional Center for armed robbery. He&rsquos doing his time at a medium-security Virginia state prison located 137 miles northwest of Johnson City, across the dips and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the heart of Appalachia. The cost of supporting and visiting Eddie keeps going up, so Pat makes trade-offs.
&ldquoI would send him money even if it broke me, because I do go without paying some bills sometimes to go see him,&rdquo Pat says.
Between gas to make the trip and overpriced sandwiches from the prison vending machine, visiting Bland costs about $50, a strain on her housekeeper&rsquos wages. So she alternates, visiting Eddie one week and sending him money the next.
To get cash to her son, Pat used to purchase a money order at the post office for $1.25 and mail it to the prison, for a total cost of less than $2. But in March of last year, the Virginia Department of Corrections informed her that JPay Inc., a private company in Florida, would begin handling all deposits into inmates&rsquo accounts.
Sending a money order through JPay takes too long, so Taylor started using her debit card to get him funds instead. To send Eddie $50, Taylor must pay $6.95 to JPay. Depending on how much she can afford to send, the fee can be as high as 35 percent. In other states, JPay&rsquos fees approach 45 percent.
After the fee, the state takes out another 15 percent of her money for court fees and a mandatory savings account, which Eddie will receive upon his release in 2021, minus the interest, which goes to the Department of Corrections.
Eddie needs money to pay for basic needs like toothpaste, visits to the doctor and winter clothes. In some states families of inmates pay for toilet paper, electricity, even room and board, as governments increasingly shift the costs of imprisonment from taxpayers to the families of inmates.
&ldquoTo give him $50, I have to send $70 off my card,&rdquo says Taylor, who moved to a smaller apartment on the outskirts of Johnson City in part because of the rising cost of supporting Eddie.
&ldquoThey&rsquore punishing the families, not the inmates.&rdquo
Price of prison
JPay and other prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates&rsquo families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives, the Center for Public Integrity found in a six-month investigation.
Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.
By erecting a virtual tollbooth at the prison gate, JPay has become a critical financial conduit for an opaque constellation of vendors that profit from millions of poor families with incarcerated loved ones.
JPay streamlines the flow of cash into prisons, making it easier for corrections agencies to take a cut. Prisons do so directly, by deducting fees and charges before the money hits an inmate&rsquos account. They also allow phone and commissary vendors to charge marked-up prices, then collect a share of the profits generated by these contractors.
Taken together, the costs imposed by JPay, phone companies, prison store operators and corrections agencies make it far more difficult for poor families to escape poverty so long as they have a loved one in the system.
Shifting costs to families
&ldquoIt&rsquos not just the money transfer that&rsquos the problem, it&rsquos the system it enables to shift costs onto families,&rdquo says Lee Petro, an attorney who helped litigate for a national cap on some prison phone rates. Without companies like JPay, he says, &ldquoit would be much harder to take money from families and make families of inmates pay their own keep.&rdquo
In 12 years, JPay says it has grown to provide money transfers to more than 1.7 million offenders in 32 states, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.
For the families of nearly 40 percent of those prisoners, JPay is the only way to send money to a loved one. Others can choose between JPay and a handful of smaller companies, most of them created by phone and commissary vendors to compete with the industry leader. Western Union also serves some prisons.
JPay handled nearly 7 million transactions in 2013, generating well over $50 million in revenue. It expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year. (The company declined to provide any financial details those included in this article are culled from public records and interviews with current and former employees.)
&ldquoWe invented this business,&rdquo said Ryan Shapiro, 37, the company&rsquos founder and CEO, in a phone interview in June. &ldquoEveryone else tries to imitate what we did, and they don’t do it as well.&rdquo
Shapiro says working with corrections includes extra costs for security and software integration. He says he charges only as much as he must to maintain a razor-thin profit margin.
But others provide similar services for less.
NIC Inc., a competitor that helps states set up their websites, charges a flat fee of $2.40 in Maine to send money to inmates. Until recently, Arkansas charged 5 percent to send money through the state&rsquos own Web portal. Floridians pay a fee of 3.5 percent to handle traffic tickets online.
Despite its kudzu-like growth, JPay so far has avoided scrutiny by consumer regulators.
In response to questions for this story, however, the New York Department of Financial Services&rsquo consumer division is reviewing the company&rsquos practices, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss active investigations.
JPay&rsquos rapid rise stems in part from the generous deal it offers many prison systems. They pay nothing to have JPay take over handling financial transfers. And for every payment it accepts in these states &mdash prisoners typically receive about one per month &mdash the company sends between 50 cents and $2.50 back to the prison operator. These profit-sharing arrangements, which vendors offer as deal-sweeteners in contract negotiations, are known in the industry as &ldquocommissions.&rdquo
JPay&rsquos payments to Illinois last year came to about $4,000 a month, according to documents obtained under the state&rsquos open records law.
Jails often deduct intake fees, medical co-pays or the cost of basic toiletries first, leaving the account with a negative balance. This prevents inmates from buying &ldquooptional&rdquo supplies like stationery or sturdier shoes until they have paid down the debt.
Such charges levied by jails for common items are not new. The practice began prior to the rise of JPay, mainly with phone companies and operators of prison stores. But by automating the process, prison bankers make it a lot easier.
Negative account balances discourage cash-strapped people from helping relatives, says Linda Dolan, 58, a manager for a defense contractor in California. Last year, when her son was sentenced to 20 days in jail in St. Lucie County, Florida, for reckless driving, Linda wanted to buy him a second pair of underwear and socks. But the county&rsquos intake fee and daily &ldquorent&rdquo already had put the account about $70 in the red. Linda and her husband both were out of work and couldn&rsquot afford to pay $100 for a pair of underwear.
&ldquoIf relatives are putting money on somebody&rsquos books while they&rsquore an inmate, it&rsquos to help them buy necessities,&rdquo Linda says. &ldquoI didn&rsquot think it was right that the county was stealing the money.&rdquo
Capt. William Lawhorn of the St. Lucie County sheriff&rsquos office said that inmates are charged a $25 initial booking fee, $3 a day for &ldquosubsistence&rdquo and medical co-pays, all of which can result in a negative balance. He said nobody is denied any type of needed service or care, and when inmates do have money, it&rsquos used for candy and other junk food. Inmates in the county receive payments through Touchpay, a JPay competitor that often partners with foodservice giant Aramark.
Funding prisons out of the pockets of families and inmates has non-financial costs too, says Brian Nelson, who spent 28 years in an Illinois state prison for murder. Nelson says he has &ldquobecome an asset to society&rdquo since he was released four years ago because he stayed in touch with family and priests even when he was in solitary confinement. When inmates can&rsquot afford to maintain contact with the outside world, he says, they are less equipped to transition smoothly to civilian life.
The effect on poor families is especially harsh, Nelson says: &ldquoIt&rsquos a wife that has three children at home, and her husband is in jail, so now she has a choice: Do I send money to him so he can afford to stay in touch with the kids, or do I feed the kids?&rdquo
Inmates&rsquo need for money is inescapable, Nelson says. Those in northern Illinois are not issued cold-weather clothes, he says, leaving them vulnerable to frostbite unless they can get money to pay for prison-approved long underwear and boots.
Razor thin margins
JPay founder Shapiro is eager to tell his company&rsquos story and how he believes it helps families. It&rsquos not just about faster payments. Once an inmate gains access to the money, JPay offers several ways to spend it, including pay-per-page e-messaging, music downloads and MP3 players. When inmates in some states are released, they receive their remaining money on JPay-branded payment cards that carry higher fees than those on most consumer payment cards.
Shapiro says that if his fees were any lower, his company would lose money. He declined to make the company&rsquos financial details available and would not say how much he is paid.
Shapiro serves on the board of a foundation that advocates for inmates and carries full-page ads for JPay in its newsletters. The foundation received an $85,400 gift directly from JPay&rsquos corporate treasury in 2009.
He lives on a tiny harbor island near the northern tip of Miami Beach in a home he bought for about a million dollars. Last year, through a company he controls called El Caballero LLC., Shapiro bought a custom powerboat, dubbed Sea Block, that retails for a half-million dollars.
Heading to the company&rsquos headquarters one July morning, he stopped first for CrossFit, a military-style training regime that he enjoys because it brings out his competitive side, then for daily prayer.
Families who use JPay love the company, he says. He boasts of its well-trafficked Web forum and of the 174,000 &ldquolikes&rdquo on its Facebook page, where its marketers post cheery articles about incarceration. &ldquoThe Jail Cats program at Gwinnett County Detention Center in Georgia is rescuing kittens and helping to rehabilitate incarcerated women,&rdquoone recent post read.
&ldquoWe go out of our way to make sure that they feel comfortable &mdash that, you know, you&rsquore spending money with a company that cares about you,&rdquo Shapiro says.
If people don&rsquot want to pay his fees, Shapiro says, they can always mail a money order, except in the &ldquocouple of states&rdquo that now charge fees for them.
Nearly 400,000 people are imprisoned in states where there is no free deposit option, a fact Shapiro was unaware of during a series of interviews this summer.
&ldquoWhen it&rsquos up to us, it&rsquos absolutely free,&rdquo he says.
Slow-moving money orders
For the first 14 years of Eddie&rsquos sentence, Pat Taylor mailed money orders directly to the prison at no charge beyond the cost of the money order and a stamp. Then last year, she was instructed to make the money order out to JPay and send it to a Florida post office box. The company would credit it to Eddie&rsquos account.
Under the new system, she says, it would take weeks for Eddie to see funds sent via money order. So Pat, like nearly everyone else she knows, gave in and began paying $6.95 to send the money from her debit card.
Across the country, delays and other obstacles make the &ldquofree option&rdquo inaccessible to many families, the Center found. More than a dozen families in five different states said that money orders have been credited much more slowly since JPay took over.
Shapiro says he is &ldquoabsolutely shocked&rdquo by the complaints that money orders are delayed because he had never heard of such problems before. Most money orders are processed within two to three days, he said, unless the person sending money fails to fill out the form properly. He said Virginia is especially efficient and processes money orders within 24 to 48 hours.
&ldquoWe are not slowing it down, there is no conspiracy,&rdquo he said.
He said JPay does &ldquowant people to convert from a money order customer to a digital customer, absolutely,&rdquo but only because electronic payments are more efficient. &ldquoWe&rsquore not trying to make an extra dollar everywhere we can,&rdquo Shapiro said.
Before JPay, Virginia prisons credited money orders to inmates&rsquo accounts in roughly three days, families say. Today, money orders can take more than a month to reach an inmate&rsquos account, Marvin Rodriguez-Barrera, an inmate at Virginia&rsquos high-security Red Onion State Prison, wrote in a letter to prisoners&rsquo rights advocates in February.
Faster to Guatemala
&ldquoI am from Central America, and it is cheaper for my family, and easier, to send money to Guatemala than for my family to send me money from this very state!&rdquo Rodriguez-Barrera wrote. &ldquoThe old way of using money orders was cheaper, easier and in many instances faster.&rdquo
Those seeking to avoid the fees by sending a money order must print and fill out a JPay-provided form whose instructions are dwarfed by large print barking at them to &ldquoPut down your pen! Put away your car keys!&rdquo because &ldquoThere&rsquos a faster way to send money, go to JPay.com and sign up now!&rdquo
The aggressive marketing has worked. One former marketing director for the company lists as a key accomplishment on his LinkedIn profile that he &ldquoConverted 78 percent&rdquo of money order users to online users, boosting the company&rsquos annual revenue by $985,000.
Shapiro said the information in the profile, including the former employee&rsquos title, was inaccurate. He said he didn&rsquot have data on how many money order users convert to electronic payments or how much revenue the company gains when they make the switch.
Inside JPay&rsquos secure, fishbowl-like money order processing room, reams of envelopes sit in postal bins on the shelves. Signs around the room remind the handful of workers employed there which states allow them to deduct a fee and which offer the service for free.
In Pennsylvania, the first state where JPay accepted money orders by mail, executives were surprised to see the number of money orders plunge by two-thirds in the first two months, Chief Financial Officer Mark Silverman explained in a brief interview.
Shapiro said that Missouri used to process 30,000 money orders a month before JPay came in.
&ldquoWith JPay, we drove that down to only 1,000 people sending money,&rdquo he says. &ldquoAnd that&rsquos by choice.&rdquo
JPay&rsquos marketing materials urge customers to choose the higher-cost option. During her twice-monthly visits to Bland, an isolated work camp nestled between rolling, green hills, Pat Taylor now sees JPay-branded fliers warning of the misery awaiting anyone who tries to use the &ldquofree option.&rdquo
On one side, a multi-ethnic lineup of models bury their faces in their hands and complain of what a &ldquonightmare&rdquo it was to complete the money order, how it got lost or delayed.
&ldquoThere&rsquos a better way,&rdquo the flier promises on the reverse side, which depicts an attractive young woman seated with her laptop computer. For &ldquoFaster, Easier, Next-Day Delivery,&rdquo families can choose from a menu of high-fee options.
Tequila, cigars and lobbying
To impress state corrections officials and gain their business, JPay spends heavily on industry conventions attended by agency heads with contracting authority. During a 2012 convention of the American Correctional Association, the company threw what it called an &ldquoEND OF THE WORLD PARTY&rdquo at a Denver wine bar that bills itself as &ldquoabout you, and your inalienable right to the unbridled enjoyment of food and wine.&rdquo
The invitation, printed on a disposable beer coaster, promised &ldquoa bash, JPay-style: *fuerte* tequila, hand-rolled cigars, a live mariachi band.&rdquo Conventioneers could catch a JPay shuttle leaving from the hotel &ldquoALL NIGHT LONG,&rdquo it said.
For years, JPay has sponsored an award for former state corrections directors presented by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, paying for the recipient&rsquos trip and a Wexford crystal bowl inscribed with the honoree&rsquos name.
JPay&rsquos outreach extends to state legislatures as well, even though many of the company&rsquos contracts forbid it from using fee revenue to lobby. The company has hired registered lobbyists in at least seven states. Shapiro says JPay&rsquos lawyers approved the use of company funds for that purpose.
In Ohio, it tapped Thomas Needles, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush. Needles gives generously to Republican candidates and also lobbies for for-profit universities. In Maryland, JPay hired Bruce Bereano, one of the state’s best-paid lobbyists, who was disbarred after a 1994 conviction for overbilling his clients and using the money for campaign donations.
The company also sought to lobby Washington for access to the federal Bureau of Prisons&rsquo 216,000 inmates &mdash what Shapiro has called &ldquothe mother ship of all contracts,&rdquo which is now held by Bank of America.
It spent $20,000 in 2012 to hire Park Strategies, run by former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D&rsquoAmato of New York, in an effort to obtain the contract. That effort was not successful.
More inmates, smaller budgets
JPay was founded in 2002, just as the U.S. prison population neared the apex of a three-decade climb that more than quadrupled the number of inmates in state prisons. Shortly thereafter, as the economy went into recession, state budgets were squeezed and officials looked more aggressively for ways to cut spending on prisons.
Already, private vendors had stepped in with a solution: They would charge prisoners sky-high prices for phone services, snack foods, hygiene products and clothing, then return a large cut back to the prisons &mdash often 40 percent or more.
Shapiro was the first entrepreneur to see how financial services might provide another stream of revenue. For a fee, he offered to deliver cash in ways that saved time and effort for corrections agencies, and often to give them a portion of the proceeds, just as the phone and commissary companies were doing.
&ldquoWhen we started, the states were very much saying to us, &lsquoThere&rsquos no need for procurement here because there&rsquos no one else doing what you do,&rsquo &rdquo Shapiro said in a 2012 interview. Ten years later, he said, all of them were asking companies to submit bids for the work.
That doesn&rsquot mean the door is open to competitors. Most states, including Virginia, now contract with JPay or its main competitor under a master agreement negotiated by Nevada in 2011 on behalf of a multi-state consortium. Participating states can simply sign on to the deal with one or both of the companies without the hassle of separately determining the best company for the job.
JPay is protected from other market forces, as well. When states offer its music players and tablet computers for sale to inmates, they often confiscate radios that people already own, according to inmates in Ohio. This leaves inmates dependent on JPay&rsquos music downloads, which can cost 30 to 50 percent more than the same songs on iTunes, inmates say.
The profit-sharing arrangements are at the core of JPay&rsquos origin story, Shapiro said in 2012. A couple of years out of college, he spent months driving around upstate New York, pitching JPay to &ldquoevery sheriff, whether they had five inmates or 100 inmates&rdquo &mdash without success.
Then someone in Passaic County, New Jersey, suggested that they offer the county 10 percent of their revenue, &ldquoso the jail would be less of a tax burden on the community.&rdquo The warden signed up on the spot.
Critics including Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, an inmates&rsquo advocacy group, says the profit-sharing amounts to a legal kickback. &ldquoThey charge exhorbitant fees then kick back a percentage of their revenue. &hellip The company doesn&rsquot need that for profit,&rdquo Friedmann said.
Shapiro says he prefers the term &ldquocommission&rdquo because &ldquothe word kickback has a negative connotation, and it seems like some person is making that money and pocketing it and buying a Chevrolet or something, when in fact it&rsquos going to use for the benefit of inmates &mdash basketball hoops, volleyball, whatever.&rdquo
Most states put their share of the cash in an &ldquoInmate Welfare Fund&rdquo that is supposed to be used for inmate benefits beyond what is guaranteed to them by law. As incarceration rates climbed, however, the definition of &ldquoinmate benefit&rdquo drifted, says Justin Jones, who was director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections until last year.
&ldquoThe Legislature allowed us to broaden the definition of inmate welfare and it got to the point, almost anything they would fund through appropriations could now be paid for as inmate welfare,&rdquo he says. &ldquoIt ended up where we started using that money if an inmate went out to medical on an emergency and medical was end-of-year short,&rdquo he says. &ldquoWe bought air conditioners, ice machines, X-ray machines.&rdquo
Jones was not a fan of the system. If legislatures want to impose longer prison sentences or &ldquoif they create new crimes, then the legislature should appropriate dollars for that,&rdquo he says. &ldquoI should not have to go in and redefine and stretch the definition of inmate welfare accounts.&rdquo
Taken together, JPay and other prison vendors create a system in which families are paying to send the money, and inmates are paying again to spend it, says Keith Miller, who is serving 21 ½ years at Bland for a series of drug-related, violent crimes committed in his early 20s. The earliest he may be released is 2021, when his mother will be 87 years old.
&ldquoThe fact that [my mother] has to pay the fees to send the money and then the fact that [prison agencies] make a certain cut off it seems to me that [the prisons are] double-dipping into the money they&rsquore sending,&rdquo he said in an interview at the prison. &ldquoIt really doesn&rsquot make sense to me that this should be allowed.&rdquo
Shapiro is skeptical that JPay&rsquos fees make much of a difference for inmates&rsquo families. He says companies that provide other services to inmates, such as phones and commissary, are the real problem.
&ldquoCompared to the commissary or phone revenue, we&rsquore just a drop in the bucket,&rdquo he says.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission dusted off a 12-year-old petition filed by inmates&rsquo families who argued that prison phone rates were unfairly high, preventing them from maintaining contact with loved ones. The commission capped rates for many calls under its authority to ensure that pay-phone rates are just, fair and reasonable.
Mignon Clyburn, who was acting chairwoman of the FCC when it passed the rate cap and now serves as one of three commissioners, says the action was necessary because people are &ldquomaking unspeakable sacrifices to stay in touch with their loved ones.&rdquo
Vincent Townsend, president of Pay-Tel Communications, a major provider of phones for inmates, said his industry &ldquoabused the public.&rdquo
&lsquoEthical, right, moral&rsquo
Other prison vendors &ldquobetter pay attention to what&rsquos ethical, right, moral,&rdquo he said. &ldquoBecause if you don&rsquot then some regulator&rsquos going to step in, and you&rsquore going to have to deal with it.&rdquo
There is a crucial difference: The telephone industry is closely regulated by the FCC, which has explicit authority to set rates for pay-phone calls. Financial and consumer protection regulators have less power over pricing.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can sue companies for offering unfair, deceptive or abusive financial services. The bureau declined more than a dozen requests to discuss specific issues related to prison financial services.
The Federal Trade Commission, which has consumer-protection authority and the power to ensure that markets are competitive, declined to comment &ldquoon specific companies or conduct.&rdquo
Regulators in seven states have levied fines totaling $408,500 against JPay for operating without a license. The actions were not designed to disrupt its business, according to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, a trade group that represents these regulators in Washington.
&ldquoState banking regulators are concerned with ensuring that businesses operating in their states are properly licensed and with enforcing applicable laws (including consumer protection laws),&rdquo the group&rsquos spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
&lsquoInvent a better way&rsquo
Shapiro says he understands the challenges faced by poor families of inmates since JPay&rsquos startup days, when he would spend &ldquohours on the phone with a grandmother, talking about her day at Wal-Mart.&rdquo
He says he feels trapped by the structure of the industry he has come to dominate. He wishes the fees were lower, that states didn&rsquot force him to charge more and give them a share and that he could &ldquoinvent a better way&rdquo than asking people&rsquos families to help pay for their imprisonment.
Yet Shapiro says he is satisfied to compete within what he admits is a broken system, even if the system may be punishing some innocent family members.
For many families, JPay has become that system. When Jewel Miller, 80, phoned JPay&rsquos call center last month to ask why her payments are delayed, and why she must submit the same form every time she sends a money order to Keith, the operator hung up on her.
In a series of interviews it became clear that Shapiro was unaware of some of the fees related to his business. He said he did not know, for example, that Florida now charges its own fee for money order deposits after JPay processes the payments.
These fees are spelled out in JPay&rsquos contracts with states, which Shapiro signed. Florida&rsquos says it will charge a 50 cent &ldquoMoney Order by Mail&rdquo fee.
As of July, Shapiro was unaware of JPay&rsquos own $1.95 fee to deposit money orders in Indiana, declaring, &ldquoIf someone sends $100 with a money order to an Indiana inmate, that inmate gets $100. &hellip I am positive.&rdquo
Two days later, he called back to say, &ldquoWe&rsquore working with the states right now to get some of those fees taken off.&rdquo
Happy Girl Creations - Mobile Bar Catering
You've said it, you've heard others say it, I've even said it myself: "Alcohol Made Me Do It. " Never in a million years did I think I would see the day when criminals would actually use that statement as the basis for a billion dollar lawsuit! "Why didn't I think of this myself", might you ask. Perhaps you just weren't drunk enough! The Associated Press reports that five inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution are suing national beer and wine companies for billions of dollars, on the premise that alcohol was responsible for all of the prisoner's crimes. According to the suit, the prisoners claim they weren't sufficiently warned about alcohol's addictive properties nor were they made aware of the the chemical changes that occur under it's influence. So far, the inmates have no representation or attorney's and have written the suit themselves without counsel.
If alcohol is truly to blame, perhaps their lawsuit will set newprecidents! NOT! Well what were these poor souls convicted of?
Keith Allan Brown, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to voluntary manslaughter ,is a 52-year-old who has spent 30 years in prison and says alcohol landed him there.
The co-plaintiffs include Jeremy Joseph Brown, Cory Alan Baugh, Woodrow John Grant and Steven Todd Thompson and all four are serving major time for serious crimes.
Jeremy Joseph Brown, 34, is serving a 20-30 year sentence for a 2001 shooting. Baugh, also 34, and Thompson, 44, are both serving 3-7 years for grand theft and drug convictions, ABC news reports. Grant is convicted for drug and aggravated battery convictions with a 7 year sentence.
The companies targeted by the lawsuit are Miller Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch Co., Adolph Coors Co., Brown-Furman Co., American Brands Inc., Pepsi-Cola, RJR Nabisco, Gallo's Winery, Ernest Gallo and Julio Gallo. None of these companies have responded to the suit.
Lawsuits Take Aim at Ads for Alcohol
Casey Goodwin knew all too well the dangers of drinking and driving.
For years, her mother, Lynne, had run programs to fight teen alcohol use in the Tulare County schools. At her high school in the Central Valley town of Exeter, Casey had been involved in student campaigns against underage drinking.
On March 13, 2003, as 20-year-old Casey was headed home from college in San Luis Obispo to celebrate her mom’s birthday, a plastered 18-year-old doing 90 miles an hour plowed into her Honda Civic. She died a short time later.
The driver was sentenced to 10 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.
Then Lynne Goodwin and her husband, Reed, turned their anger on the alcohol industry. They signed on as lead plaintiffs in a class-action suit accusing Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Miller Brewing Co. of aggressively marketing to kids.
Lynne said she didn’t care whose booze Casey’s killer had been drinking. She didn’t hold the beer makers directly responsible but said they were logical proxies for an industry that she believed goaded kids to drink.
Filed last February in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the Goodwin case is one of five pending class actions that assail the marketing practices of the beverage industry. The others have been filed over the last 14 months in Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina and Washington.
The cases have drawn comparisons to the legal assault on cigarette makers, which have also been accused of marketing to kids.
Beverage makers deny targeting teens and say the claims are groundless.
The suits accuse them of unleashing a flood of provocative, even raunchy, ads to exploit the raging hormones of adolescents. They say teens are disproportionately exposed to such ads through magazines and TV shows with large youth audiences.
For example, a Bacardi ad cited in some of the suits depicts a young woman in a halter top pouring a shot onto her belly while a man licks the rum out of her navel. “Vegetarian by day. Bacardi by night,” the tagline says.
The suits also take aim at the industry’s heavy promotion of flavored malt beverages, called “malternatives” by the industry and “alcopops” by critics. Plaintiffs say these sweet-tasting beverages with brand names such as Smirnoff Ice, Skyy Blue and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, are “gateway” drinks designed to lure teens who are put off by the taste of alcohol.
The suits seek court-ordered limits on beverage promotion, such as restricting ads on TV shows and publications with large youth audiences. They also seek damages for parents or kids who paid for alcohol illegally consumed by minors.
Although Anheuser-Busch and Miller are sole targets of the Goodwin suit, most of the industry’s biggest names are defendants in one or more of the other cases. Among them are Coors Brewing Co., Heineken USA Inc., Labatt Brewing Co., Samuel Adams Brewing Co., Bacardi USA Inc. and Diageo, marketer of Smirnoff Vodka, Jose Cuervo Tequila, Captain Morgan Rum and Guinness beer.
The companies insist that they do not encourage illegal drinking and that they are trying to reach adult consumers. They say they adhere to a voluntary code that restricts their ads to media in which at least 70% of the audience is 21 or older.
Beverage companies also say they have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to promote responsible drinking, train retailers to spot fake IDs and educate parents on ways to combat drinking.
The suits, they contend, are an attempt to muzzle legitimate commercial speech. And they say paying damages to people who illegally purchased or consumed alcohol is the wrong way to fight underage drinking.
“These cases seek to reward underage drinkers, or their parents, for breaking the law,” said Edward M. Crane, a lawyer for Anheuser-Busch. “That would send an undesirable message to teens -- namely that underage drinking is OK and might even be profitable.”
Whatever the role of advertising, underage drinking contributes significantly to beverage makers’ bottom lines. A U.S. government report in 2002 estimated that 12-to-20-year-olds accounted for 11.4% of alcohol consumed. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. put the number higher, estimating that underage drinking in 1999 was responsible for 19.7%, or $22.5 billion, of total U.S. alcohol sales of $116.2 billion.
The suits come at a time of growing worry over problems linked to underage drinking -- including teen pregnancy, sexual assault and other crimes, traffic deaths and low academic performance. Some research suggests that the earlier kids start drinking, the more likely they are to be alcoholics as adults.
Although the industry has acknowledged the problem, its outreach programs are “public relations baloney to keep legislators and litigators off their backs,” said George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group.
He hailed the lawsuits as “the beginnings of a new weapon . to confront the marketing of the alcoholic beverage industry.”
This approach has parallels to the legal campaign waged against the cigarette makers. Indeed, the alcohol suits have enlisted some veterans of the tobacco wars. The lawyer who filed the Goodwin class-action suit, Steve W. Berman of Seattle, represented several attorneys general in their anti-tobacco cases.
The suits also have drawn heavily on research by the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, headed by Jim O’Hara. In the Clinton administration, O’Hara was associate commissioner and chief spokesman for David A. Kessler, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner who sought to regulate the tobacco industry.
The alcohol side has heavyweight corporate defender Dan Webb of Winston & Strawn, currently lead trial counsel for Philip Morris in the Justice Department’s fraud and racketeering case against the tobacco industry. Top tobacco law firms Shook, Hardy & Bacon and Jones Day also are defending beverage industry clients.
And in an effort to head off state lawsuits, the companies have enlisted the aid of former state attorneys general, including some who once tormented the cigarette makers. Although no state suits against the liquor industry appear imminent, at least four former attorneys general are now consulting with beer and spirits companies. They are critiquing the companies’ programs to curb underage drinking and touting their efforts to current attorneys general, who have created a task force to examine the problem of youth access to alcohol.
Heading the list is former Mississippi Atty. Gen. Mike Moore, who has been retained by Anheuser-Busch. Moore became an instant hero of the anti-smoking movement when he filed the first state suit against cigarette makers in 1994. He then wheedled and harassed fellow attorneys general until dozens more jumped in, turning an improbable crusade into a juggernaut. In a settlement reached in 1998, tobacco companies pledged to pay the states $246 billion and to refrain from directly or indirectly targeting kids -- the same issue now facing the alcohol industry.
Moore said that he was comfortable in his new role and that Anheuser-Busch was adamantly opposed to underage drinking.
Another top soldier of the tobacco wars, former Arizona Atty. Gen. Grant Woods, is advising Diageo, the global beverage giant. Former New York Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams has been retained by Anheuser-Busch and former Nevada Atty. Gen. Frankie Sue Del Papa was hired by Brown-Forman Corp. of Louisville, Ky., marketer of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Korbel sparkling wine.
“Clearly, it’s ironic,” said Georgetown University’s O’Hara. “I just hope they remember the lessons that they learned in tobacco about what it really takes to protect” kids.
As with tobacco, success for plaintiffs isn’t likely to come quickly, if ever, analysts say.
Cigarette makers flicked away decades of lawsuits and weren’t seriously threatened until the 1990s, when the states entered the fray.
And recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming protections for commercial speech may be a boon to the alcohol industry.
Moreover, California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said, “compelling evidence that the tobacco companies hid evidence of consumer harm” was key to turning the tide. Similar evidence may not exist in the alcohol cases.
“My best guess is it’s not going to evolve into a tobacco-like, multibillion-dollar outcome,” Lockyer said.
Even some fans of the lawsuits are guarded about the plaintiffs’ chances.
“The courts may well say that the advertising is constitutionally protected unless you can show that there was intent to get kids to drink,” said James F. Mosher of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a think tank in Felton, Calif., concerned with science and health issues. “Without having evidence of fraud, moving forward on the alcohol side is going to be very hard.”
If proof exists of targeting kids, it will typically emerge in pretrial discovery, when lawsuit opponents are required to share relevant reports, memos and other documents.
“It wouldn’t be at all surprising if some of these big firms have some incredibly damaging documents in their files,” showing that they were aware that their ads could be appealing to kids, said Stephen McG. Bundy, a professor at Boalt Hall school of law at UC Berkeley.
But there’s no guarantee the cases will survive dismissal motions and reach the discovery phase.
One part of the Goodwin case has already been thrown out. The suit had alleged that the beer companies violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, which until recently allowed people such as the Goodwins to act as private attorneys general on behalf of the general public in seeking to halt deceptive practices. But Californians on Nov. 2 passed Proposition 64, which restricts such filings to law enforcement agencies and citizens who can show actual losses of money or property as a result of the alleged wrongdoing.
The multimillion-dollar pro-Proposition 64 campaign included $325,000 from the Goodwin defendants and their affiliates. Anheuser-Busch and Miller put up $100,000 and $25,000, respectively, according to campaign reports filed with the state. An additional $200,000 came from Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group Inc., which holds a big stake in the parent of Miller.
In December, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman dismissed the unfair-competition claim, ruling that the beer makers’ alleged misconduct had not caused financial loss to the Goodwins or two other named plaintiffs.
Lichtman is scheduled today to hear arguments on whether to dismiss the remaining claims.
Win or lose, Lynne Goodwin said she expected the case to encourage greater scrutiny of marketing practices.
“Hopefully, the alcohol industry is paying attention,” she said. “This movement is larger than they realize.”
Want to Go to Drug Court? Say Goodbye to Your Rights
When Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Corbett announced his support earlier this summer for expanding drug court funding, the left-leaning Center for American Progress praised him as "just one of several conservative governors to take steps toward important—and fiscally responsible—prison reforms in their states."
CAP's kinds words are a testament to the big-tent appeal of the drug court model. Two decades after the first drug court sprang up in Miami, bipartisan proponents are plentiful. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation has advocated for drug courts as a way to reduce Texas' prison population (once the second and now the fourth highest in the country), the Obama administration has declared drug courts a "third way" to address America's drug problem, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently announced his support for the model by saying, "If you're pro-life, as I am, you can't be pro-life just in the womb."
It's heartening that Christie, whose last job was in law enforcement, wants to stop throwing drug users in cages. It's more heartening still that he's working for change as governor, instead of waiting to propose reforms—as President Bill Clinton, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anon, and Mexico President Vicente Fox all did—until he was safely back in private life and completely powerless.
But there are many flaws with the drug court model that Christie, Obama, and others now support, chief of which is that the model is just a cheaper means of enforcing prohibition. Their proliferation derives not from increased awareness of the harms of the drug war, but from fiscal woes at the state level.
"In terms of the politics," says Tracy Velasquez of the Justice Policy Institute, "one of the concerns we have is that drug courts are basically a way for policymakers to make it look like they're doing something on the war on drugs without actually addressing the war on drugs."
This is why drug court proponents haven't suggested changing drug laws, only reducing the cost of enforcing them. Take cost-savings out of the equation, and the drug court model loses its luster.
In the summer of 2010, 22-year-old Georgia resident Latisha Floyd faced two options. She could go to trial for distributing a single gram of cocaine to two undercover Georgia police officers, or she could sign up for drug court. If she took her case to trial, and lost, she would face a minimum of five years in prison, and as many as 10 years. If she forfeited her right to a trial, pled guilty to the lesser charge of possession with intent to distribute, and entered her local drug court program, she could be spared jail altogether.
But complying with the drug court's various requirements proved tougher than Floyd expected. She didn't own a car, and she didn't make enough money to support herself and her son as well pay for regular drug tests and other drug court service fees.
In July 2011, Floyd was kicked out of the drug court program for missing appointments and missing drug court payments, according to her attorney. Because she pled guilty in order to enter drug court, Floyd couldn't contest the penalty for failing out of the program: 10 years of probation and five years in a correctional institution, with the latter penalty kicking in only if Floyd violated her probation. In February 2012, when not owning a car kept her from a series of meetings with her probation officer, Floyd was locked up. The only silver lining? She got four years, instead of five.
According to an estimate from the Drug Policy Alliance, Floyd is one of 95,000 drug offenders a year who are ejected from drug court and funneled back into the criminal justice system.
As a result of what happened to Floyd, Catherine Bernard, the public defender who represented her, says she doesn't "really recommend drug court to clients very often anymore, since the risks and burdens are so high."
This is how the majority of the nation's 2,000+ drug courts work: A prosecutor will offer a low-level offender with no history of violent crime or mental illness a deal. He can enter drug court, so long as he pleads guilty to his drug-related charge. This isn't a traditional guilty plea, but it has some of the same elements: the offender forfeits his right to a trial, to discovery, and/or to contesting the circumstances of his arrest.
Then he begins participating in drug court.
Once in the drug court program, the offender is prohibited from using drugs and alcohol (the latter even if alcohol had nothing to with the offender's arrest), and is subjected to regular urine testing (federal guidelines recommend tests be conducted twice a week, with little notice, for the first few months or so). The offender is required to attend regular drug treatment counseling (regardless of whether he is an addict) and appear regularly before the drug court judge to discuss his or her performance. If an offender has children, or a curfew, he is subjected to regular home visits by social workers and/or law enforcement.
If the offender can manage to follow the drug court rules for x amount of time (anywhere from 12 to 36 months), he gets to graduate. From there the paths diverge, depending on which of the nation's 2,000+ drug courts the offender is in: In some cases, the offender's record is expunged upon completion of drug court. In many other courts, the offender carries the conviction on their permanent record forever.
But that's only if the offender completes the drug court program.
If the offender tests positive for drugs or alcohol, misses an appearance with their treatment provider or drug court judge, and/or fails to pay all the fees and fines associated with the program—including between $50 and $100 for those twice-weekly urine tests—the infractions lead to exactly what drug courts are supposedly designed to prevent: jail time.
Drug court proponents call this "motivational jail." In some programs, the offender is initially jailed for only a weekend, or a week, or a month. If the offender continues to miss his mark, he is ejected from the drug court program and sentenced according to his guilty plea. In others courts, there is no escalation of penalties one mistake gets them the full sentence. In every court that receives federal funding, jail is a mandatory penalty.
Proponents of drug courts point to statistics that say people who manage to navigate this process with few or no mistakes are less likely to reenter the criminal justice system and are less likely to use drugs. These stats only tell half the story. According to a 2005 GAO report, between 30 and 70 percent of people who enter drug courts do not complete the program.
And there's very little their attorneys can do to stop offenders from being crushed by stiff sentences.
"In many drug courts," says Elizabeth Kelley of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, "the defense attorney is asked to forfeit the traditional role of being the zealous advocate of the client, and is asked to be part of the proseuctor or judge as part of 'treatment.'" Federal drug court guidelines say that defense attorneys are to "explain all of the rights that the defendant will temporarily or permanently relinquish," and then work with prosecutors "to build a sense of teamwork and to reinforce a nonadversarial atmosphere."
But the lack of an adversarial atmosphere hardly helps users who mess up in drug court. In 2009, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers published a report that found offenders who relinquish their rights in order to enter drug court oftentimes get locked away for longer than they otherwise would have.
"For example," the NACDL report reads, "a simple crack possession case will usually net a 10- to 20-day jail sentence in Manhattan. A defendant may wait 20 to 30 days for placement in a program. If defendants enter a treatment program and fail, they may be sentenced to six months in jail." According to other testimony in the report, drug court judges in Nebraska and California gave participants who relapsed "the full maximum sentence."
According to a report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, that's likely what would happen to users in Texas if that state's legislature passes the pro-drug court Senate Bill 1076, which says that users who "failed to comply with the conditions of probation, failed to attend treatment, or failed out of the drug court…could be revoked to prison for up to the 10 year maximum."
Despite the best guesses of the Drug Policy Alliance and other groups, exactly how many people end up in jail as a result of failing out of drug court, and how much time they spend there, is something of a mystery.
"We can't get a straight answer on people who relapse, who screw up and miss appointments, and then get bounced out of drug courts," Velasquez says. "We have never been able to get a straight answer on that."
Government reporting on drug court success rates excludes people who don't complete the program, and independent studies tend to focus on specific drug courts. One of those studies took place in Baltimore and was released in 2006. In a report titled "The Long-Term Effects of Participation in the Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court," researchers reported that 45 percent of Batlimore drug court participants were booted from the program after 17 months. Which means that nearly half of the program's participants spent more time in jail than they would have if they had simply pled guilty to possession.
Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation agrees that there's a shortage of information about how many people go from drug court to jail, and for how long. "I do think that there is a need for more data on the number of times drug court participants are sent to jail or prison and the cumulative number of incarcerated days that result," Levin said.
"However," Levin added, "I think that data is only meaningful if one also looks at it alongside the data on the risk level and criminal backgrounds of those going into the drug court. If a drug court is using flash incarceration (weekend in jail) to deal with persistent non-compliance among participants who mostly would have otherwise been sent to prison initially had they not gone into the drug court, then that drug court is likely significantly reducing the total amount of incarceration and associated costs. Increasingly, research is showing it is the swiftness and sureness of the sanction, not the severity that is most impactful."
That claim is debatable. "Drug courts around the nation have been using [motivational jail] for over 15 years," says the California Society of Addiction Medicine, "yet not a single study isolates the impact of jail sanctions in generating improved treatment outcomes."
Tracy Velasquez put it more starkly: "Many offenders could get a lower sentence of they had just pled guilty in criminal court. They wouldn't have got treatment, but they would have spent less time in jail."
Susan Atkins dies at 61 imprisoned Charles Manson follower
Susan Atkins, who committed one of modern history’s most notorious crimes when she joined Charles Manson and his gang for a string of killings in 1969 that terrorized Los Angeles and put her in prison for the rest of her life, has died. She was 61.
Atkins was diagnosed in 2008 with brain cancer and was receiving medical treatment at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, where she died at 11:46 p.m. Thursday, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Thornton attributed the death to natural causes, but an official cause of death will be determined by the Madera County coroner’s office after a review of Atkins’ medical history.
Convicted of eight murders, Atkins served more than 38 years of a life sentence at the California Institution for Women in Chino. She was the longest-serving prisoner among women currently held in the state’s penitentiaries, Thornton said. That distinction now falls to Patricia Krenwinkel, who was convicted along with Atkins in the Tate-LaBianca murders
Although prison staffers and clergy workers commended Atkins’ behavior during her many years behind bars, she was repeatedly denied parole, with officials citing the cruel and callous nature of her crimes.
In June 2008, she appealed to prison and parole officials for compassionate release, but the state parole board denied the request. On Sept. 2, she was wheeled into her last parole hearing on a hospital gurney, but was turned down by a unanimous vote of the 12-member California Board of Parole.
Atkins confessed to killing actress Sharon Tate -- the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski -- who was stabbed 16 times and hanged Tate’s nearly full-term fetus died with her. The next night, Atkins accompanied Manson and his followers when they broke into the Los Feliz home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and killed them.
“She was the scariest of the Manson girls,” said Stephen Kay, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who helped prosecute the case and argued against Atkins’ release at her parole hearings. “She was very violent.”
Former chief prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who sought and won death sentences for Atkins, Manson and other followers, said Atkins would be remembered “obviously as a member of a group that committed among the most horrendous crimes in American history. She apparently made every effort to rehabilitate herself.”
He added: “It has to be said that she did pay substantially, though not completely, for her incredibly brutal crimes. And to her credit, she did renounce -- and, I believe, sincerely -- Charles Manson.”
It was Atkins who broke open the case when she bragged of her participation in the slayings to cellmates at Sybil Brand Institute in East Los Angeles, where she was being held on other charges two of her cellmates told authorities of her confession.
Atkins subsequently appeared before a grand jury, providing information that led to her own indictment, as well as that of Manson and others. Later, in a lurid, 10-month trial, she provided crucial testimony that fed the public’s fascination with Hollywood celebrities, drugs, sex and violence.
It also left an unshakable image of Atkins as a remorseless killer, who taunted the court at her sentencing with chilling words: “You’d best lock your doors,” she said, “and watch your own kids.”
In 1971, two separate juries found Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson guilty on seven counts of first-degree murder. Another Manson follower, Leslie Van Houten, was convicted of two murders.
All received the death sentence, later reduced to life terms after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972. (The Legislature later reenacted the death penalty statute.) Manson, Krenwinkel, Watson and Van Houten remain in prison.
Atkins also pleaded guilty to the murder of musician Gary Alan Hinman, who was killed in a dispute over money shortly before the Tate-LaBianca murders. She received another life sentence for the Hinman killing.
In prison, Atkins embraced Christianity and apologized for her role in the crimes. Prison staff endorsed her release at a hearing in 2005, but she was denied parole for the 13th time.
Born Susan Denise Atkins in San Gabriel on May 7, 1948, she grew up in San Jose, the middle child of three. When she was 15, her mother died of cancer. Her father sold the family home and all their furnishings to pay the hospital bills. Atkins began failing school and her father became an alcoholic who frequently left Susan and her younger brother, Steven, to fend for themselves.
Her father eventually abandoned them for good. Susan and her brother moved to the rural Cental Valley town of Los Banos, where their grandparents lived. Susan enrolled in high school and got a job as a waitress but was overwhelmed by the stress of trying to care for her brother, work and go to class. At one point, she and Steven were in foster care. Susan dropped out of school in the 11th grade and started drifting. Years later, she would describe her frame of mind during this period as “extremely angry, extremely vulnerable and directionless.”
Of all the Manson family killers, except for Manson, Atkins “had the most unfortunate background,” Bugliosi said.
The petite, dark-haired teenager hitchhiked to Washington, then Oregon, where she accepted a ride in a stolen car and was arrested on charges of car theft and concealing stolen property. She was released on probation and moved to San Francisco, where she worked briefly as a topless dancer in a North Beach bar.
In 1967 in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco’s haven for hippies and other wanderers, she met Manson, an aspiring songwriter with an affinity for hallucinogenic drugs and free sex. He called himself and his followers “Slippies,” who posed as peace-loving hippies while planning a hair-raising assault on society.
According to Bugliosi in “Helter Skelter,” his bestselling 1974 book on the case, Atkins was instantly drawn to Manson, who seduced girls by playing on their insecurities. She testified under questioning by Bugliosi that before she met Manson she had felt she was “lacking something,” but then “I gave myself to him, and in return for that he gave me back to myself. He gave me the faith in myself to be able to know that I am a woman.”
Manson also gave her a new name, partly to make a joke on the establishment he loathed but also to cut her off from her past. “Tell them your name is Sadie Glutz,” he told Atkins. As in all other matters, she followed his command.
By August 1969, the Manson family’s base of operations was Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property in the Santa Susana Mountains above Chatsworth where many old westerns were filmed. They took drugs, had group sex, stole credit cards and scrounged trash bins for food.
They also practiced what Manson called “creepy crawling,” which involved randomly picking a house somewhere in Los Angeles and entering it while the occupants were asleep. Bugliosi called these expeditions “dress rehearsals for murder.”
On the night of Aug. 8, Manson instructed Atkins and other followers -- Krenwinkel, Watson and Linda Kasabian -- to don their dark clothes and pack knives. Manson stayed at the ranch while they drove through the Hollywood Hills, winding up at the Tate residence in Benedict Canyon.
Around midnight, the nightmare began.
The first to die was Steven Parent, 18, a friend of Tate’s caretaker, who encountered the murderers as he was leaving the estate. The other victims were inside the main house: Tate, 26, best known for her role in the movie “Valley of the Dolls” Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring, 35 Voytek Frykowski, 32, a friend of Polanski, who was out of the country and Abigail Folger, 25, a coffee heiress and Frykowksi’s girlfriend.
Atkins later admitted stabbing Frykowski and Tate. She said that before fleeing the scene, Watson ordered her to leave a message in the house that would “shock the world,” so she used Tate’s blood to write “PIG” on the front door.
At her parole board hearing in 1993, an official asked Atkins if Tate said anything to her in her last moments.
“She asked me to let the baby live,” Atkins said tearfully. “I told her I didn’t have mercy for her.”
The night after the Tate killings, Manson led a group that included Atkins, Watson, Krenwinkel and Kasabian on another expedition. They wound up at the LaBianca home. Manson tied up Leno, 44, and Rosemary, 38, then left the killing to Watson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten. Afterward, they took a shower and made a snack in the LaBiancas’ kitchen before departing. Atkins stayed in the car.
The ‘60s “abruptly ended on August 9, 1969,” Joan Didion wrote of the shocking crimes that closed a decade pocked with assassinations, Vietnam War deaths and other violence. The Tate-LaBianca murders made some people fear “that they had somehow done it to themselves,” Didion said, “that it had to do with too much sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
Atkins married twice while in prison. In 1981, she married Donald Laisure, a self-proclaimed Texas millionaire who had been married 35 times before. The marriage ended when Laisure said he planned to take his 37th wife.
In 1987, she married James W. Whitehouse, an Orange County attorney who represented her at her last few parole hearings. He survives her along with a son she gave up when she went to prison.
Policy not followed
The lawsuit says Dallas County sheriff's Capt. Shelley Knight told the Dallas Voice, an LGBT news outlet, that some procedures were not followed while Jackson was in the jail the first time. The suit says the policy violations were not properly investigated.
The sheriff's policy states that after "a transgender, intersex or gender nonconforming individual completes all of the book-in and change out process, he/she will be escorted to the Medical Assessment Program to determine medical, psychological, or medication needs."
How to classify an individual is determined after the medical assessment, according to the policy. Housing, according to the policy, will be determined based on factors including medical staff recommendations, the severity of current offenses and convictions, any history of serious crimes or escapes, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Transgender inmates are given the same clothing as other prisoners in the areas where they're housed, the policy says. When possible, clothing changes are made before inmates are moved.
When Jackson was taken to the jail after the first time, she asked the staff to inquire with Knight, "who could explain that she should be classified and placed with females — but they refused her request."