Legislation saddles facilities with rules that could put them out of business
The issue of legalized abortion has been one of those hot button political issues that stirs passionate emotions among those who are either for or against the medical procedure, ever since the passing of Roe v. Wade by the United States Supreme Court in 1973.
Last Wednesday, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett added some more fuel to the metaphorical fire by signing into law a measure that would significantly toughen standards for Pennsylvania’s 24 abortion clinics.
The new law would require abortion facilities to be regulated according to the same safety standards as ambulatory or outpatient surgical facilities. It also requires the Department of Health to perform at least one unannounced inspection of each abortion facility annually, to modify the definition of “abortion facility,” and to make other changes.
The supporters of Senate Bill 732 argued that the new measure would prevent a repeat of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s clinic of horrors. Abortion providers respond that complying with the new rules could put them out of business.
The law takes effect in 180 days.
“The Department of Health will accept licensure applications for these facilities and will handle all applications on a case-by-case basis as we do for any other health care facility seeking licensure,” said Christine Cronkright, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Health in a published report.
The measure gained momentum with the case of Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell’s clinic, the Women’s Medical Society was located on the corner of 38th St. and Lancaster Avenue, and most of his patients were poor women of color. It has been shut down and Gosnell, along with his wife, are awaiting trial. But the case ignited national headlines and comes at a time when legalized abortion is coming under greater scrutiny and criticism by pro-life advocates. Gosnell allegedly ran an unsanitary abortion clinic, performing illegal late-term procedures under filthy conditions. According to the lengthy Grand Jury report, Gosnell would induce labor in his patients and, after they gave birth, killed viable babies by a process he called “snipping.” He or one of his assistants allegedly cut open the back of the neck of the newly born baby and severed the spinal cord with scissors.
“The medical practice by which he [Gosnell] carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it,” said District Attorney R. Seth Williams.
“Let us say right up front that we realize this case will be used by those on both sides of the abortion debate. We ourselves cover a spectrum of personal beliefs about the morality of abortion. For us as a criminal grand jury, however, the case is not about that controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here, and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”
The Rev. Dr. Clenard H. Childress Jr., founder of the Pro-life website Blackgenocide.org said that if the Gosnell case has not raised the moral and ethical questions surrounding legalized abortion, nothing will.
“If nothing else, this case will bring greater discussion about abortion among African Americans. This case is not just the babies Gosnell is accused of murdering, but the numerous women he victimized who will never be known,” Childress said. “Gosnell operated with impunity, he feared no one coming through his doors and that indicates someone was paid off — plain and simple. This isn’t just a political issue; this is a crime against humanity. Gosnell is not just a rare case; I believe it is the tip of a very large iceberg. Abortion would not be legal if it weren’t lucrative, and 78 percent of abortion clinics are in poor Black neighborhoods — what does that tell you? Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood once said, ‘more children from the fit, less from the unfit.’ That’s the ideology at work here. I know of Black women who have had multiple abortions because they’ve been taught to use it as a means of contraception.”
Dayle Steinberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania said that abortion procedures in Pennsylvania are already highly regulated. There is a 24-hour waiting period and other barriers to access. The latest a woman can choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy is 24 weeks. Steinberg said that while Planned Parenthood doesn’t support more regulations on abortion, it does support the regular inspection of facilities.
“This is exactly what we were afraid of; that pro-life advocates would see the Gosnell case, an isolated case, as indicative of a much greater problem — and it isn’t,” Steinberg said. “I think Gosnell is a very isolated case. I’ve never heard of anything even remotely like this — it’s the worst I’ve ever heard of. Abortion is a safe and highly regulated procedure, however, with that said it’s still difficult to prevent a few doctors from crossing ethical lines. There are always going to be people who will break the laws. We don’t support stricter regulations but we do support regular inspections. Those existing regulations and barriers already push women into waiting until the second trimesters to have an abortion. I’d like to add that it was under Governor Tom Ridge that the Department of Health stopped regular inspections of abortion clinics. Our own facilities haven’t been inspected in years — although our own organization does perform inspections along with other outside agencies.”
According to statistics provided by the Guttmacher Institute almost half of the pregnancies in America are unintended and four in 10 ends in abortion. About half of American women have already experienced an unintended pregnancy, and at current rates, about one-third will have had an abortion by age 45. Approximately 1.21 million abortions were performed in 2008, down from 1.31 million abortions in 2000 and nine in 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Guttmacher Institute statistics also show that:
• Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76 percent of pill users and 49 percent of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13 percent of pill users and 14 percent of condom users report correct use.
• Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32 percent had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26 percent had had unexpected sex and 1 percent had been forced to have sex.
• Eight percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; nonuse is greatest among those who are young, poor, Black, Hispanic or less educated.
• Eighteen percent of U.S. women obtaining abortions are teenagers; those aged 15–17 obtain 6 percent of all abortions, teens aged 18–19 obtain 11 percent, and teens younger than age 15 obtain 0.4 percent.
• Women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions; women aged 20–24 obtain 33 percent of all abortions, and women aged 25–29 obtain 24 percent.
• Non-Hispanic white women account for 36 percent of abortions, non-Hispanic Black women for 30 percent, Hispanic women for 25 percent and women of other races for 9 percent.
While many assistance programs experienced drastic cuts to its funding when Governor Tom Corbett released his latest budget, the Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program — HEMAP — has had to shutter operations entirely due to its lack of funding, which could have detrimental effects for the thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners who are facing foreclosure.
“Last year, HEMAP was funded at $2 million, and that was not enough to keep the program open, so HEMAP actually closed to new applicants last July,” said Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Executive Director Liz Hersh. “This year, the governor has proposed zero, which means the program will stay closed.”
HEMAP, since its inception almost 30 years ago, has helped 47,000 Pennsylvania homeowners in total; 6,100 were assisted from 2008 to 2010 alone.
“HEMAP has reduced the foreclosure rate in Pennsylvania, and it had an 85 percent success rate,” Hersh said. “We’re not talking about tossing money out the window.”
Hersh referenced a recently released report from the Reinvestment Fund, a non-partisan group that distills homeowner data into trends and forecasts. The Research Brief: “What if Pennsylvania had not had HEMAP?” found that the state invested $38 million in homeowner relief programs from 2008 to 2010, but those programs also saved the state — and by extension, lenders and local governments and municipalities — $480 million during that same time period. “Were it not for HEMAP, Pennsylvania’s foreclosure rate would have been much higher,” said the Reinvestment Fund Director of Policy Solutions Ira Goldstein. “Over this period, the number of homes saved from foreclosure by HEMAP amounted to between 4.6 percent and 5.1 percent of the total inventory of homes in foreclosure.”
The report also concluded that every county in the commonwealth experienced an average of $3.7 million in positive financial impact due to HEMAP.
HEMAP began in 1983 as a result of the steel mill closures in Western Pennsylvania and the subsequent effects it had on homeowners in that region.
The Governor’s office seemed cognizant of HEMAP’s successes, but noted that this was one of a series of cuts the governor had to implement to balance the budget.
“HEMAP has been around for years, and its funding has gone up and down a lot, and [its funding] is discretionary,” said Corbett spokesman Eric Shirk. “But I can tell you this was a difficult budget, and the governor had to make difficult cuts and difficult decisions.”
But all hope isn’t lost for Pennsylvania homeowners.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Attorney General joined the $25 billion joint state/federal settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage and housing lenders — Ally, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The agreement stems from several attorneys general suing the lenders for so-called “robo-signing” and other abusive tactics.
“This settlement provides an estimated $266 million in assistance to Pennsylvania, including principal reductions for consumers struggling to avoid foreclosure, refinancing relief for homeowners who are ‘underwater’ — owing more that their homes are worth — and payments to borrowers who lost their homes,” said Attorney General Linda Kelly through a statement released through the attorney general’s office. “It also addresses breakdowns in the mortgage servicing industry, provides new protection against abuse and allows us to pursue other mortgage-related misconduct.”
According to Kelly, the state’s share of the settlement is broken down into specific programs aimed to cure the major issues facing homeowners. Loan modification and debt-relief programs will receive $93 million, while Pennsylvania homeowners who were victims of loan abuse and lost their homes as a result would receive $21 million. Homeowners who are “underwater” will now be able to refinance their homes, with $81 million of the settlement going toward that service. And finally, $69 million will go directly to the commonwealth itself.
It’s that $69 million that many think should also go toward relief for embattled homeowners.
“This is a terrible time to stop the funding programs for the housing crisis. It’s pretty much an indictment on the Corbett administration,” said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “Corbett put nothing in his budget for HEMAP, but $69 million is going directly to the state; that should also be going to these programs, although some states dump that money into its general fund.”
Hersh sounded optimistic that this settlement will change the way the housing industry does business.
“The attorneys generals negotiated this deal … and the result of that is the mortgage industry has to change the way it does business,” Hersh said. “And that’s good. And now they have to put money in to helping homeowners.”
Pa. sex offenders with out-of-state convictions must now register
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams had high praise for a new measure enacted this week by Governor Tom Corbett which closes loopholes in Megan’s Law that made it easier for transient or out of state sex-offenders to avoid registering with local law enforcement agencies.
Williams, who is chair of the legislative committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said that closing the loopholes was the primary legislative priority of the Association.
“If you are a sex offender, you must register, and failing to do so is a felony,” Williams said in a press release. “And know this; we will prosecute you if you break the law again.”
Corbett signed the measure into law on Wednesday. The proposal, known as Senate Bill 1183, known as the “Adam Walsh” bill, expands and strengthens the Commonwealth’s current Megan’s Law. Under the previous inception of the law, loopholes existed that allowed out of state or transient sex offenders to ignore registering their residencies, school or work addresses with law enforcement.
“Megan’s Law is named for Megan Kanka, a New Jersey child murdered by a sexual predator. The Adam Walsh Law, as most everyone knows, is named for a Florida boy who was kidnapped at a department store and then murdered,” Corbett said in a press release. “Megan’s and Adam’s families advocated for the bills named for their children.
“Children are irreplaceable. But we can hope that by making our laws tougher, we can spare others the pain and grief that has visited too many families in the many years since we named laws in memory of these lost youngsters.’’
The new legislation also makes it a felony for a teacher, coach, or school employee to engage in sexual relations with any student with whom they have direct contact. It also brings Pennsylvania into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act requirements. The new measure comes on the heels of child sexual abuse allegations against former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and new accusations against longtime Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin.
“It is critical that our laws are tough on sex offenders, and do not permit them to evade registration requirements,” Williams said. “The registration of a convicted sex offender is not only an important tool for law enforcement agencies, it’s also a necessary key for a community’s sense of well being, and I am pleased the General Assembly and Governor worked so hard to enact this legislation.”
The Philadelphia School District has a long way to go before it can close a $61 million budget gap by June, but it hopes its fluidity, along with its appointment of Thomas Knudsen, will lead to a more efficient and solvent district.
Given the district’s multilayered problems and trying to improve matters under the auspices of damaging budgeting cuts, some wonder if the job is too much for the former PGW wunderkind-turned-chief recovery officer.
The $61 million is one thing; another range of issues, including the shuttering of several schools and the continual reorganization of school administrators and officials rank very high on Knudsen’s to-do list; but the district believes it has its man.
“What I can say is, in a very short period of time, when the full body of the School Reform Commission was seated, members of the board moved to analyze the budget and where they stood, and made a very crucial decision to move forward, without delay,” and hire Knudsen, said Public School District spokesman Fernando Gallard. “The members of the SRC are committed to making sure the district does not find itself in a position that [these cuts] affect students.
“The steps the SRC took shows they are clearly very serious,” Gallard continued. “But we’ve got to be realistic; all cuts affect schools one way or the other.”
But where can the district find an additional $61 million to cut? The district – along with school systems throughout Pennsylvania – has had its budgets slashed by Gov. Tom Corbett, who promised cuts to the education budget. Gallard said the state has cut an eye-popping $617 million from the budgets of public schools in the Commonwealth.
“When he was governor, Ed Rendell increased the education budget every year. Rendell made sure education was a priority,” said state Education spokesman Rob Broderick. “But those [budget increases], I don’t suspect will continue. Corbett needs to follow Rendell’s lead.”
Gallard foretells a doomsday situation if the district cannot meet its $61 million cut target. Former interim superintendent Leroy Nunery II was to lead the district back to fiscal sanity; in last week’s upheaval, Nunery was reassigned and now serves as special adviser to the SRC.
“We must pay our debt service to be able to barrow money in the future…[not paying] it would make us short on payroll,” Gallard said. “We may not be able to pay people in July for the work done in June. It would also mean carrying over a deficit from one school year to the next.”
Student advocates fear these demands will ultimately lead to a cuts that will affect a student’s ability to learn.
“I’m not quite clear on why the Philadelphia School District’s budget deficit is as big as it is, especially given all the cutbacks we had,” said Michael Churchill, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia counsel, who successfully intervened on behalf of the students caught in the roiling funding argument between Corbett and the Chester Upland School District. “I think Philadelphia and Chester both show the need for transparency, so people can understand where the budget is coming from and why it’s so large.
“We know the state cut back on funding, but the deficit is much larger than the cutbacks…consequently, it leaves people wondering if and how the district can survive these times.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chair of Council’s education committee, also wishes for further transparency from the district.
“We’re still losing traditional schools and charter schools, attendance is down, and that’s very frightening,” said Blackwell. “What we intend is for the SRC and its leadership to talk to our committee about where they are and what they are doing to define in detail how they want to do these cuts.”
Gallard believes these mandated cuts should have minimal affect on the quality of education students receive. He says Philadelphia students already excel under ongoing cuts, and they should continue to do so.
“We have had many successes in increasing net gains and test scores; the district has created a system of schools that provide choice to parents, to the point now where we have one-third of all students in charter schools,” Gallard said. “There’s been an increase in the Annual Yearly Progress in 161 schools, and we are in the process of shifting low-performance seats to higher-performing seats.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, but if we don’t take care of our financial issues, we will be in a serious position of basically trying to meet our financial demands in the future.”
The Center for Education Reform, a national non-profit tasked with improving public education, has released an encompassing report that grades parental empowerment, solid educational choices, teacher quality and access to digital learning, among other factors. That Pennsylvania ranks in the top ten of all states can be viewed as proof educational reforms in the commonwealth are beginning to take hold.
According to the annual findings released in the Parent Power Index, Pennsylvania trails Indiana, which ranks first; Florida; Ohio; Arizona; Washington, D.C.; Louisiana and Minnesota. Wisconsin and Utah round out the top ten.
The PPI is an interactive, accessible online tool that collects and itemizes data critical to judging the gains and deficiencies in a parent’s control of their child’s education. The index is designed to provide in-depth information to not only parents, but to stakeholders, politicians and education policymakers as well.
“All across America, parents are demanding more power over their children’s education, but the task of sorting through all the information out there is daunting,” said Center for Education Reform President Jeanne Allen. “There are a variety of resources available to evaluate how students are achieving, but there is widespread disagreement about what constitutes sound education reform policy.
As the mother of college students, I liken the PPI to a cumulative GPA, which is a composite of grades from varying professors,” Allen continued. “In this case, these professors are among the nation’s leading authorities and critical evaluators of education policy.”
Each state is graded on five broad categories: school choice, charter schools, online learning, teacher quality and transparency, and the findings related to Pennsylvania are interesting.
For example, the state received points for having a pro-education reform governor in Tom Corbett, but suffered due to limitations in the so-called parent-trigger law, which allows parents to force a change of district leadership if said district doesn’t meet the parents’ standards. The state also received credit for the number and quality of charter schools, for providing school choice and supporting a performance-based pay structure.
Pennsylvania’s overall PPI grade is 74.5 percent.
“A high number of digital learning options prevail alongside charter schools that serve a significant number of students throughout the state. The state affords parents many good information sources and allows them to vote for their elected school boards in traditionally-timed elections,” read PPI’s Pennsylvania summary. “The state’s teacher quality measures are weak, however, and more and better options across all schooling structures are needed and much in demand.”
Pennsylvania was shown to be slightly deficient is several areas, however. On the matter of school choice, the index found that Pennsylvania has two private school choice programs, and that the commonwealth does have a charter school law. Pennsylvania enables public virtual schooling, but needs to address its limited open enrollment policies.
In terms of transparency, the index singled out the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission for their openness; however, improvements must be made in terms of educating parents about other, less traditional modes of education.
“Pennsylvania’s department of education website is parent-friendly and school report cards are accessible. It is next to impossible, however, to find information on charter or cyber school options. Generally, elections for the 501 local school boards in Pennsylvania are held in November of odd-numbered years,” read the index. “Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission is governed by an appointed panel. Harrisburg and Chester Upland are governed by state appointed boards of control, although their local boards still operate with limited authority.”
The index also shows that Pennsylvania graduates 80.5 percent of its high school students, while the average SAT score is 1473 and the average ACT score is 22.3; of import, Pennsylvania spends an average of $12,418 on per-pupil funding.
“The index’s ‘Top Ten’ prove that when parents have access to options and good information, all children can succeed,” Allen said. “Lawmakers need to look to these exemplars and the policies that have afforded parents greater power elsewhere and act as fast to bring real education reform to their respective states.
“Parents and voters have declared that mediocrity is no longer acceptable,” Allen added, “and our elected officials have a mandate to fix out educational and economic problems for good.”
Maybe Gov. Tom Corbett is not a cold-hearted conservative consumed with a commitment to cut state government spending principally by gutting services essential to sustaining minimal sustenance for Pennsylvania’s most desperately needy citizens.
However, after reading the comprehensive analysis of devastating impacts from the governor’s budget-slashing practices published in last week’s Philadelphia City Paper, it is hard not to conclude Corbett budget initiatives aren’t deliberate scorched-earth assaults.
That City Paper analysis detailed Corbett budget cuts ravaging so many, from seniors needing medical services to school districts now unable to fund educating children.
Instead of criticism though, give Corbett a benefit of the doubt — extending ex-prosecutor Corbett a courtesy he rarely extended non-politically-connected persons facing trial and prisoners appealing convictions corrupted by official misconduct.
Accept Corbett wanting firmer financial footing for Pennsylvania in these slippery times of escalating costs and decreasing revenues arising from America’s on-going recession.
Corbett must generate money somewhere since he vehemently opposes raising revenues from available sources like fully taxing Marcellus Shale gas extraction (which is detrimentally “taxing” the state’s environment) or taxing marijuana after decriminalization — a fee millions of Pennsylvania pot smokers would willingly pay including users working inside the Capitol in Harrisburg.
In an effort to assist Corbett identify revenue draining areas, there is one area in the state’s budget, ripe for reform, currently costing in excess of $15.5 million annually containing a built-in guarantee that the current cost will increase dramatically during this entire century.
That $15.5 million-plus ripe for eliminating is the amount Pennsylvania spends for its legal penchant of slamming life-without-parole sentences on juveniles convicted in adult courts of felony homicide crimes including convictions of young persons not directly involved in the homicide that sent them to state prison.
Pennsylvania presently holds approximately 470 persons languishing under life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed while juveniles, according to those expert in this sentencing slime pit.
State prisons, in 2010, held a dozen persons serving life-without-parole sentences who were under the age twenty and another 181 aged 20–24 according to the state prison system’s own statistics.
In Pennsylvania’s prison system the oldest juvenile-sentenced-lifer is 70, having spent 56-years in prison for a homicide committed at age 14.
That 70-year-old received that life sentence for a crime committed before that person could legally drive, drink, vote, marry, enlist in the military or even think rationally according to scientific evidence recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court that utilized that evidence in recent years to abolish death sentences for juveniles and juvenile life sentences for non-homicide crimes.
That $15.5 million, spent on persons serving juvenile life sentences in Pennsylvania, increases annually as young inmates’ age, a cost arising from soaring costs for medical, security and other services required for elderly inmates.
At one state prison, just long-term care for infirmed elderly inmates costs $63,500 annually per inmate, over $30,000 more than the annual cost for younger inmates.
Pennsylvania carries the ugly distinction of being the state with the largest population of persons serving juvenile-life-without-parole sentences in the United States.
And so-called freedom championing America carries the even uglier distinction of standing “alone in the world in the imposition of juvenile life sentences with no option for parole” according to a D.C.-based Sentencing Project report.
Given the race-based disparities infesting America’s criminal justice system, it’s not surprising that over 65 percent of Pa. prison inmates serving juvenile-life-without-parole sentences are African American.
Gov. Corbett, his conservative confederates including legislators and prosecutors plus victim’s rights advocates certainly contend that any juvenile committing a felony homicide condemns themselves to the (rightfully horrific) sentence of life without parole.
Yet, statistics do not support that strident stance.
In Pennsylvania approximately 26 percent of juvenile lifers did not themselves commit a homicide — receiving convictions under legal measures mandating mandatory sentencing for anyone involved in a felony murder irrespective of level of participation in that crime.
Further, almost 60 percent of Pa.’s juvenile lifers were first-time offenders — not the habitual violent offenders normally considered legitimate candidates for medieval-like until-they-die imprisonment.
Persons seeking reforms in the money draining, morally outrageous juvenile life sentencing do not seek immediate releases but merely the opportunity for those serving such sentences to receive parole review and possible release if deemed worthy.
Recidivism for the 285 Pa. lifers released under commuted sentences is 1 percent, according to Sentencing Project statistics.
“We seek the possibility of parole, not the guarantee of release. We’re not advocating the release of dangerous sociopaths,” said Anita Colon, Pennsylvania Coordinator of the National Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth.
The state of juvenile lifers is not merely an academic interest for Colon.
Colon’s brother, Robert Holbrook, received a juvenile life sentence for serving as a look-out on his 16th birthday for a drug-related, 1990 Philadelphia robbery that ended in a homicide. Holbrook didn’t commit that murder.
Holbrook, who’s served over 20-years in prison, wrote in a 2008 essay that “a child offender” who makes a terrible decision as a youth in Pennsylvania receives less “justice and leniency” than in countries like China and Libya.
If Corbett is serious about cutting wasteful state spending he would join the movement to reform laws mandating mandatory life-without-parole sentences for certain juvenile offenders — sentences that some adult mass murders don’t receive.
“When the law preys on its child offenders … it is no better than the criminal predators that prey on children in society,” Holbrook wrote.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
Culinary entrepreneurs will be able to tap into assistance from the Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation.
TEC-CDC was recently awarded a $546,722 grant from Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Discovered in PA, Developed in PA to support its Philly Food Innovation program.
Philly Food Innovation is built on a model that comprehensively builds successful food entrepreneurs via a dynamic mix of commercial kitchen lab facilities and capacity-building resources. The initiative will create a self-sustaining engine that enables food entrepreneurs to bring innovative food products from concept, to design, to production to the marketplace.
“We are grateful to Governor Tom Corbett and DECD Secretary for their vision in supporting this important program that will accelerate businesses, create jobs and stimulate innovation in Pennsylvania’s growing food industry,” said TEC President Della Clark.
The food sector is one of the most important, yet underdeveloped sectors at the heart of the Greater Philadelphia region’s economic recovery and resurgence. Philly Food Innovation directly addresses this developmental void by implementing a comprehensive approach to food business incubation.
Philly Food Innovation is built on a model that recruits and encourages food entrepreneurs to conceptualize and develop new food products in commercial kitchen labs within the Center for Culinary Enterprises, a 13,000-square foot, LEED-certified food business incubation center and hub of community health resources in West Philadelphia, now under construction at 310 South 48th Street in West Philadelphia. The project is scheduled for completion in the summer 2012, with a grand opening in September.
The program provides business training and capacity-building resources needed to successfully accelerate their businesses and bring their products to market. TEC will assist entrepreneurs in capacity building, technical assistance, access to capital and access to contract opportunities through its dynamic business acceleration program.
I got an angry letter from Governor Corbett last week, or at least from one of his minions — chastising me for a column I wrote the week before calling for Corbett’s impeachment.
Click this link to see the letter in its entirety, and you can read it for yourself. I’m not going to refute its content point by point, but there are a couple of highlights that beg further review.
Dennis Roddy, special assistant to the governor, attempts to take me to task for saying Corbett’s been bending over backwards to accommodate his Big Oil and Big Energy friends and contributors tearing up Marcellus Shale and its surrounding communities by reminding readers that Corbett “laid down more than $1 million in penalties on a Marcellus driller for environmental failures.”
Well, Dennis, I took your suggestion and googled “Chesapeake, record fine,” and guess what? The $1 million fine is there, along with the fact that Chesapeake Energy, the company in question, owns 519 well permits in Pennsylvania and has been reporting annual revenues between $7.6 billion and $11.3 billion a year for the past four years. Chesapeake also pays its CEO $116.89 million per year, making him the third highest paid executive in the country. I seriously doubt that the $1 million in fines, however unprecedented, made much of a dent in their $11 billion profit margin. I also doubt that a drop-in-the-bucket fine is much of an incentive to make those corporations accountable for the devastated communities they’ll leave behind, or to discontinue thumbing their noses at environmental regulations.
Also notable is the boast that, “The governor crafted and implemented an impact fee in addition to this, meaning that a fully productive well will pay $310,000 to its host community over a10-year period.”
Wait a second, let me get this straight. A fully productive well, pumping millions of dollars worth of natural gas, will pay the host community — an entire township or borough — a whopping $31,000 per year for ten years. That should be of great comfort to the folks who’ll be able to light their tap water on fire, or find themselves dying of a host of environmentally based illnesses. $31,000 won’t even pay for the water they’ll have to truck in from out of town just to take a shower.
What is most telling, however, about Roddy’s tersely worded retort, is not what it says, but what it doesn’t say.
He doesn’t include one word about the voter ID law, about which I had the most to say in that column, and many columns previous. He doesn’t think its “odd,” “astonishing,” or “alarming” that I called Corbett’s law “the most insidious violation of citizens’ basic rights and dignity since “Colored Only” water fountains.” I compared it to the fire hose and police dog voter suppression tactics of the 1960s, and even headlined one column, “Tom Corbett, meet Jim Crow.”
I mean, if there were ever an opening to defend a policy you strongly believe in, that would have been it right there.
While vigorously defending Marcellus Shale drillers and Corbett’s handling of the Penn State scandal while he was Attorney General, when it comes to defending the most egregious piece of legislation in the state affecting the elderly, the poor, immigrants and ethnic minorities — silence. You can almost hear the crickets.
No attempt to convince Tribune readers that the voter ID law is free of racism, or even partisanship. No defense of voter ID law sponsor state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who once featured life-size targets of President Obama for his gun-toting contributors to shoot live rounds at one of his fundraising hoedowns. No acknowledgement of the accidental slip of the truth from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who bragged to a partisan crowd in June that the voter ID law would insure a Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania.
Could it be that Roddy simply forgot about all that when crafting the carefully worded defense of his boss? Or could it be that Corbett knows only too well that the voter ID law — and particularly the sinister motivation behind it — is as shamelessly partisan and nakedly racist as anything to come out of Harrisburg in years?
There’s even talk among Republicans nationally of repealing the Voting Rights Act altogether. Women, gays, minorities, senior citizens and immigrants are all in the GOP cross hairs this election season. Vote like your life depends upon it, because it just might.
Then, impeach Corbett.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Sometimes, it’s possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the most righteous of reasons.
It’s also possible that even when someone does the right thing, their motives are questioned — especially when doing the right thing has eluded them in the past.
Which is the position in which Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett now finds himself.
Earlier this week, Corbett filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, saying the college sports governing body overstepped its bounds when it slapped Penn State with a $60 million fine over the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, and only did so to punish the players and enhance their own reputation in the court of public opinion.
“A handful of top NCAA officials simply inserted themselves into an issue they had no authority to police under their own bylaws, and one that was clearly being handled by the justice system,” Corbett said at a news conference on Wednesday announcing the suit.
This is a complete turnaround from his position back when the fines were imposed, when he urged the Penn State faithful to quietly accept the sanctions imposed by the NCAA, which includes heavy recruiting sanctions, and disqualification from bowl games, in addition to the $60 million.
Remembering that Corbett, by dint of his position as governor of the state, is already a Penn State trustee, and approved the sanctions, however unfair and draconian, at the time. It is a fact that gives one pause, as it did members of the alumni organization Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, who also smelled a rat in Corbett’s sudden change of heart.
“If he disapproved of the terms of the NCAA consent decree, or if he thought there was something illegal about them, why didn’t he exercise his duty to act long before now?” the group was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
It is a fair question, and one that conjures up images of a typical political grandstanding maneuver — usually employed to save face, sway public opinion, or deflect attention away from an inconvenient truth.
And while I am usually the first to accuse Corbett of using just such a cynical tactic, I’m going to pause here for a moment and consider the possibility, however remote, that maybe he’s just trying to do the right thing for a change.
Sure, I could employ my own hefty dose of cynicism here, and question whether the lawsuit is a tactical misdirection — and a result of Corbett’s recent blunders: smacked down on his vote suppressing ID laws, failing to deliver the state to Romney, and just last week caught playing footsie with his buddies in the gas industry by taking lavish holidays on gas lobbyists cash.
Not to mention the continued public grumblings that Corbett, as state attorney general, dragged his feet on the Sandusky investigation, and that he continued to support and defend Sandusky’s charity, Second Mile, long after it was known that the founder was a child molesting creep.
It is also fairly well known that the incoming attorney general, Kathleen Kane, made the Sandusky mess a major point in her campaign, promising to shine a light on Corbett’s actions (or inaction) before, during, and after the scandal broke publicly. When she takes office, the sparks are going to fly, and Corbett could find himself facing re-election with the kind of baggage no incumbent wants to explain.
Even taking all this into account, it is still possible that Corbett just now sees the holes in the NCAA’s position. And if his take on the matter is to be believed, the man actually has some valid points.
According to the lawsuit, the NCAA punished Penn State “without citing a single concrete NCAA rule that Penn State has broken, for conduct that in no way compromised the NCAA’s mission of fair competition, and with a complete disregard for the NCAA’s own enforcement procedures.” You can certainly make the case that Sandusky, Spanier, Curley and even Joe Paterno violated any number of laws, but they’re not being punished — the football team, students, alumni and faculty are being punished.
And, if the NCAA can really take $60 million from Penn State alumni and Pennsylvania taxpayers, and redistribute that money around the country for its various projects, you have to admit that sounds more than a little fishy.
So yes, it’s possible that Corbett is onto something. It’s possible he may be filing this lawsuit for all the right reasons, and he just wants fairness for the university, as well as Sandusky’s victims.
Of course, it’s also possible that I’ll be mistaken for Denzel Washington.
Daryl Gale is the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune.
Hundreds of thousands of inmates now in private prisons
In the last three decades, America has experienced an explosive increase in its prison population — more than 2.5 million inmates are now serving time — and that increase is attributable to a host of interrelated reasons from the failed War on Drugs to a lack of quality public education to a lack of comprehensive re-entry services and living wage jobs.
But since the late 1990s, another facet of the problem has begun to emerge — an increase in the number of private, for-profit prisons. Promising huge savings in taxpayers’ dollars, along with other financial perks, private prison corporations are becoming the alternative to expensive state facilities.
The Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, one of the leading providers of for-profit prisons in the nation, recently sent letters to 48 states offering to buy their correctional facilities for a princely sum — $250 million towards the purchase of state prisons. In a time when the national economy is still limping and state budgets are shrinking, the state of Ohio found CCA’s “Corrections Investment Initiative” was an offer it couldn’t refuse.
The letter, sent by Harley Lappin, CCA’s chief corrections officer, and a former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, touted the corporation’s success with the program in Ohio and the millions in taxpayers’ money saved. The only caveat to the initiative was that the contract partner must agree to keep the handed over facilities 90 percent full. In other words, the state has the obligation to keep sending prisoners.
“CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities. The program is a new opportunity for federal, state or local governments that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections,” Lappin wrote. “We’re proud to consistently deliver safe and efficient operations and high quality educational and rehabilitation programming for inmates and detainees under our care. Our decision to earmark funds for the purchase and management of existing government facilities follows our success last year in Ohio with the groundbreaking acquisition of the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Facility in Conneaut. On Jan. 1, 2012, we assumed ownership and management responsibility in a transition described by all parties as seamless. This transfer culminated a process that, according to state officials, generated more than $72.7 million in proceeds for Ohio taxpayers, about $50 million of which was allocated for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Estimated annual savings in corrections operations are placed at $3 million.”
According to Lappin, CCA is also modernizing Ohio’s Lake Erie facility, retaining over 93 percent of the staff. Lappin wrote that Ohio would enjoy the full economic development of the public-private partnership that comes with a CCA-owned facility — and they want to build on that success.
“We want to build on that success and provide our existing or prospective government partners with access to the same opportunity as they manage challenging corrections budgets. Interested parties would execute the sale to CCA and enter into a long-term management contract of 20 years or more,” Lappin wrote.
Attempts by the Tribune to speak to officials at CCA were politely declined.
In order for a state facility to be eligible for CCA to purchase, it would have a 1,000-bed minimum, be no older than 25 years old, suitable for immediate occupancy or is already occupied by inmates, and “an assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract.”
Could Pennsylvania, with Gov. Tom Corbett at the helm, be the next state to take the money and run? So far, it hasn’t happened, although according to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokesperson Susan McNaughton, there are a couple of counties with private facilities. Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Clearfield County is one of them.
“Pennsylvania hasn’t gone the route of prison privatization because think we can do a better job and the cost savings, such as lower salaries, while they may be immediate, will disappear as salaries increase,” said McNaughton. “We went to Louisiana and looked at several private prisons there and came back and just decided we can do a much better job. It was that way under Governor Rendell, and remains so under Governor Corbett — we will not privatize our state facilities. Now there are some aspects of our prisons that we do privatize, such as drug and alcohol treatment, medical and mental health services — but that’s all we will consider.”
Right now, CCA manages approximately 75,000 inmates including men, women and juveniles at all security levels, in more than 60 facilities under contract for management in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The Geo Group, another private corrections corporation, manages approximately 80,000 beds and manages or owns 114 facilities.
CCA has no facilities in Delaware and only one in New Jersey, Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Experts have criticized the move to prison privatization, saying the cost savings don’t really pan out, and have raised concerns about inmate safety as well.
One guard was killed, and 19 other people including inmates were injured during a prison riot at a CCA owned facility in Natchez, Miss., on Sunday, May 20. In October 2011, 46 inmates were injured during a prison riot at another CCA run facility at the North Fork Correctional Facility in western Oklahoma. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.
Private prisons are not a new phenomenon; America has had them since the Revolution. But as the cost of incarcerating inmates continues to increase in a time of shrinking budgets and cost cuttings, the private prison industry has been expanding — holding more inmates and raking in huge profits. Private prisons for adults were non-existent until the early 1980s, but between 1990 and 2009 the number of private prisons increased by approximately 1600 percent. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies took in almost $3 billion dollars in revenue.
“Is it the new slavery? One could make an argument for that, certainly,” said attorney and former Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Leon King. “We’re talking about mass incarceration and companies like CCA are a symptom of a much larger problem. Do private prisons reduce the cost of incarceration? Perhaps over the short term, but when you look at the number of years of the contract, those costs will increase and our prisons are already overcrowded.”
Recently, the Sentencing Project released a study showing that the supposed savings generated by the utilization of private prisons was a questionable claim at best — and largely illusory.
“A 1996 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) looked at four state-funded studies and one commissioned by the federal government,” said Chris Mason in the 2012 report, Too Good to Be True: Private Prisons in America. “The methodologies and results varied across the studies, with two showing no major difference in efficiency between private and public prisons, a third showing that private facilities resulted in savings to the state of seven percent, and the fourth finding the cost of a private facility falling somewhere between that of two similar public prisons. Another study also found significant cost savings associated with private prisons, but the GAO criticized the report for using hypothetical facilities in its comparisons. The authors noted that they could not definitively conclude that privatization would not save money, but also established that, ‘…these studies do not offer substantial evidence that savings have occurred.’”
Mason said in the report that the GAO’s critique of the methodologies used in comparisons is not unique. Former Bureau of Prisons Director of Research Gerry Gaes made similar observations when reviewing two reports that found different levels of savings when comparing the same three public prisons with a private facility. In his 2008 report for the National Institute of Justice he observed that the more favorable study for privatization did not adjust the data on the prisons to scale and failed to take into account the proper amount of overhead costs for the private prison. Gaes noted that these types of cost comparisons are deceivingly complicated and that current research is highly limited.
“We oppose prison privatization as a general matter because what a state is doing is essentially turning over control of its citizens to a private entity whose sole purpose is to make money off of human beings. Governor Tom Ridge said there would be no private prisons in Pennsylvania, ever — and we don’t have state facilities controlled or owned by private corrections companies,” said William H. DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “The overall problem is that generally, they can’t do a better job than the state. They’re going to have fewer staff, for less money, and usually in areas where there is no union foothold. Also, consider the fact that because they have to generate a profit for their shareholders, it’s in their interest to provide fewer programs to prevent recidivism. There is a direct correlation between prison programs and recidivism. It’s bad enough that we’re in an era of mass incarceration, but when it’s in the interest of a private entity to make a profit by incarcerating people, it then becomes the interest of the partner to be encouraged to incarcerate and criminalize offenses that would be better handled in other ways. It’s in the interest of the private entity to have high recidivism rates.”