September 2011
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Month September 2011

NYT: Immigrant Crackdowns Turn Into Big Business

The New York Times has a front-page feature on how the US, Britain and Australia have looked to “a handful of [private] multinational security companies,” primarily GEO Group, Serco and G4S, have turned expanded immigration detention policies in all three countries “into a growing global industry.” Nina Bernstein, Getting Tough On Immigrants To Turn a Profit, N.Y. Times, Sept. 29, 2011, at A1:

Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.

But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.

… In the United States — with almost 400,000 annual detentions in 2010, up from 280,000 in 2005 — private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons, according to government figures. In Britain, 7 of 11 detention centers and most short-term holding places for immigrants are run by for-profit contractors.

… Companies often say that losing a contract is the ultimate accountability.

“We are acutely aware of our responsibilities and are committed to the humane, fair and decent treatment of all those in our care,” a Serco spokesman said in an e-mail. “We will continue to work with our customers around the world and seek to improve the services we provide for them.”

But lost detention contracts are rare and easily replaced in this fast-growing business. Serco’s $10 billion portfolio includes many other businesses, from air traffic control and visa processing in the United States, to nuclear weapons maintenance, video surveillance and welfare-to-work programs in Britain, where it also operates several prisons and two “immigration removal centers.”

“If one area or territory slows down, we can move where the growth is,” Christopher Hyman, Serco’s chief executive, told investors last year, after reporting a 35 percent increase in profits. This spring, Serco reported a 13 percent profit rise.

Its rival G4S delivers cash to banks on most continents, runs airport security in 80 countries and has 1,500 employees in immigration enforcement in Britain, the Netherlands and the United States, where its services include escorting illegal border-crossers back to Mexico for the Department of Homeland Security.

Union Claims Highest Number of Oversize Classes in Decade

Anna M. Phillips, Teachers Say Survey Found 7,000 Classes Overcrowded, N.Y. Times, Sept. 23, 2011, at A26:

The number of overcrowded classes in New York is the largest in 10 years, according to a survey conducted by the teachers union and released on Thursday.

As a result of attrition, budget cuts and increased enrollment in some areas of the city, nearly 7,000 classes are over their contractual limits this year, the survey, by the United Federation of Teachers, found. That figure exceeds last year’s number by almost 1,000.

The union says that about 256,000 students, roughly a quarter of total enrollment, spend at least part of the school day in an overcrowded class.

As is often the case, high schools in Queens are most affected. In a borough where many students attend zoned high schools, which must accept all students in their neighborhoods, about 2,600 classes have more than 34 students.

A school system to be built on miracles and stunning interventions

The New York Times ran a front-page article on Newark schools 17 new principals recruited this year by Cami Anderson, the new schools superintendent, “to run nearly a quarter of the city’s schools… as part of an ambitious plan to rebuild the 39,000-student district, which has long been crippled by low achievement and high dropout rates, but now is flush with up to $200 million from prominent donors, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.” Winnie Hu, Troubled District’s Bet: Wave of New Principals, N.Y. Times, Sept. 16, 2011, at A1:

“I believe a strong principal is the key to almost everything,” Ms. Anderson said in an interview. “Where you have great performance, you have great principals, period, full stop. Where you have low performance, you have struggling principals. It’s not that complicated.”

Perhaps prescient is Jonathan Kozol’s discussion of Joe Clark, a school principal in Paterson, New Jersey and a favorite of the Reagan White House “who became the subject of a film and was presented to the public as a salvatory figure”:

Sometimes the dynamic-sounding program introduced by a new principal does have a galvanizing and perceptible effect and one that lasts for more than a few years. In other cases, it is really just an avalanche of words and short-term measures that temporarily establish a degree of calm within the school and sometimes bring a sudden spike in test results or graduation rates, although the academic gains more frequently than not turn out to be short-lived and, in some cases, they have proven to be spurious.

… There are hundreds of principals in our urban schools who are authentic heroes, few of whom… receive the notice and support they deserve. But there is a difference between recognizing the accomplishments of able school officials and the marketing of individuals as saviors of persistently unequal systems. As with the hero children, so too with the hero principals, there is this inclination to avert our eyes from the pervasive injuries inflicted upon students by our acquiescence in a dual system [of apartheid schooling] and to convey the tantalizing notion that the problems of this system can be superseded somehow by a faith in miracles embodied in dynamic and distinctive individuals I don’t believe that this is true. I don’t believe a good school system can be built on miracles or on the stunning interventions of dramatically original and charismatic men or women. I don’t think anyone really believes this.

Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America 199-200 (2005).

Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’

Sabrina Tavernise, Poverty Rate Soars to Highest Level Since 1993, N.Y. Times, Sept. 14, 2011, at A1:

Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.

… The past decade was also marked by a growing gap between the very top and very bottom of the income ladder. Median household income for the bottom tenth of the income spectrum fell by 12 percent from a peak in 1999, while the top 90th percentile dropped by just 1.5 percent. Overall, median household income adjusted for inflation declined by 2.3 percent in 2010 from the previous year, to $49,445. That was 7 percent less than the peak of $53,252 in 1999. Part of the income decline over time is because of the smaller size of the American family.

This year is not likely to be any better, economists said. Stimulus money has largely ended, and state and local governments have made deep cuts to staff and to budgets for social programs, both likely to move economically fragile families closer to poverty.

Minorities were hit hardest. Blacks experienced the highest poverty rate, at 27 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009, and Hispanics rose to 26 percent from 25 percent. For whites, 9.9 percent lived in poverty, up from 9.4 percent in 2009. Asians were unchanged at 12.1 percent.

And last month, PBS ran a strong piece as part of an occasional series on inequality in America:

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

NY Post: ‘Shelter student’ crisis

Yoav Gonnen, Doug Montero and Jennifer Bain, ‘Shelter Student’ Crisis; Big homeless rise, N.Y. Post, Sept. 8, 2011, at 24:

The number of homeless students in city public schools has quad­-rupled since the economy tanked in 2008 — weighing down an already overburdened system with an additional 30,000 kids lacking permanent homes, The Post has learned.

The shocking Department of Education data put the number of kids without fixed shelter at 42,980 as of October 2010 — while state data show those numbers to be even higher.

The count was at 10,209 in October 2008.

Education officials said the numbers have skyrocketed not just because of the struggling economy, but also due to better reporting — which has resulted in increased federal funding — and better coordination with agencies like the Department of Homeless Services.

But some critics say the city’s policies are equally to blame for the dramatic spike.

“This speaks fundamentally to the failures of the administration’s approach to the problem of homelessness,” said Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless.

“This administration has failed to recognize what 30 years of research and experience taught us — that it’s a housing-affordability problem.”

The DOE’s figures are required by federal law to count not just kids living in shelters, but those living in multiple-family households or motels, or awaiting placement in foster care.

The surge has walloped some schools more than others — with Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton HS in Bay Ridge and New Utrecht HS in Bensonhurst each seeing their populations of homeless kids more than double from 2009 to 2010 to about 250 students.

DOE officials said every school is responsible for creating a plan to address the needs of kids in temporary housing, and that they are each provided a liaison to help coordinate services from other agencies.

DHS officials said that, contrary to the reported school surge, they’ve seen the number of children living in city shelters flatline since 2008.

NYPD Blows School Data Release Deadline

Rachel Monahan and Rocco Parascandola, NYPD Stalls On Crime Data, Daily News, Sept. 2, 2011, at 12:

THE NYPD has blown its first deadline to release data on arrests in city schools – by more than a month.

As part of the city’s Student Safety Act enacted in January, the NYPD had to provide the figures by the end of July.

“There is no excuse for it,” said New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman. “It’s critical to understanding what the over 5,000 police employees are doing in the New York City schools.”

In the past, the department ignored similar deadlines to provide “stop and frisk” data on how often cops stop citizens without making an arrest.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem, Mott Haven) said the delay on the school safety data was troubling.

“[The NYPD was] not in favor of this legislation to begin with,” she said. “This may be reflective of that opposition.”

NYPD officials cited the need to be accurate as a reason for the delay.

They also noted data collection and analysis were complicated, and the agency had no new resources.