Entries Tagged "prisons"

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Virtual Kidnapping

A real crime in Mexico:

“We’ve got your child,” he says in rapid-fire Spanish, usually adding an expletive for effect and then rattling off a list of demands that might include cash or jewels dropped off at a certain street corner or a sizable deposit made to a local bank.

The twist is that little Pablo or Teresa is safe and sound at school, not duct-taped to a chair in a rundown flophouse somewhere or stuffed in the back of a pirate taxi. But when the cellphone call comes in, that is not at all clear.

[…]

But identifying the phone numbers — they are now listed on a government Web site — has done little to slow the extortion calls. Nearly all the calls are from cellphones, most of them stolen, authorities say.

On top of that, many extortionists are believed to be pulling off the scams from prisons.

Authorities say hundreds of different criminal gangs are engaged in various telephone scams. Besides the false kidnappings, callers falsely tell people they have won cars or money. Sometimes, people are told to turn off their cellphones for an hour so the service can be repaired; then, relatives are called and told that the cellphone’s owner has been kidnapped. Ransom demands have even been made by text message.

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 5:29 AMView Comments

Our Inherent Capability for Evil

This is interesting:

What took place on a peaceful Californian university campus nearly four decades ago still has the power to disturb. Eager to explore the way that “situation” can impact on behaviour, the young psychologist enrolled students to spend two weeks in a simulated jail environment, where they would randomly be assigned roles as either prisoners or guards.

Zimbardo’s volunteers were bright, liberal young men of good character, brimming with opposition to the Vietnam war and authority in general. All expressed a preference to be prisoners, a role they could relate to better. Yet within days the strong, rebellious “prisoners” had become depressed and hopeless. Two broke down emotionally, crushed by the behaviour of the “guards”, who had embraced their authoritarian roles in full, some becoming ever-more sadistic, others passively accepting the abuses taking place in front of them.

Transcripts of the experiment, published in Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, record in terrifying detail the way reality slipped away from the participants. On the first day ­ Sunday ­ it is all self-conscious play-acting between college buddies. On Monday the prisoners start a rebellion, and the guards clamp down, using solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and intimidation. One refers to “these dangerous prisoners”. They have to be prevented from using physical force.

Control techniques become more creative and sadistic. The prisoners are forced to repeat their numbers over and over at roll call, and to sing them. They are woken repeatedly in the night. Their blankets are rolled in dirt and they are ordered painstakingly to pick them clean of burrs. They are harangued and pitted against one another, forced to humiliate each other, pulled in and out of solitary confinement.

On day four, a priest visits. Prisoner 819 is in tears, his hands shaking. Rather than question the experiment, the priest tells him, “You’re going to have to get less emotional.” Later, a guard leads the inmates in chanting “Prisoner 819 did a bad thing!” and blaming him for their poor conditions.

Zimbardo finds 819 covering his ears, “a quivering mess, hysterical”, and says it is time to go home. But 819 refuses to leave until he has proved to his fellow prisoners that he isn’t “bad”. “Listen carefully to me, you’re not 819,” says Zimbardo. “You are Stewart and my name is Dr Zimbardo. I am a psychologist not a prison superintendent, and this is not a real prison.”819 stops sobbing “and looks like a small child awakening from a nightmare”, according to Zimbardo. But it doesn’t seem to occur to him that things are going too far.

Guard Hellmann, leader of the night shift, plumbs new depths. He wakes up the prisoners to shout abuse in their faces. He forces them to play leapfrog dressed only in smocks, their genitals exposed. A new prisoner, 416, replaces 819, and brings fresh perspective. “I was terrified by each new shift of guards,” he says. “I knew by the first evening that I had done something foolish to volunteer for this study.”

The study is scheduled to run for two weeks. On the evening of Thursday, the fifth day, Zimbardo’s girlfriend, Christina Maslach, also a psychologist, comes to meet him for dinner. She is confronted by a line of prisoners en route to the lavatory, bags over their heads, chained together by the ankles. “What you’re doing to these boys is a terrible thing,” she tells Zimbardo. “Don’t you understand this is a crucible of human behaviour?” he asks. “We are seeing things no one has witnessed before in such a situation.” She tells him this has made her question their relationship, and the person he is.

Downstairs, Guard Hellmann is yelling at the prisoners. “See that hole in the ground? Now do 25 push-ups, fucking that hole. You hear me?” Three prisoners are forced to be “female camels”, bent over, their naked bottoms exposed. Others are told to “hump” them and they simulate sodomy. Zimbardo ends the experiment the following morning.

To read the transcripts or watch the footage is to follow a rapid and dramatic collapse of human decency, resilience and perspective. And so it should be, says Zimbardo. “Evil is a slippery slope,” he says. “Each day is a platform for the abuses of the next day. Each day is only slightly worse than the previous day. Once you don’t object to those first steps it is easy to say, ‘Well, it’s only a little worse then yesterday.’ And you become morally acclimatised to this kind of evil.”

EDITED TO ADD (5/13): The website is worth visiting, especially the section on resisting influence.

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 6:40 AMView Comments

Prison Break

Details:

Police said Espinosa and Blunt were in adjacent cells and used a long metal wire to scrape away mortar around the cinder block between their cells and the outer wall in Espinosa’s cell.

Once the cement block between the cells was removed, they smashed the block and hid the pieces in a footlocker. According to police, Blunt, who is 5 feet 10 inches and weighs 210 pounds, squeezed into Espinosa’s cell through an approximately 16- to 18-inch hole.

The two inmates wiggled through another 18-inch hole in the outer wall. From a roof landing, the two men “took a running jump or they were standing and they jumped approximately 15 feet out and about 30 feet down,” Romankow said.

Then they jumped a razor-wire fence onto a New Jersey transit railroad bed to freedom, police said. Authorities found two sets of footprints in the snow heading in opposite directions.

[…]

To delay discovery of the escape, Espinosa and Blunt used dummies made of sheets and pillows in their beds. They also hung photographs of bikini-clad women to hide the holes in the walls, a move reminiscent of a scene in the Hollywood hit “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Posted on December 19, 2007 at 5:10 AMView Comments

Gitmo Manual Leaked

A 2003 “Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures” manual has been leaked to the Internet. This is the same manual that the ACLU has unsuccessfully sued the government to get a copy of. Others can debate the legality of some of the procedures; I’m interested in comments about the security.

See, for example, this quote on page 27.3:

(b) Upon arrival will enter the gate by entering the number (1998) in the combination lock

(c) Proceed to the junction box with the number (7012-83) Breaker Box and open the boc. The number for the lock on the breaker box is (224).

Posted on November 20, 2007 at 6:49 AMView Comments

Interesting Twist on Identity Theft

Okay, this is clever.

Basically, someone arrested as a homicide suspect walked out of jail after identifying himself as someone else. The biometric system worked, but human error overrode it:

But Sauceda’s fingerprints, taken by a jail employee to verify his identity, were smudged and couldn’t be matched to those on file for Garcia, said Brian Menges, director of jail administration.

So Sauceda was taken for an additional fingerprint check using the jail’s Live Scan technology. Menges said Saucedo’s Live Scan fingerprints were never compared to those on record for Garcia.

It’s a neat scam. Find out someone else who’s been arrested, have a friend come and post bail for that person, and then steal his identity when the jailers come into the cellblock.

Posted on November 2, 2007 at 12:25 PMView Comments

200-Meter Tunnel Discovered in Sri Lankan Prison

Wow:

In a startling discovery, officials of the Kalutara Prison on Horana Road have found a tunnel nearly 200 metres long and eight feet below the prison ground leading to the Kalu Ganga complete with electricity and light bulbs, dug by LTTE suspects in custody over a period of one year.

The tunnel was uncompleted. And the article fails to answer the most important question about this sort of thing: What did they do with the dirt?

“We also suspect that they would have daubed their bodies with soil and had later washed it away to prevent detection of their clandestine project,” the official said.

I don’t see that method being able to dispose of 200 meters worth of dirt over the course of a year, even assuming a small tunnel.

Posted on October 5, 2007 at 1:47 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.