Archive for Monday, October 22, 2001

News briefs

October 22, 2001

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Washington, D.C.

Study: Private prisons provide poor payoff

Politicians have invested heavily in private prisons, but their communities are not necessarily seeing an economic payoff, a new report shows.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington-based research center, is urging leaders to end subsidies for prisons.

During the past 15 years, privately run prisons have popped up around the country as officials looked for alternatives to crowded government facilities.

The institute's Good Jobs First project found that most of the prisons were built with incentive packages that included things like property tax breaks, government financing, training grants and construction help.

"Given the relatively low wages paid by the industry and its limited ripple effect on the larger economy, subsidizing private prisons may not provide much bang for the buck," said the report, which is being released today.

Texas

Appeal of execution cites international law

Lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to block the execution of a man whose lengthy rap sheet culminated with a capital murder conviction at age 17, arguing that the penalty would violate international law.

Gerald Mitchell, 33, was condemned for robbing and fatally shooting a man with a sawed-off shotgun in 1985.

The Supreme Court has ruled that a defendant's rights were not violated when the death sentence was imposed on a murder convict who was at least 16 at the time of the offense. And Texas law allows the death sentence to be imposed on those convicted of capital murder at age 17.

But in asking for a review of the case by the high court, Mitchell's lawyers argued that customary international law is law in the United States and that a "clear international consensus" has developed against execution of people under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses.

Congress has never ratified a provision in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bars the death sentence for anyone under 18 at the time of the offense.

Mississippi

Officials test samples of crop duster spray

Crew members who were aboard a Mississippi River tugboat when a crop duster sprayed it with an unknown substance have reported no health problems but were given an antibiotic as a precaution, health officials said Sunday.

The towboat's skipper reported that the low-flying plane sprayed the towboat and barges Friday near Rosedale, Miss., then circled around and sprayed a pleasure craft. Officials were still searching for the pleasure boat.

"This was a deliberate act by a crop duster this was no accident," said Kent Buckley of the Bolivar County Emergency Management Agency.

Buckley said officials suspect the sprayed substance was sodium chlorate, used to defoliate cotton crops. Buckley said that sodium chlorate is similar to salt water and is not dangerous.

Officials do not know who owns the plane and are looking for witnesses who may have seen an identifying number, Buckley said.

Atlanta

Serb defendant absent from torture trial

The defendant's chair will be empty at today's opening of a civil rights trial here accusing a former Bosnian-Serb soldier of torture and other atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.

The defendant, Serbian-born Nikola Vuckovic, is accused of detaining and torturing Bosnian Muslims and Croats after the Bosnian-Serb takeover in 1992.

But Vuckovic won't be in court. According to his former attorney, Vuckovic, who in recent years had lived in the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston, went back to Bosnia months ago to care for his sick mother, who has since died. His family said that they don't know when he'll return.

Vuckovic was sued in 1998 by one of his alleged victims, Kemal Mehinovic.

Mehinovic, 43, left the country in 1995 and settled in Salt Lake City. When he found out that Vuckovic had also moved to the United States, he sued him under a 200-year-old law allowing people claiming to be victims of torture to seek redress in American courts. The lawsuit was later joined by three more plaintiffs.

Kazakstan

Russian-French crew heads for space station

A Russian-French crew blasted off Sunday for the International Space Station.

The three-person crew, which includes French astronaut Claudie Haignere, took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Haignere, who in 1996 became the first Frenchwoman in space, is serving as crew engineer during 10 days in space with cosmonauts Viktor Afanasyev and Konstantin Kozeyev.

A rheumatologist and expert in neuroscience, Haignere, 44, will be responsible for mooring the Soyuz capsule to the space station.

The docking is expected Tuesday.

One of the crew's main objectives is to deliver the new Soyuz to the space station. The capsule not only ferries astronauts to the station, but also serves as its lifeboat in the event of an emergency. It is replaced every six months, the European Space Agency said.

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