A Pound of Cure: Tracy Velazquez on Prisons and National Health Care Reform

By Bernice Yeung | Crowdfund this with Spot.Us
Part of the Prisons & Public Health news blog
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Tracy Velazquez of the Justice Policy Institute said national health-care reform could keep people out of jail. “Every year, thousands of people are locked up in U.S. prisons and jails because they do not have access to health care to treat mental illness and drug addiction,” she wrote. “Prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities are now some of the largest providers of mental health services in the country.” In conversation with Newsdesk.org, Velazquez, whose Washington, D.C.-based think tank considers “tough on crime” policies to have largely failed, said the costs of incarceration greatly outweigh the price of preventive health care. Bernice Yeung: Tell us more about the connection between health care reform and criminal justice policy.

Back to the Beach, With Feces

With the heat of summer comes dangerous and often unexplained contamination of U.S. beaches by E.coli and fecal coliform. In California, a San Mateo County agency recently received a grant to discover what’s creating E.coli pollution at several harborside beaches on the Pacific. Seagull waste, a leaky sewer line and urban runoff are all candidates, and according to The San Mateo County Times, people won’t keep off the beaches in spite of warning signs. The Bennington Banner reports that the shores of Vermont’s Lake Shaftsbury are closed to swimmers after officials discovered “shockingly high” levels of E.coli contamination. Locals hypothesize that geese are the problem, but deterring them could be complicated.

Oil Spills Are Commonplace, Decried, and Tolerated

Far from isolated mega-catastrophes — such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound — oil spills occur routinely around the world, causing environmental and economic damage, provoking investigations by regional governments, and often leaving the victims unsatisfied. Entering the words “oil spill” in the Google News search engine returned more than 2,500 distinct articles published in the last 30 days on the topic. At the top of the news right now is the 100-foot fountain of petroleum that smothered the Canadian town of Burnaby this week, after a pipeline was pierced by a road-excavation crew. Fifty homes were evacuated and the contamination spread to the nearby Burrard Inlet, a harbor and wetlands ecosystem home to a variety of marine wildlife, including four species of salmon. Experts told the Canadian Press that the cleanup will cost millions, and that the toxic effects of petroleum in soil, sand and water could last for decades.

Russia’s Thirst for Oil

Russia has been single-minded in ensuring its hegemony over oil rights and delivery throughout Eastern Europe, and now seeks to edge out its American competitors in providing oil to Western Europe as well, say analysts. Vladimir Putin shocked observers by announcing a plan to annex a 460,000 square mile chunk of oil-rich Arctic last week. Russian scientists claim there is evidence showing that its northern Arctic region is connected to the North Pole by an underwater shelf. Critics counter that Canada could make the same claim — and besides which, nobody owns the North Pole. Putin also met with the leaders of eight Balkan countries to persuade them to back his new Italy-backed venture to build a gas pipeline under the Black sea from Russia to Bulgaria, saying it would benefit all of Europe.

Poverty is a Plague for Africa's Children

A gangrenous affliction of the face called noma is surging among impoverished, malnourished children in West Africa, and now appears to infecting HIV-positive adults as well. Aid workers told the U.N. news agency that the disease is not transmitted, and could be prevented with improved nutrition and improved living conditions. Niger and Burkina Faso, the centers of the African surge, have the world’s highest rates of underweight and undernourished children. The disease, which is not yet taught in medical schools, rots facial tissue, causing the skin to scab off all the way to the jaw. Health workers are only now beginning to recognize the symptoms; survivors are disfigured for the rest of their lives.

Natural Resources Spur Pollution, Indigenous Rights Disputes

From fossil fuels to “blue gold,” from uranium to offshore biodiversity, natural resources around the world promise riches but often deepen social and economic disputes. In Turkey, the massive new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is expected to bring $1 billion into the national economy. But residents of the fishing vilage of Golovasi, near the pipeline terminal on the Mediterranean Sea, say the pipeline has scared away the fish, and that the local economy is shutting down even as promises of financial aid fall through. In the United States, a spike in the value of uranium has renewed interest in abandoned uranium mines throughout the West. The Christian Science Monitor reports that a leap in prices, from $10 to almost $140 per pound, has inspired a surge in mining land claims — 32,000 of them in 2006 alone.

Lupus Linked to Petroleum Exposure

Scientists in Boston and New Mexico have shown that exposure to petroleum is linked to the deadly auto-immune disease lupus. The illness is already known to have genetic origins — African- American women are nine times more likely to get it. But reports show the environment plays a role, especially in two black neighborhoods in Boston. Residents of Roxbury and Mattapan live near gasoline stations or sites near petroleum-product dumping groups, and have the highest rate of lupus in the region. Another study of people living in a housing development in Hobbs, New Mexico, built on the site of a former oil-field dump, detected an incidence of Lupus at 30 to 99 times higher than estimates for the general population.

The EPA Under Pressure

The Environmental Protection Agency has come under fire from activists and state officials for not enforcing laws to protect the public from harmful chemicals and emissions, even as it considers controversial budget cuts that will reduce its enforcement staff. California has threatened to sue the EPA within six months if it does not issue a waiver allowing the state to enforce its own vehicle emissions standards. The state has been waiting for the waiver since 2005, and the EPA now wants to continue the delay until it completes an analysis of whether greenhouse gases are linked to human health. Activists also say the EPA’s new rule on power plant emissions is in conflict with a recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned a lower courts support of regulating emissions based on an hourly standard, rather than an annual standard preferred by environmental activists. And House lawmakers have questions for the EPA’s Acting Inspector General, who was given a $150,000 bonus even as he prepares to lay off 60 employees in anticipation of a $5.1 million budget cut.

Mines, Factories and the Cost of Asian Growth

Investors breathed a sigh of relief when Indonesia dismissed charges against Newmont Mining, a U.S. firm accused of dumping mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay that locals say causes skin rashes and tumors. But numerous tests found pollution within “normal” levels there, the BBC reports. In Vietnam, rivers are “choking” on industrial waste, Edie News Center reports. Pollution from rapid growth is creating “dead” areas with no plants or animals, where water supplies are “not at all suitable” for domestic use or agriculture. China admitted that pollution is a “severe threat” to its food supply as well.