FAREWELL, FRANK LAUTENBERG: The son of a New Jersey silk mill worker and the last World War II veteran serving in the Senate, Frank Lautenberg took his cues from another political time—a time when liberals were bold and unapologetic, when it was understood that government could and should do great things.
One of the few members of Congress who could remember listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio and going to college on the original GI Bill, Lautenberg served five terms in the Senate as a champion of great big infrastructure investments (especially for Amtrak and urban public transportation), as well as great big environmental regulations, consumer protections, and investigations of wrongdoing by Wall Street.
It can fairly be said that the New Jersey senator, who died on June 3 at age 89, kept the New Deal flame lit. Indeed, among his last major pieces of legislation was a proposal to renew one of FDR’s greatest legacies: the Works Progress Administration, which provided public-works employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression that defined Lautenberg’s youth. A self-made millionaire, Lautenberg never forgot that government programs lifted him out of poverty. He refused to bend to the austerity fantasies of official Washington because he knew FDR was right: the country prospers when government serves the interests of all Americans—not just a privileged few.
For more on Lautenberg’s legacy and the debate over his replacement, visit TheNation.com. JOHN NICHOLS
PRISON ABUSE IN PENNSYLVANIA: In December 2011, the Justice Department announced that it would investigate allegations that the State Correctional Institution at Cresson, a medium-security prison in Pennsylvania, subjected “prisoners with serious mental illness to unnecessarily long periods of isolation,” failed to “prevent suicide and other self-harm,” and failed to “provide prisoners with adequate mental health treatment.”
Months later, The Nation published an in-depth investigation based on months of reporting and interviews with sources familiar with the prison’s inner workings [see Stroud, “Punishing Methods,” May 7, 2012]. It described a harrowing environment in which correctional officers denied prisoners food, water, toilet paper and access to psychiatric visits. Sources said COs routinely urged mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement to commit suicide and often fabricated charges to force them to stay in solitary for months, even years.
On May 31, the Justice Department confirmed The Nation’s findings in a scathing thirty-nine-page letter delivered to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Not only did the report find that employees at SCI Cresson—which is slated to close at the end of June—severely violated the civil rights of mentally ill prisoners, but the Justice Department announced that it will expand its investigation to the state’s “system-wide policies and individual instances that may reflect inappropriate placements of prisoners with serious mental illness into prolonged isolation,” among other civil rights violations.