TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: September 30

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Protesters Set Deadline

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy group Occupy Central called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to grant citizens the right to nominate and directly vote for candidates for the city’s highest office. Leung replied that Beijing would not be moved and refused to resign

Women’s Colleges Turn to Men

Women’s colleges are going co-ed in an effort to combat years of decline in revenue. Enrollment at women-only colleges fell 29% since 2000

Secret Service Under Fire

A report released ahead of a congressional hearing on presidential security reveals the White House fence-jumper got further inside than thought

See Newlywed Photos of George Clooney, Amal Alamuddin

The intimate wedding that took place in Venice on Sept. 27 is featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, in conjunction with Hello! magazine internationally, and includes 25 exclusive photos of the ceremony, celebrity-packed parties and other candid moments

Afghanistan, U.S. Sign Long-Awaited Security Pact

The deal, which will allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of the year, was signed in Kabul on Tuesday. President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, sworn into office a day earlier, said it signaled a fundamental shift in Afghanistan’s relations with the world

Va. Kidnapping Suspect May Be Linked to 2009 Murder

Authorities say Jesse L. Matthew Jr., the main suspect in the disappearance of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, may be connected to the abduction and murder of another young woman in the area five years ago

Louisiana Restaurant Gives a 10% Discount for Packing Heat

Kevin Cox, owner of Bergeron’s Restaurant in Port Allen, is bucking a corporate trend by encouraging, rather than banning, firearms in his Cajun food establishment. “I just need to see a weapon. I need you to be carrying a gun,” he said

Marijuana Legalization Spreads Across 2014 Ballots

Referendums on legalizing marijuana across the country this year, from Florida to Alaska, have the power to shape the ongoing fight ahead of an even bigger battle in 2016. Here are the pot votes that will matter most in 2014

Netflix Plans to Release First Original Movie

Netflix has announced plans to release its first original movie — a sequel to Ang Lee’s martial-arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — to all subscribers in August 2015, charting new territory for the streaming service

Wildlife Populations Have Dropped by More Than Half

A new WWF report that measured more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish found a 52% decline between 1970 and 2010, with even grimmer statistics for some species like freshwater dwellers

No, Snapchat Hasn’t Been Hacked

Snapchat denied being hacked after some users reported receiving spam messages from their friends advertising a weight-loss site. User login data may have been taken from other sites and used to access Snapchat for the spam

Iceland Plans for Men-Only Conference on Gender Equality

Iceland has plans to organize a gender-equality conference that won’t have any female attendees. The conference will be conducted in January and will be co-hosted by the South American nation of Suriname, according to the Icelandic government

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TIME justice

Meet the Prison Bankers Who Profit from the Inmates

Pat Taylor
Pat Taylor holding a picture of her son, Eddie, who is serving 20-year prison sentence at Bland Correctional Center in Virginia. Eleanor Bell—Center for Public Integrity

With the ultimate captive markets, prison bankers and state jailers make money off high fees for financial services.

This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Pat Taylor doesn’t believe in going into debt. She keeps her bills in a freezer bag under her bed, next to old photo albums, and believes in paying them on time religiously. For Taylor, living within your means is part of being a good Christian.

Lately, Taylor, 64, has felt torn between that commitment and her desire to be a loving, supportive mother for her son Eddie.

Eddie, 38, is serving 20-year prison sentence at Bland Correctional Center for armed robbery. He’s doing his time at a medium-security Virginia state prison located 137 miles northwest of Johnson City, across the dips and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the heart of Appalachia. The cost of supporting and visiting Eddie keeps going up, so Pat makes trade-offs.

“I would send him money even if it broke me, because I do go without paying some bills sometimes to go see him,” Pat says.

Between gas to make the trip and overpriced sandwiches from the prison vending machine, visiting Bland costs about $50, a strain on her housekeeper’s wages. So she alternates, visiting Eddie one week and sending him money the next.

To get cash to her son, Pat used to purchase a money order at the post office for $1.25 and mail it to the prison, for a total cost of less than $2. But in March of last year, the Virginia Department of Corrections informed her that JPay Inc., a private company in Florida, would begin handling all deposits into inmates’ accounts.

Sending a money order through JPay takes too long, so Taylor started using her debit card to get him funds instead. To send Eddie $50, Taylor must pay $6.95 to JPay. Depending on how much she can afford to send, the fee can be as high as 35 percent. In other states, JPay’s fees approach 45 percent.

After the fee, the state takes out another 15 percent of her money for court fees and a mandatory savings account, which Eddie will receive upon his release in 2021, minus the interest, which goes to the Department of Corrections.

Eddie needs money to pay for basic needs like toothpaste, visits to the doctor and winter clothes. In some states families of inmates pay for toilet paper, electricity, even room and board, as governments increasingly shift the costs of imprisonment from taxpayers to the families of inmates.

“To give him $50, I have to send $70 off my card,” says Taylor, who moved to a smaller apartment on the outskirts of Johnson City in part because of the rising cost of supporting Eddie.

“They’re punishing the families, not the inmates.”

Price of prison

JPay and other prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives, the Center for Public Integrity found in a six-month investigation.

Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.

By erecting a virtual tollbooth at the prison gate, JPay has become a critical financial conduit for an opaque constellation of vendors that profit from millions of poor families with incarcerated loved ones.

JPay streamlines the flow of cash into prisons, making it easier for corrections agencies to take a cut. Prisons do so directly, by deducting fees and charges before the money hits an inmate’s account. They also allow phone and commissary vendors to charge marked-up prices, then collect a share of the profits generated by these contractors.

Taken together, the costs imposed by JPay, phone companies, prison store operators and corrections agencies make it far more difficult for poor families to escape poverty so long as they have a loved one in the system.

Shifting costs to families

“It’s not just the money transfer that’s the problem, it’s the system it enables to shift costs onto families,” says Lee Petro, an attorney who helped litigate for a national cap on some prison phone rates. Without companies like JPay, he says, “it would be much harder to take money from families and make families of inmates pay their own keep.”

In 12 years, JPay says it has grown to provide money transfers to more than 1.7 million offenders in 32 states, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

For the families of nearly 40 percent of those prisoners, JPay is the only way to send money to a loved one. Others can choose between JPay and a handful of smaller companies, most of them created by phone and commissary vendors to compete with the industry leader. Western Union also serves some prisons.

JPay handled nearly 7 million transactions in 2013, generating well over $50 million in revenue. It expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year. (The company declined to provide any financial details; those included in this article are culled from public records and interviews with current and former employees.)

Ryan Shapiro
JPay CEO Ryan Shapiro in his office north of Miami, Florida. Eleanor Bell—Center for Public Integrity

“We invented this business,” said Ryan Shapiro, 37, the company’s founder and CEO, in a phone interview in June. “Everyone else tries to imitate what we did, and they don’t do it as well.”

Shapiro says working with corrections includes extra costs for security and software integration. He says he charges only as much as he must to maintain a razor-thin profit margin.

But others provide similar services for less.

NIC Inc., a competitor that helps states set up their websites, charges a flat fee of $2.40 in Maine to send money to inmates. Until recently, Arkansas charged 5 percent to send money through the state’s own Web portal. Floridians pay a fee of 3.5 percent to handle traffic tickets online.

Despite its kudzu-like growth, JPay so far has avoided scrutiny by consumer regulators.

In response to questions for this story, however, the New York Department of Financial Services’ consumer division is reviewing the company’s practices, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss active investigations.

JPay’s rapid rise stems in part from the generous deal it offers many prison systems. They pay nothing to have JPay take over handling financial transfers. And for every payment it accepts in these states — prisoners typically receive about one per month — the company sends between 50 cents and $2.50 back to the prison operator. These profit-sharing arrangements, which vendors offer as deal-sweeteners in contract negotiations, are known in the industry as “commissions.”

JPay’s payments to Illinois last year came to about $4,000 a month, according to documents obtained under the state’s open records law.

Jails often deduct intake fees, medical co-pays or the cost of basic toiletries first, leaving the account with a negative balance. This prevents inmates from buying “optional” supplies like stationery or sturdier shoes until they have paid down the debt.

Such charges levied by jails for common items are not new. The practice began prior to the rise of JPay, mainly with phone companies and operators of prison stores. But by automating the process, prison bankers make it a lot easier.

$100 underwear

Negative account balances discourage cash-strapped people from helping relatives, says Linda Dolan, 58, a manager for a defense contractor in California. Last year, when her son was sentenced to 20 days in jail in St. Lucie County, Florida, for reckless driving, Linda wanted to buy him a second pair of underwear and socks. But the county’s intake fee and daily “rent” already had put the account about $70 in the red. Linda and her husband both were out of work and couldn’t afford to pay $100 for a pair of underwear.

“If relatives are putting money on somebody’s books while they’re an inmate, it’s to help them buy necessities,” Linda says. “I didn’t think it was right that the county was stealing the money.”

Capt. William Lawhorn of the St. Lucie County sheriff’s office said that inmates are charged a $25 initial booking fee, $3 a day for “subsistence” and medical co-pays, all of which can result in a negative balance. He said nobody is denied any type of needed service or care, and when inmates do have money, it’s used for candy and other junk food. Inmates in the county receive payments through Touchpay, a JPay competitor that often partners with foodservice giant Aramark.

Funding prisons out of the pockets of families and inmates has non-financial costs too, says Brian Nelson, who spent 28 years in an Illinois state prison for murder. Nelson says he has “become an asset to society” since he was released four years ago because he stayed in touch with family and priests even when he was in solitary confinement. When inmates can’t afford to maintain contact with the outside world, he says, they are less equipped to transition smoothly to civilian life.

The effect on poor families is especially harsh, Nelson says: “It’s a wife that has three children at home, and her husband is in jail, so now she has a choice: Do I send money to him so he can afford to stay in touch with the kids, or do I feed the kids?”

Inmates’ need for money is inescapable, Nelson says. Those in northern Illinois are not issued cold-weather clothes, he says, leaving them vulnerable to frostbite unless they can get money to pay for prison-approved long underwear and boots.

Razor thin margins

JPay founder Shapiro is eager to tell his company’s story and how he believes it helps families. It’s not just about faster payments. Once an inmate gains access to the money, JPay offers several ways to spend it, including pay-per-page e-messaging, music downloads and MP3 players. When inmates in some states are released, they receive their remaining money on JPay-branded payment cards that carry higher fees than those on most consumer payment cards.

Shapiro says that if his fees were any lower, his company would lose money. He declined to make the company’s financial details available and would not say how much he is paid.

Shapiro serves on the board of a foundation that advocates for inmates and carries full-page ads for JPay in its newsletters. The foundation received an $85,400 gift directly from JPay’s corporate treasury in 2009.

He lives on a tiny harbor island near the northern tip of Miami Beach in a home he bought for about a million dollars. Last year, through a company he controls called El Caballero LLC., Shapiro bought a custom powerboat, dubbed Sea Block, that retails for a half-million dollars.

Heading to the company’s headquarters one July morning, he stopped first for CrossFit, a military-style training regime that he enjoys because it brings out his competitive side, then for daily prayer.

Families who use JPay love the company, he says. He boasts of its well-trafficked Web forum and of the 174,000 “likes” on its Facebook page, where its marketers post cheery articles about incarceration. “The Jail Cats program at Gwinnett County Detention Center in Georgia is rescuing kittens and helping to rehabilitate incarcerated women,”one recent post read.

“We go out of our way to make sure that they feel comfortable — that, you know, you’re spending money with a company that cares about you,” Shapiro says.

If people don’t want to pay his fees, Shapiro says, they can always mail a money order, except in the “couple of states” that now charge fees for them.

Nearly 400,000 people are imprisoned in states where there is no free deposit option, a fact Shapiro was unaware of during a series of interviews this summer.

“When it’s up to us, it’s absolutely free,” he says.

Slow-moving money orders

For the first 14 years of Eddie’s sentence, Pat Taylor mailed money orders directly to the prison at no charge beyond the cost of the money order and a stamp. Then last year, she was instructed to make the money order out to JPay and send it to a Florida post office box. The company would credit it to Eddie’s account.

Under the new system, she says, it would take weeks for Eddie to see funds sent via money order. So Pat, like nearly everyone else she knows, gave in and began paying $6.95 to send the money from her debit card.

Across the country, delays and other obstacles make the “free option” inaccessible to many families, the Center found. More than a dozen families in five different states said that money orders have been credited much more slowly since JPay took over.

Shapiro says he is “absolutely shocked” by the complaints that money orders are delayed because he had never heard of such problems before. Most money orders are processed within two to three days, he said, unless the person sending money fails to fill out the form properly. He said Virginia is especially efficient and processes money orders within 24 to 48 hours.

“We are not slowing it down, there is no conspiracy,” he said.

He said JPay does “want people to convert from a money order customer to a digital customer, absolutely,” but only because electronic payments are more efficient. “We’re not trying to make an extra dollar everywhere we can,” Shapiro said.

Before JPay, Virginia prisons credited money orders to inmates’ accounts in roughly three days, families say. Today, money orders can take more than a month to reach an inmate’s account, Marvin Rodriguez-Barrera, an inmate at Virginia’s high-security Red Onion State Prison, wrote in a letter to prisoners’ rights advocates in February.

Faster to Guatemala

“I am from Central America, and it is cheaper for my family, and easier, to send money to Guatemala than for my family to send me money from this very state!” Rodriguez-Barrera wrote. “The old way of using money orders was cheaper, easier and in many instances faster.”

Those seeking to avoid the fees by sending a money order must print and fill out a JPay-provided form whose instructions are dwarfed by large print barking at them to “Put down your pen! Put away your car keys!” because “There’s a faster way to send money, go to JPay.com and sign up now!”

The aggressive marketing has worked. One former marketing director for the company lists as a key accomplishment on his LinkedIn profile that he “Converted 78 percent” of money order users to online users, boosting the company’s annual revenue by $985,000.

Shapiro said the information in the profile, including the former employee’s title, was inaccurate. He said he didn’t have data on how many money order users convert to electronic payments or how much revenue the company gains when they make the switch.

Inside JPay’s secure, fishbowl-like money order processing room, reams of envelopes sit in postal bins on the shelves. Signs around the room remind the handful of workers employed there which states allow them to deduct a fee and which offer the service for free.

In Pennsylvania, the first state where JPay accepted money orders by mail, executives were surprised to see the number of money orders plunge by two-thirds in the first two months, Chief Financial Officer Mark Silverman explained in a brief interview.

Shapiro said that Missouri used to process 30,000 money orders a month before JPay came in.

“With JPay, we drove that down to only 1,000 people sending money,” he says. “And that’s by choice.”

JPay’s marketing materials urge customers to choose the higher-cost option. During her twice-monthly visits to Bland, an isolated work camp nestled between rolling, green hills, Pat Taylor now sees JPay-branded fliers warning of the misery awaiting anyone who tries to use the “free option.”

On one side, a multi-ethnic lineup of models bury their faces in their hands and complain of what a “nightmare” it was to complete the money order, how it got lost or delayed.

“There’s a better way,” the flier promises on the reverse side, which depicts an attractive young woman seated with her laptop computer. For “Faster, Easier, Next-Day Delivery,” families can choose from a menu of high-fee options.

Tequila, cigars and lobbying

To impress state corrections officials and gain their business, JPay spends heavily on industry conventions attended by agency heads with contracting authority. During a 2012 convention of the American Correctional Association, the company threw what it called an “END OF THE WORLD PARTY” at a Denver wine bar that bills itself as “about you, and your inalienable right to the unbridled enjoyment of food and wine.”

The invitation, printed on a disposable beer coaster, promised “a bash, JPay-style: *fuerte* tequila, hand-rolled cigars, a live mariachi band.” Conventioneers could catch a JPay shuttle leaving from the hotel “ALL NIGHT LONG,” it said.

For years, JPay has sponsored an award for former state corrections directors presented by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, paying for the recipient’s trip and a Wexford crystal bowl inscribed with the honoree’s name.

JPay’s outreach extends to state legislatures as well, even though many of the company’s contracts forbid it from using fee revenue to lobby. The company has hired registered lobbyists in at least seven states. Shapiro says JPay’s lawyers approved the use of company funds for that purpose.

In Ohio, it tapped Thomas Needles, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush. Needles gives generously to Republican candidates and also lobbies for for-profit universities. In Maryland, JPay hired Bruce Bereano, one of the state’s best-paid lobbyists, who was disbarred after a 1994 conviction for overbilling his clients and using the money for campaign donations.

The company also sought to lobby Washington for access to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ 216,000 inmates — what Shapiro has called “the mother ship of all contracts,” which is now held by Bank of America.

It spent $20,000 in 2012 to hire Park Strategies, run by former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato of New York, in an effort to obtain the contract. That effort was not successful.

More inmates, smaller budgets

JPay was founded in 2002, just as the U.S. prison population neared the apex of a three-decade climb that more than quadrupled the number of inmates in state prisons. Shortly thereafter, as the economy went into recession, state budgets were squeezed and officials looked more aggressively for ways to cut spending on prisons.

Already, private vendors had stepped in with a solution: They would charge prisoners sky-high prices for phone services, snack foods, hygiene products and clothing, then return a large cut back to the prisons — often 40 percent or more.

Shapiro was the first entrepreneur to see how financial services might provide another stream of revenue. For a fee, he offered to deliver cash in ways that saved time and effort for corrections agencies, and often to give them a portion of the proceeds, just as the phone and commissary companies were doing.

“When we started, the states were very much saying to us, ‘There’s no need for procurement here because there’s no one else doing what you do,’ ” Shapiro said in a 2012 interview. Ten years later, he said, all of them were asking companies to submit bids for the work.

That doesn’t mean the door is open to competitors. Most states, including Virginia, now contract with JPay or its main competitor under a master agreement negotiated by Nevada in 2011 on behalf of a multi-state consortium. Participating states can simply sign on to the deal with one or both of the companies without the hassle of separately determining the best company for the job.

JPay is protected from other market forces, as well. When states offer its music players and tablet computers for sale to inmates, they often confiscate radios that people already own, according to inmates in Ohio. This leaves inmates dependent on JPay’s music downloads, which can cost 30 to 50 percent more than the same songs on iTunes, inmates say.

The profit-sharing arrangements are at the core of JPay’s origin story, Shapiro said in 2012. A couple of years out of college, he spent months driving around upstate New York, pitching JPay to “every sheriff, whether they had five inmates or 100 inmates” — without success.

Then someone in Passaic County, New Jersey, suggested that they offer the county 10 percent of their revenue, “so the jail would be less of a tax burden on the community.” The warden signed up on the spot.

Critics including Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, an inmates’ advocacy group, says the profit-sharing amounts to a legal kickback. “They charge exhorbitant fees then kick back a percentage of their revenue. … The company doesn’t need that for profit,” Friedmann said.

Shapiro says he prefers the term “commission” because “the word kickback has a negative connotation, and it seems like some person is making that money and pocketing it and buying a Chevrolet or something, when in fact it’s going to use for the benefit of inmates — basketball hoops, volleyball, whatever.”

Most states put their share of the cash in an “Inmate Welfare Fund” that is supposed to be used for inmate benefits beyond what is guaranteed to them by law. As incarceration rates climbed, however, the definition of “inmate benefit” drifted, says Justin Jones, who was director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections until last year.

“The Legislature allowed us to broaden the definition of inmate welfare and it got to the point, almost anything they would fund through appropriations could now be paid for as inmate welfare,” he says. “It ended up where we started using that money if an inmate went out to medical on an emergency and medical was end-of-year short,” he says. “We bought air conditioners, ice machines, X-ray machines.”

Jones was not a fan of the system. If legislatures want to impose longer prison sentences or “if they create new crimes, then the legislature should appropriate dollars for that,” he says. “I should not have to go in and redefine and stretch the definition of inmate welfare accounts.”

Double dipping

Taken together, JPay and other prison vendors create a system in which families are paying to send the money, and inmates are paying again to spend it, says Keith Miller, who is serving 21 ½ years at Bland for a series of drug-related, violent crimes committed in his early 20s. The earliest he may be released is 2021, when his mother will be 87 years old.

“The fact that [my mother] has to pay the fees to send the money and then the fact that [prison agencies] make a certain cut off it seems to me that [the prisons are] double-dipping into the money they’re sending,” he said in an interview at the prison. “It really doesn’t make sense to me that this should be allowed.”

Shapiro is skeptical that JPay’s fees make much of a difference for inmates’ families. He says companies that provide other services to inmates, such as phones and commissary, are the real problem.

“Compared to the commissary or phone revenue, we’re just a drop in the bucket,” he says.

That may be changing.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission dusted off a 12-year-old petition filed by inmates’ families who argued that prison phone rates were unfairly high, preventing them from maintaining contact with loved ones. The commission capped rates for many calls under its authority to ensure that pay-phone rates are just, fair and reasonable.

Mignon Clyburn, who was acting chairwoman of the FCC when it passed the rate cap and now serves as one of three commissioners, says the action was necessary because people are “making unspeakable sacrifices to stay in touch with their loved ones.”

Vincent Townsend, president of Pay-Tel Communications, a major provider of phones for inmates, said his industry “abused the public.”

‘Ethical, right, moral’

Other prison vendors “better pay attention to what’s ethical, right, moral,” he said. “Because if you don’t then some regulator’s going to step in, and you’re going to have to deal with it.”

There is a crucial difference: The telephone industry is closely regulated by the FCC, which has explicit authority to set rates for pay-phone calls. Financial and consumer protection regulators have less power over pricing.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can sue companies for offering unfair, deceptive or abusive financial services. The bureau declined more than a dozen requests to discuss specific issues related to prison financial services.

The Federal Trade Commission, which has consumer-protection authority and the power to ensure that markets are competitive, declined to comment “on specific companies or conduct.”

Regulators in seven states have levied fines totaling $408,500 against JPay for operating without a license. The actions were not designed to disrupt its business, according to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, a trade group that represents these regulators in Washington.

“State banking regulators are concerned with ensuring that businesses operating in their states are properly licensed and with enforcing applicable laws (including consumer protection laws),” the group’s spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

‘Invent a better way’

Shapiro says he understands the challenges faced by poor families of inmates since JPay’s startup days, when he would spend “hours on the phone with a grandmother, talking about her day at Wal-Mart.”

He says he feels trapped by the structure of the industry he has come to dominate. He wishes the fees were lower, that states didn’t force him to charge more and give them a share and that he could “invent a better way” than asking people’s families to help pay for their imprisonment.

Yet Shapiro says he is satisfied to compete within what he admits is a broken system, even if the system may be punishing some innocent family members.

For many families, JPay has become that system. When Jewel Miller, 80, phoned JPay’s call center last month to ask why her payments are delayed, and why she must submit the same form every time she sends a money order to Keith, the operator hung up on her.

In a series of interviews it became clear that Shapiro was unaware of some of the fees related to his business. He said he did not know, for example, that Florida now charges its own fee for money order deposits after JPay processes the payments.

These fees are spelled out in JPay’s contracts with states, which Shapiro signed. Florida’s says it will charge a 50 cent “Money Order by Mail” fee.

As of July, Shapiro was unaware of JPay’s own $1.95 fee to deposit money orders in Indiana, declaring, “If someone sends $100 with a money order to an Indiana inmate, that inmate gets $100. … I am positive.”

Two days later, he called back to say, “We’re working with the states right now to get some of those fees taken off.”

So far, the fees remain in place.

Eleanor Bell contributed to this story.

TIME Congress

Secret Service Director to Face Congress in Wake of Scathing Report

Two Congressmen talked to TIME about issues with the Secret Service, hours before a report surfaced that an intruder got further into the White House than thought

A report revealed Monday that the knife-wielding White House fence jumper 11 days ago got further into the President’s home than previously thought, on the eve of a congressional hearing about White House security and Secret Service procedure.

On September 19, after 42-year-old Iraq veteran Omar Gonzalez jumped over the White House fence, he managed to run through “much of the main floor” of the presidential mansion and past an alarm box that did not properly warn officers of the intruder, the Washington Post said, citing anonymous sources.

The report put Secret Service Director Julia Pierson even deeper into hot water on Tuesday. Before the Post broke the story about Gonzalez, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a top member on the House Oversight Committee, was already questioning whether or not Pierson should keep her job.

“I’m not out for her scalp, but we’ll see where we’re at at the end of the hearing,” Chaffetz, a top member on the House Oversight Committee, told TIME. Chaffetz sees the latest incident, in addition to an event in 2011 in which a man fired at least eight rounds at the White House, as major national security violations. “When you look at those in their totality, you wonder if she is up to the job,” says Chaffetz.

Pierson served as Chief of Staff of the Secret Service from 2008 to 2013, and was appointed last year to be the agency’s first female director.

Hours before the Post story came out, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight committee, told TIME that he is unsure whether the most recent incident should force a change at the top. “This is a transformational moment for the Secret Service,” he said. “They’ve got to get this right, and they’ve got to get this right, right now because it can only get worse if we don’t take advantage of this moment. This is a major wake up call—major.”

“I wonder whether our guard has been lowered a bit,” Cummings added. “And if it has been, then we’ve got to make sure that we have a top to bottom evaluation of what we’re doing—looking at culture, personnel, procedures, equipment being used and every aspect of security—so that not only are we the most elite protection agency in the world, but also that people perceive us to be just that.”

Neither Cummings nor Chaffetz suggested that the incident would necessarily require a legislative fix, instead arguing that there must be a change in “attitude” or “culture” at the agency. “I would think that this is more of a culture situation, possibly leadership,” Cummings said.

TIME White House

Reports: WH Intruder Gets Far Past Front Door

(WASHINGTON) — The intruder who climbed a fence made it farther inside the White House than the Secret Service has publicly acknowledged, the Washington Post and New York Times newspapers reported Monday. The disclosures came on the eve of a congressional oversight hearing with the director of the embattled agency assigned to protect the president’s life.

Citing unnamed sources — three people familiar with the incident and a congressional aide — the newspapers said Omar J. Gonzalez ran past the guard at the front door and into the East Room, which is about halfway across the first floor of the building. Gonzalez was eventually “tackled” by a counter-assault agent, according to the Post, which was first to report the news.

In the hours after the fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that the suspect had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House.

The Secret Service also said that night that the suspect had been unarmed — an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.

Getting so far would have required Gonzalez to dash through the main entrance hall, turn a corner, then run through the center hallway half-way across the first floor of the building, which spans 168 feet in total, according to the White House Historical Association.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was scheduled to testify before a House committee on Tuesday for the first time since the Sept. 19 incident. The new details about a far more significant breach were expected to dominate the lawmakers’ inquiries.

A Secret Service spokesman declined to comment on the latest details because of the ongoing investigation.

It was a security lapse that could have had serious consequences, if the intruder had been heavily armed and if the president and his family had been home. No one was hurt in the incident, but it’s not the first involving the White House itself, raising the question whether the latest breach is part of a pattern of delayed reactions to threats to the executive mansion. The Secret Service says that is not the case. And President Barack Obama has confidence in the Secret Service to do its job.

The Post reported over the weekend that the Secret Service did not immediately respond to shots fired at the White House in 2011, amid what the agency describes as uncertainty about where the shots originated. Four days later, it was discovered that at least one of the shots broke the glass of a window on the third level of the mansion, the Secret Service said.

At the time of the 2011 breach, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were away, but their daughters were in Washington — one home and the other due to return that night.

Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2011 incident.

Gonzalez, 42, was arrested Sept. 19 after agents stopped him inside the White House front door.

“The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job, which is to protect the first family, to protect the White House, but also protect the ability of tourists and members of the public to conduct their business or even tour the White House,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.

After the Sept. 19 breach, Pierson ordered a review of the incident and possible changes to security measures at and around the White House. She briefed the president on Thursday.

“The president is interested in the review that they are conducting, and I would anticipate that he’ll review whatever it is they — whatever reforms and recommendations they settle upon,” Earnest said of the Secret Service’s internal review.

Secret Service officers who spotted Gonzalez scaling the fence quickly assessed that he didn’t have any weapons in his hands and wasn’t wearing clothing that could conceal substantial quantities of explosives, a primary reason agents did not fire their weapons, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.

Gonzalez was on the Secret Service radar as early as July when state troopers arrested him during a traffic stop in southwest Virginia. State troopers there said Gonzalez had an illegal sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible with a circle around the White House, other monuments and campgrounds. The troopers seized a stash of other weapons and ammunition found during a search of Gonzalez’s car after his arrest.

The Secret Service interviewed Gonzalez in July, but had nothing with which to hold him. Gonzalez was released on bail. Then, on Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped and questioned again while he was walking along the south fence of the White House. He had a hatchet, but no firearms. His car was searched, but he was not arrested.

“There’s a misperception out there that we have some broad detention powers,” Donovan, the Secret Service spokesman, said. The Secret Service, like other law enforcement agencies, must have evidence of criminal behavior in order to file charges against someone. “Just because we have a concern about someone doesn’t mean we can interview or arrest them or put them in a mental health facility,” Donovan said.

The Secret Service has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2012 prostitution scandal erupted during a presidential visit to Colombia.

Earlier this year Pierson met privately with senators after an agent was found drunk in a hotel during a presidential trip to the Netherlands. That incident came just weeks after two agents in Florida were involved in a traffic accident that The Washington Post reported involved alcohol. There were no charges filed against the agents. And Pierson said neither incident was representative of the entire agency.

TIME 2014 Election

The Marijuana Legalization Votes That Will Matter in 2014

First Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado
Strains of marijuana at Denver Kush Club in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014. Seth McConnell—Denver Post/Getty Images

Referendums across the country set the stage for an even bigger fight in 2016

Election Day this year will be big on pot.

The battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in California—the big enchilada that may tilt legalization not only in the U.S. but other countries—is already being set for 2016. But while many reformers’ eyes are focused on the next presidential election, this year’s votes on marijuana initiatives have the power to shape that fight.

Here are the races to watch in November.

Alaska: Legalization with tax and regulation

A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling found that the right to privacy in the state included the right to grow and possess a small amount of marijuana at home. Though opponents have still fought over whether possessing marijuana is legal—sometimes in court—reformers are hoping that a long history of quasi-legalization and a noted libertarian streak will lead Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2: It would concretely legalize retail pot, giving the the state the power to tax and regulate like in Colorado and Washington state.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana reform group NORML, called this measure a “wobbler,” with support long hovering around 50%. That sentiment is echoed by Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spearheaded legalization in Colorado and has contributed heavily to the campaign in Alaska. “A lot of it will depend on the campaign getting its message out,” Tvert said. The message got a boost this month when a local on-anchor quit her job live on TV to support the legalization effort.

Oregon: Legalization with tax and regulation

Oregon almost went along with Colorado and Washington on their experimental journey in 2012, when residents narrowly rejected a pot legalization measure 56% to 44%. This year, more activists—and more organized ones at that—have been on the scene, working with groups like the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance. Still, the prospects for Measure 91 are far from a lock; a recent poll found that while 44% of likely voters support legalization, 40% oppose it.

Like Alaska, the Beaver State has a long history when it comes to marijuana, having become the first state to decriminalize it in 1973. St. Pierre said Oregon’s proximity to Washington state, where creating a legal market has so far gone pretty smoothly, will help push people to vote “yes.” He said Oregon is the “most viable in terms of moving the national needle,” keeping up the momentum for drug-law reform that Washington and Colorado started. “Oregon will likely help lead the way for more states to follow,” said Anthony Johnson, who launched the campaign for Measure 91.

Washington, D.C.: “Soft legalization”

Those are the words of St. Pierre, describing a measure that falls short of creating a full-on regulated, taxable pot market. Initiative 71 would, however, allow people to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home without fear of criminal or civil penalty—at least in theory. If the initiative does pass, there remains a hazy line between the reaches of the local and federal governments in the District, and Congress could choose to intervene, passing laws that supersede the actions of D.C. officials.

The initiative will very likely pass: Locals support it by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The big question is whether Congress will continue to stand down, as it did while D.C. legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana. Allowing pot plants to flourish in backyard gardens down the road from the White House could force a more serious conversation about the conflict between federal drug laws that still view marijuana as an illegal substance and newer laws that do not.

Florida: Medical marijuana

At a time when states are legalizing pot for recreational purposes, it might not seem that significant whether Florida joins the growing list of about two-dozen states that allow medical marijuana. But St. Pierre said that nothing marijuana-related is taken lightly when it comes to political bellwether states like this one. So far, polling on support for Amendment 2 has been all over the place. And the political frenzy over the initiative has drawn huge spenders like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out at least $98 million in the 2012 elections.

Amendment 2 has a steep hill to climb, requiring a 60% supermajority to pass; neither Colorado nor Washington got past the 55% range. “Florida is a national battleground,” St. Pierre said, noting how uncommon it is for people to be dropping $2.5 million checks to oppose such measures or $3.7 million checks to support them. “We’ve never seen a green rush like we’re seeing in Florida.”

Looking ahead to 2016

There are also a handful of municipalities that are going to vote on “soft legalization” measures of sorts, including the Maine towns of Lewiston and South Portland. Portland, Maine’s biggest city, passed a similar measure in 2013, giving authorities the ability not to punish pot-possessors with civil or criminal penalties.

Maine is one of the states the Marijuana Policy Project will be working hard to push the way of Colorado and Washington come 2016, and even symbolic local wins could boost that effort. “Ultimately our plan is to bring a tax-and-regulate initiative statewide in 2016, so these campaigns are a way to get the message out,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director.

In addition to California, Tvert said his group is already hard at work in Nevada, collecting petition signatures. And he said campaigns will be ramping up in Arizona and Massachusetts soon. Generally, marijuana initiatives do better when there is larger voter turnout, and voter turnout is typically bigger in presidential election years.

“This is the penultimate year for marijuana law reform,” St. Pierre said of 2014. “California is totally on reformers’ menu. … No one else moves if they don’t move.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Pros and Cons of ‘President Grandma’

Hillary Bill Chelsea Clinton Baby
Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hold their granddaughter Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky after their daughter Chelsea Clinton gave birth in New York on Sept. 27, 2014. Jon Davidson—Reuters

The challenges and benefits of running for the land’s highest office as a grandmother

Hillary Clinton has had many titles: mother, First Lady of the United States, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and, most recently, grandmother. In her last presidential campaign, it was her experience as a senator and, to a lesser extent, first lady, that were the selling points of her campaign. But if she runs again in 2016, she won’t just be touting her experience as top diplomat, she’ll also sports a different kind of distinction: the first viable presidential contender who also happens to be a grandmother.

There are pros and cons in politics to the title of grandma, some of them uniquely Clintonian. At a time when Clinton’s recent remarks about not driving a car since 1996 and struggling to make ends meet after Bill Clinton’s presidency made her seem out of touch with the populist times, being a grandmother makes her relatable.

“As we saw in 2008, she had a more difficult time relating to voters on a personal level,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. “Being about to tell stories about having a first grandchild might serve as one way to connect with the millions of Americans who watched Chelsea grow up and who are now grandparents’ themselves. Any benefit will surely be tiny, but it could drive up empathy a bit.”

If Clinton chooses to promote her grandmotherly status, it would be the opposite tact that she took in 2008 where she was so concerned about showing voters she wasn’t a weak woman that she buried the historic nature of her campaign. In that regard, Clinton is the opposite of most women running for office, who try to avoid mentioning their families because they don’t want to seem soft. Being perceived as tough “is particularly important for executive offices, where strength and toughness, and singular leadership, are valued most,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics. “Of course, some of this will be very unique to Hillary Clinton, as she struggled in her last presidential campaign to empathize with voters and was often criticized for being too hard.”

Being a grandpa almost never hurt a male presidential candidate. Few remarked on Mitt Romney’s grandchildren except, perhaps, at the large number of them. Let’s face it: There will be a double standard for Clinton compared to any other male politician running for President. The image of a blue-haired granny is a tried-and-true American stereotype, and one that is antithetical to the image of the commander-in-chief with his finger on the button.

But again, Clinton’s previous campaign and life experience defies that contrast. “While it might be different for other candidates, particularly female candidates who are less known and still need to prove their competence, I think for Hillary Clinton it is a positive,” said Michele Swers, an associate professor in American Government at Georgetown University and author of “The Difference women Make.”

“Clinton spent years developing her persona of expertise and toughness,” Swers said.

But the biggest risk of being the grandma-candidate is that it does remind voters of Clinton’s age. On Election Day 2016, she’ll be 69, just months younger than the oldest U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, when he was elected in 1980. And it was Clinton’s husband Bill, who successfully painted the last President to be a grandparent in office, George H. W. Bush, as old and out of touch when he beat him in the 1992 election.

TIME voting rights

Voting Rights Battles Heat Up Ahead of Midterm Elections

Voting booths in polling place
/Getty Images

After Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas may send voting rights cases to the Supreme Court

Voting rights advocacy groups and Ohio state officials submitted dueling briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Saturday and Sunday in a fight over early voting in the state.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Appeals court for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to block Ohio’s new election rules, which would cut back early voting from 35 to 28 days before the election and limit early voting on weekends. The courts found that Ohio’s new laws if enacted would violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Ohio officials have asked Justice Elena Kagan to overrule the state courts and prevent voting from starting Sept. 30. She could hand down a decision as early as today.

Ohio is just the latest flashpoint as early voting fights are heating up around the country ahead of midterms. Democrats seek to mobilize lower-income voters who are less likely to turn out for general elections if they have to take time off of work to vote on a Tuesday. Republicans object, claiming the risk of voter fraud and other concerns require tighter voting restrictions.

Here are the three other voting rights laws cases that could work their way up to the Supreme Court before the midterms:

Wisconsin- On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put into effect a law requiring most voters to present photo identification at the polls. Proponents of the law say it will discourage voter fraud, while critics say it will deter minorities from voting. On Friday, the entire Seventh Circuit split 5-5 on whether to hear the case, which may send it to the Supreme Court.

North Carolina – North Carolina’s 2013 state voting law, which eliminates same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and shortens the early voting window by ten days, will be in place for the first time this year in a statewide election. A panel of three judges heard oral arguments about the law on Sept. 25, with one judge pointedly asking, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?” The case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, especially if the Fourth Circuit rules against the law.

Texas – Last week, trial ended in a challenge to Texas’s voter identification law requiring voters to display government-issued forms of identification. Under the stringent law, a concealed-carry permit is a valid form of identification, but a student ID is not. The judge is expected to rule soon on whether the law violates the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and if the decision comes out against the law, the state could appeal to take the case to the Supreme Court.

TIME India

See the History of U.S.-India Relations in 12 Photos

The United States and India have had a tumultuous relationship over the past six decades. As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues his first visit to the U.S. as head of state, take a look back at the relationship between two of the world's largest nations. 

TIME Joe Klein road trip

The Soul of an Old iPod

On the road with blues singer Taj Mahal

Memphis, Tenn

I was driving along from Alabama to Mississippi the other day, with my iPod on shuffle, when these three duets came in succession:

Rodney Crowell and Kris Kristofferson–My Father’s Advice

Carl Perkins and Van Morrison--Sitting on Top of the World (Van’s intensity automatically takes over any duet he attempts)

Emmylou Harris and Beck–Sin City (from the Gram Parsons tribute album Emmylou helped to organize)

Now, I know there are those among you–rational people, mostly–who will dismiss this as coincidence. But three duets in a row? Is it possible that there’s a secret presiding intelligence here, an Apple core, a Steve Jobs frippery that can discern threads of music, or rhythm, or–this gets really weird–lyrics to produce tantalizing segues? It doesn’t always happen, but it does often enough. I mean, what are the odds that in the 3422 songs I’ve loaded on, I’ll get The Rolling Stones’ cover of Love in Vain followed by Robert Johnson’s original. Yesterday, I shuffled from Sufjan Stevens’ anarchically flutey cover of The Beatles What Goes On? to Nelson Riddle’s puckishly flutey arrangement of Witchcraft for Frank Sinatra. Very subtle, that.

This, I realize, can get pretty existential pretty quickly. Do I, as a human, somehow need a ghost within the machine to order the universe for me. Over time, I’ve developed a relationship with the thing, laughing and marveling at its choices, bemoaning my fate when it sinks into a slough of despond and offers a series of the worst songs ever recorded by my favorite artists. (I know I should cull those songs, but can you mess with the received Word?) Sometimes it will forsake me, amble into randomness, Vampire Weekend followed by Sarah Vaughn. On Friday, it started playing songs from Rodney Crowell’s great album, Sex and Gasoline, sensing, no doubt, that I was having dinner with Rodney in Nashville that night. Yesterday, it was in a funk (and not a funky funk, which would have been fine) as we entered Memphis and I prayed for some blues to welcome me into town. But no, the shuffler was in a quiet mood, playing quiet and tame stuff…until we reached Beale Street, when–a miracle!–Lonny Brooks started singing about tumbling dice.

Today, the music turns live: the great Delta blues historian, singer and player Taj Mahal has joined the road trip for a couple of days. We’re headed to down the Delta to Greenville, Ms, for a town meeting with Congressman Bennie Thompson’s supporters. But first, Taj insisted, we have to stop at Lansky’s–“Clothier to the King”–to buy some shirts.

TIME Campaign Finance

Ginsburg Says Citizens United Was Supreme Court’s Worst Ruling

"I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be"

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says in a new interview that the Citizens United ruling paving the way for more unfettered campaign spending by corporations was the current court’s worst decision ever.

Ginsburg told The New Republic that she would overturn the 2010 ruling if she could.

I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” she said. “I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.”

She also expressed concern that modern feminists take their rights for granted.

“The women of my generation and my daughter’s generation, they were very active in moving along the social change that would result in equal citizenship stature for men and women,” Ginsburg said. “One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women. They know there are no closed doors anymore, and they may take for granted the rights that they have.

Read the full interview at The New Republic

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