Exploding Trains, Horrific Labor Camps, and Prison Corruption

#MuckReads: A weekly roundup of investigative reporting from ProPublica.

Oil containers sit at a train depot outside Williston, North Dakota. The oil boom has led to a renewal of America’s rail system, but also to dangerous accidents

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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Then the trains started exploding. North Dakota doesn’t have enough pipelines to move the amount of crude coming out of the state these days. So they go by train. In 2005, there were 9,500 railcar shipments of oil annually. By 2013, that number jumped to 400,000—most of it from North Dakota—and trains had started derailing and exploding, causing environmental disasters and, in some cases, leveling portions of towns. A joint investigation by Inside Climate News, the Weather Channel and the Investigative Fund found little oversight and few resources to manage the safe transport of crude oil across America’s aging rail system. Inside Climate News via @NaveenaSivam

They want us to take such great care of the tomatoes, but they don’t take care of us.” Half the tomatoes Americans eat come from Mexico. Then there are the melons, squash, bell peppers and cucumbers that make their way to well-known companies like Walmart, Whole Foods, and Subway. These corporations have policies requiring Mexican suppliers to treat their workers decently and provide them with quality living conditions. But a Los Angeles Times investigation of these farms found rat-infested work camps and child laborers, as well as employers withholding wages illegally. So what do these large corporations do to enforce worker protections within this $7.6 billion industry? Very little, the Times reports. Los Angeles Times via @lauraelizdavis

Longest-serving prison commissioner now faces 368 years in one. Christopher Epps started as a prison guard in 1982. By 2002 he was Mississippi’s corrections commissioner. He would become the architect of what prison reformers call the “Mississippi Miracle,” reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders, cleaning up a derelict supermax facility, and shrinking prison populations across the state, all while saving Mississippi millions. Then allegations surfaced that Epps allegedly received kickbacks for awarding nearly $1 billion in prison contracts. Now under indictment, Epps is facing five lifetimes in the prison system he helped reform. BuzzFeed via @HanqingC

Throw two carrots, get charged with assault. Facilities tasked with caring for juvenile wards of state rely on police not just to keep order in cases of violence, but also for everyday behavior management, like spitting on someone or throwing food. A Chicago Tribune investigation found that arrests for such behavioral offenses have become common at juvenile centers across the country, with some youths acquiring “criminal rap sheets or fac[ing] court hearings for actions that were predictable given their behavioral and mental health problems.”Chicago Tribune via @poolcar4