Here are this week’s top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and with the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to MuckReads@ProPublica.org. Sign up here to get this digest delivered to your inbox weekly.
All body parts are not equal when it comes to workers’ compensation. Over the past decade, legislators, at the behest of businesses and insurance companies, have dismantled a century-long compact between workers and employers. This week, ProPublica and NPR published several stories that looked deeply at the results of these changes. Reporters Michael Grabell of ProPublica and Howard Berkes of NPR found that your body parts, if lost on the job, are not worth the same in each state. Compensation for losing an eye in Alabama, for example, is 10 times less than compensation for losing an eye in Pennsylvania. We also uncovered that despite complaints from business that workers’ comp premiums are out of control, the rates are the lowest they have been in 25 years. — ProPublica by @MichaelGrabell and @hberkes
It wasn’t shocking that he was beaten. It was shocking that the story got out. The most violent encounters at Attica, a maximum-security prison in New York with a brutal history, are usually handled internally, outside public view. So it was surprising when the severe beating of an inmate in 2011 went public. Three guards pulled George Williams from his cell for what they saw as talking back. By the end of the night Williams had two broken legs, a broken shoulder, a fractured orbital bone, blood in his sinuses and multiple lacerations and contusions. Prison protocol typically dictated that Williams be put him in solitary confinement. But that wasn’t the case. The officer running solitary confinement that night decided that Williams was too hurt to be thrown into “the box.” The three guards who beat Williams recently went to trial. They stuck a deal, pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct and quit their jobs.—The New York Times and the Marshall Project via @L_willen.
How $161 million worth of drugs turned into $1.8 billion. Last summer, the Texas Department of Public Safety began an enforcement effort in the Rio Grande Valley. A week before sending off its performance review to lawmakers, the value of the drugs seized increased dramatically – from $161 million to nearly $2 billion, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The change is due to a shift in the methodology used to calculate the value of the drugs seized. DPS now looks at retail prices compiled by the White House, rather than wholesale prices specific to Texas. Criminologists believe that this skews the picture of the seizures since retail prices vary from region to region. And the change in methodology comes at a time when state leaders want to increase how much is spent on border operations. The proposed budget is more than the last seven years of state border spending combined.—The Austin American-Statesman via @JinATX and @ApprovedAmerica
Oil and gas companies don’t clean up after themselves. Oil and gas companies are required to restore all drill sites in Colorado once they have completed their work. This includes reviving-vegetation, erosion control, eradication of weeds, etc. Yet more than half of the nearly 50,000 inactive wells are not fully restored, and 72 percent of the work sites have been “in the process” for five years or more. The Denver Post also found Colorado’s laws are not as strict as laws in other states. Industry officials say restoration takes more time and is more costly than expected. Environmentalists say the state needs to work harder to make sure industry fulfills its obligations. “If land isn’t restored, it won’t be of use for anything else other than oil and gas,” says the director of an oil-and-gas accountability organization.—The Denver Post via @Brizzyc