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JIM LEHRER: Good evening, I'm Jim Lehrer. On the NewsHour tonight, what's behind airline delays? Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey and two industry analysts explore the reasons. Spencer Michels reports on an attempt to change the ways of prison inmates, and Margaret Warner and "Washington Post" reporter Dan Balz examine the presidential campaign of John McCain. It all follows our summary of the news this Wednesday.
JIM LEHRER: Dennis was downgraded to a tropical storm as it hovered off North Carolina's outer banks today. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills communities. Officials expected gale force winds and extensive flooding there over the next several days. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch were in effect for the North Carolina and Virginia coastlines. The U.S. economy should remain strong six to nine months down the road, so said the Conference Board, a business research group, today. It said gains in manufacturing should keep growth going despite the Federal Reserve's raising of interest rates. And that brought good news to Wall Street. After four straight days of losses, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 108 points at 10,937. And the NASDAQ Index was up 11 points at 2750. Detroit teachers were on strike today, demanding more pay and smaller classes. They have rejected changes proposed by the Board of Education, such as a longer school day and school year and merit pay. The Detroit school district is the ninth largest in the nation. Domestic flight delays are up nearly 20 percent this year from 1998, a Federal Aviation Administration report said today. It said the causes were bad weather, more passengers and the installation of new air traffic control equipment. The FAA study was prepared jointly with airline officials and others. We'll have more on this story right after this News Summary. A commercial airliner crashed last night during takeoff from Buenos Aires, Argentina. At least 64 people were killed. The plane skimmed a highway, skidded across a golf course and burst into flames. 103 people were aboard. Also today, ten American tourists are missing after a charter plane crashed in Tanzania, Africa. The plane was headed from a game lodge to an airport. In East Timor today, pro-Indonesia militias rampaged through the capital, Dili, and other cities. They were reacting to the vote two days ago on the territory's future. Five people were reported killed. We have a report from Ian Williams of Independent Television News.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: A supporter of independence falls into the vicious hands of the pro-Jakarta militia. This afternoon they unleashed a frenzy of violence, burning several houses, including the home of a United Nations translator. Supporters of independence fought back with stones and slingshots. At least one person was killed and several were injured. The militias have brought fear back to Dili. And today their violence reached the very threshold of the United Nations. Terrified local residents sought refuge inside the U.N. compound while the militiaman marauded at the gates. They vandalized U.N. cars and there were reports of shots fired towards the compound. U.N. staff, who are all unarmed, could only watch. A handful of Indonesian police took up positions at the gate, but it would be half an hour before the police arrived in any great number. And 200 local people are still trapped in the U.N. compound this evening.
JIM LEHRER: Talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended today in Jerusalem without agreement. The main obstacle was how many Palestinian prisoners were to be freed from Israeli jails. The talks are aimed at implementing an accord worked out at a retreat in Maryland last year. Secretary of State Albright left this morning for Egypt, where a signing ceremony with Israeli and Palestinian leaders is tentatively planned for tomorrow. A revolutionary group claimed responsibility for a bomb that shattered a Russian shopping center, officials said today. Forty-one people were hurt yesterday when a bomb exploded in an underground mall in Moscow. The self-proclaimed revolutionary group left a note at the scene. It said it was conducting guerrilla warfare to fight consumerism. Police stepped up security with extra guards at important buildings. And that's it for the News Summary tonight. Now it's on to: All those late planes, changing prisoners, and the McCain campaign.
JIM LEHRER: The summer of airliner delays, a summer of passenger discontent. Tom Bearden begins our coverage.
ANNOUNCER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. For those of you on our Flight 821, service to Miami, our flight attendants are here and we should be boarding the aircraft in just a few more moments...
TOM BEARDEN: Late flights, cancellations, angry passengers.
PASSENGER: We were supposed to leave here at 10:50.
WOMAN: There you go, sir. Thank you.
TOM BEARDEN: Frustrated lawmakers demanding answers from airline executives.
SPOKESMAN: Why doesn't the industry itself do something about this? Because if you don't, we are.
TOM BEARDEN: Sound familiar? The scenes you're watching happened 12 years ago. Here we are in the summer of 1999 and nothing, it seems, has changed. This is American Airlines' giant hub at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, where mounting delays this spring and summer helped to create some of the worst on-time records in years. Some passengers have come to expect delays and are simply resigned to waiting.
PASSENGER: My own personal expectation is, I expect there to be a delay. I don't expect them to be on time.
TOM BEARDEN: American Chicago ground operations center had to stand by helplessly as problems in the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system forced the cancellation of almost 1,900 flights in May and June of this year. Last year it was only 585. American isn't the only one suffering delays. United Airlines went so far as to give frequent flyers passing through Chicago a 2,500-mile bonus to make up for the inconvenience. Continental Airlines' CEO has been complaining too.
GORDON BETHUNE, CEO, Continental Airlines: There are more Americans that want to travel every year and we're trying to accommodate that. But what we really have is an inefficient airspace that hasn't been modernized and there's billions of dollars waiting there to be used for this and we just can't get at it.
TOM BEARDEN: Lurking behind all this is a series of frustrating technical and bureaucratic logjams, that in many ways, are no closer to being solved in 1999 than they were in 1987. The FAA says 70 percent of the delays are weather related. And the agency has long accused airlines of exacerbating the problem by scheduling flights in waves, further congesting the system. But the airlines blame the FAA, saying most delays and cancellations are due to air traffic control problems. They point out that for more than a generation, the FAA's has been trying to upgrade its aging air traffic control system, but that the project has been plagued by delays, midstream changes, cancellations and cost overruns. The hardware problems won't be solved soon, but the airlines believe the agency could do a lot more to deal with delays in the near term. Specifically, the airlines have been frustrated at inconsistent policies from the various air traffic control centers when it comes to spacing aircraft in the sky and holding them at the gate. Earlier this month, FAA administrators met with industry officials and agreed to make some immediate changes. The biggest change is that the agency will centralize the entire decision making process here at the air traffic control command center in Herndon, Virginia. Traffic management specialists don't handle aircraft directly, but instead monitor the entire system via computer displays. That's supposed to help them make decisions on routing and spacing based on the big picture. Centralization is designed to address long-standing rivalries between the command center and the various regions that have been a sticking point in the FAA bureaucracy for years. FAA also agreed to reevaluate the use of ground holds, which can strand passengers on taxiways as planes wait their turn in the traffic stream. And the agency will put an upper limit on the spacing between flights imposed by regional traffic centers. FAA officials believe that all this should begin to show results visible to passengers within a few weeks.
JIM LEHRER: And the final FAA report on airline delays was, in fact, released today. And here to discuss it and other issues involved is Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey.
Ms. Garvey, welcome.
JANE GARVEY, FAA Administrator: Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: Summarize the report today for us.
JANE GARVEY: Well, first of all, the report is a self-assessment. We took a very comprehensive look at some of the major facilities in the system, and we said, "how can we do our job better?" And we did this in collaboration with the airlines. So it really outlined for us a series of actions, a series of recommendations that we are implementing now. I think what's significant about it is that it was done in coordination with the airlines and it was done in a very sort of self-critical way. We wanted to know what the issues are and what we could do about them.
JIM LEHRER: You saw Tom Bearden's report with the rest of us. What would you add to that in terms of what's causing these delays? And they are... they have been terrific this summer.
JANE GARVEY: Well, they have been difficult this summer, and it's frustrating not only for passengers. It's frustrating for us in government and certainly frustrating for the airlines, as well. I think the report highlighted the big causes of delay: Weather accounts for over 70 percent of the delays; we are transitioning to new equipment. That's good news on the one hand because we want the new equipment and we need it, but it does and it has caused some delays for us. It's much like, by the way, changing a car, a tire on a car while it's still traveling 60 miles an hour. You've got to do this still while the system is operating. And the third issue is just the growth. Aviation is becoming phenomenally successful and it's the way that most Americans want to travel, or many Americans. So we're seeing growth in aviation that those numbers are creating some strains, as well.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's go back through this. The weather, for instance here in the Northeast where there's an awful lot of airline travel and a huge number of delays, there's been a drought, there's not been... there's been very little rain, very few thunderstorms the whole summer.
JANE GARVEY: Well, what's interesting is when you look at the air traffic control, you have to think of it as a system. So sometimes even if we don't have weather along the East Coast, something that's happening in Chicago can affect us, as well. Something that's happening down South can affect us. So something that's happening in Cleveland, which is which is our busiest hub, the system really is connected. But having said that-- and I think it's important to note that weather is a big part of it-- but there are still things that we can do. I think some of the recommendations that your report mentioned, taking a look at when we actually put ground stops in operation and whether or not we can manage...
JIM LEHRER: Now, a ground stop is a plane either doesn't leave the gate or does leave the gate and then suddenly one of your air traffic controllers stops it and says it can't take off.
JANE GARVEY: That's right. Or a facility would choose to stop it, that's right. That's right. And so the airlines I think rightly said, "look, that's a great tool that you have," because all of these are tools to manage the air space. But they've said, "are we using it in the most effective way?" And that's really what we're working through with them.
JIM LEHRER: Managing the air space: I read today that for instance... in fact Mr. Bethune of Continental Airlines has been has been quoted extensively on this, and he uses examples such as it really only takes 20 minutes for an airliner to fly from Washington, DC to New York, and yet, according to the way the FAA makes these planes fly, it takes twice that long, or sometimes even more than that. Can you fix that?
JANE GARVEY: Well, I think... and it's interesting because I think where we would absolutely are in full and solid agreement with the airline is that we really... the airlines... is that we really need to modernize the system, and so Mr. Bethune is absolutely right when he said we schedule more time than is actually needed for the actual flight itself but because some of the inefficiencies that we have in the system, because the system is showing strains, we really have to allow... we have to allow and the airlines obviously have to allow more time than is actually needed.
JIM LEHRER: But his point is that it doesn't need all that time. In other words, that the inefficiencies, if you did away with the inefficiencies, you could do everything in a much shorter period of time and there would be less congestion because the planes would move faster, et cetera.
JANE GARVEY: Well, we would agree that some of these short-term improvements we're putting in place, actions that we're taking today and are taking with the airlines, can improve the efficiency. That's really what we're doing. But long term, and I think I'm quite sure he would agree, long term what we really need is a modern air traffic control system, and that's where there is solid agreement in this industry.
JIM LEHRER: Now, when you use the term system, are you talking about hardware, or are you talking about rules that, like, for instance the distances that are allowed now, that's another complaint that some of the professionals have, that you all out of caution and your system is so inefficient, that you make these planes fly so far apart, that that's also causing delays. Is that...are you talking to those kinds of things, too, when you say system?
JANE GARVEY: It's really a combination. First of all, I think it's really important to say that, from the FAA's perspective, our mission, the heart and soul of what we do is aviation safety. So we do sometimes err on the side of being more conservative and we have to be absolutely clear that any of the changes we're talking about are always done in the context of what are the safety standards that we have. We can't compromise those in any way possible. But having said that, yes, for example, some of the distances between airlines could be limited somewhat, and we could be I think a little bit less cautious in those areas.
JIM LEHRER: And you're going to change... the point that was also made in Tom's report is that there are inconsistent rules. In some FAA areas, it's 70 miles, in some it's 50 miles, in some it's even less than that or more than that, correct? Are you trying to standardize those?
JANEGARVEY: That's right. And I think the report very clearly emphasized the importance of the command center. We have a wonderful command center in Herndon, Virginia. It has the wonderful perspective of being able to look at the system as a whole, to really look at the entire system. And they are in the best position, we think, to make some system-wide decisions. But having said that, we also have to underscore very clearly local facilities have important information that must be factored, as well, so it's collaboration and communication, as well.
JIM LEHRER: To step back a moment... for a moment here.
JIM LEHRER: This didn't just happen overnight. I mean the development of the airline industry and the fact that people wanted to get on airplanes and the airlines were there and wanted to take them various places, what happened? How did the system get so out of pace, so out of sync, so old-fashioned and not working?
JANE GARVEY: Well, that's a good question, and a tough question. I have to answer it from the perspective of my tenure at the FAA, which is the last couple of years. I think in part the growth has been phenomenal, and I think in some cases we've really exceeded even the forecasts that people were...had projected. But I think it's also important to say that I think members of the airline industry, and you've got a couple of experts following me, and I'm sure that they both have said in the past that this growth is going to have to be something that we're going to have to just keep pace with. And from my perspective, the best way to do that is to get consensus with the airlines, which we have, about what is it that constitutes modernization, how can we get that underway, how can we get that implemented. So it is a long-term problem.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have all the power and the resources you need at FAA to solve this?
JANE GARVEY: Resources are always an issue and that's why what's happening in Congress this fall, this fall will be an important time for us because they'll be debating the FAA budget, they'll be debating reauthorization. That's going to be very critical, very, very important for us. The administration has put forward a proposal that calls for reform and calls for resources for the FAA, but clearly those are the issues that will have to be debated.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any question in your mind that this can be fixed, or are delays a part of our permanent future?
JANE GARVEY: Well, I don't think we can ever eliminate delays. Clearly we would never allow people to travel, for example, in weather that was unsafe. So delays I think are always going to be a part of the reality that we face. However, I think what we can do and the challenge for us is to minimize those delays as best we can and to manage the system in the safest, most efficient way possible.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Jane Garvey, thank you very much.
JANE GARVEY: Thank you very much. A pleasure to be here.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a further discussion between two aviation experts, Darryl Jenkins, a Professor of Airline Economics and the Executive Director of the Institute of Aviation at George Washington University, and Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group/Aviation Systems Research Corporation. Mr. Boyd, how would you analyze the causes of all these delays this summer and the growing problem?
MICHAEL BOYD, Aviation Systems Research: Well, the growing problem, the issue is we can't blame this on weather: A 20 percent increase in delays. The real problem is we have a system that's 40 years old and n concept and it's collapsing. And if you see the modernization program that's being installed right now, center after center will go down and cause massive delays across the nation because the modernization program they have simply isn't working. We need a better approach than what we have right now, and it's not just weather. That's a cop-out.
JIM LEHRER: Well, but when you say... what do you mean when you say system? Are you talking about hardware, or are you talking about radar, are you talking about equipment?
MICHAEL BOYD: I'm talking about the whole air traffic control system itself. And yes, it's all those ethics. I mean, it's a hodgepodge of 1990's computer systems, 1970's computer systems, some even newer, some even older and putting all that together as a system, it's sort of like a body by Fisher and a Chrysler transmission and a Ford motor. And the Ford motor comes from a Model T. We've got to get some... like Ms. Garvey just said, we need to modernize, but consensus on what modernization is, that concerns me. The air traffic control system in concept, the way we're doing it-- and she agreed with what we said, Lord, five years ago-- that we have a system that's built for DC6's, airplanes from the 1950's. The system the way we approach it needs to be changed.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Jenkins, what would you add to that?
DARRYL JENKINS, George Washington University: Well, I think, first of all, the FAA administrator should be congratulated on all she's done this summer. This is the first time we've seen really bold leadership from an FAA administrator in terms of bringing together the airlines and some very worrying components within the FAA and working out some things which will give us short term benefits. So that's really the most positive thing I've seen at the FAA in 20 years of observing it. The second thing is that the FAA is being ignored by Congress for the last two years. They've not reauthorized it, they're not giving them the tools that they need to do their job. We have probably the finest FAA administrator we've ever had, and we have a Congress who can't get together and give her the tools she needs to run her organization.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Jenkins, what's your answer to the question I asked Ms. Garvey: How did we get in this mess?
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, this mess has been caused by a lot of things. I don't know if we have any one answer, but one thing is clear is that the FAA, which we have now, was built during the time of regulation when there was no growth in the airline industry, when the airlines were deregulated, they grew enormously, and we had this FAA, which was never built to manage this much growth. So the airlines went out and did what they were supposed to do, and the FAA continued to do what they...
JIM LEHRER: You mean by adding more flights and buying more airplanes and expanding their businesses you mean?
DARRYL JENKINS: Yes, that's correct. And the FAA basically had the structure, which did not allow them to keep up with that growth. So I see the FAA's problems as long-term structural, and we need to make some fundamental changes. And that's what Congress needs to do now.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Boyd, when you say modernize the system, what do you mean?
MICHAEL BOYD: Well, what we have here is a system that was, again, built to basically herd airplanes across the sky in highways. We have a lot of air space we don't use. Gordon Bethune at Continental Airlines is right, we make inefficient use of the air space we have.
JIM LEHRER: Explain that. Explain that.
MICHAEL BOYD: Well, in other words, when an airplane takes off, generally speaking, it will be directed to fly in an airborne highway, rather than going from point A to point B. For example, if you're going to fly the preferred route that they route airplanes between Nashville and Boston, the airplane takes off, goes East, goes South, then goes North because that makes the most sense for this old system. That's a problem.
JIM LEHRER: Now, why does that make sense for the old system?
MICHAEL BOYD: Well, when you had fewer airplanes and the technology at the time, you wanted to keep airplanes together so that they could watch them with the technology that we had in the 50's and early 60's. We're still doing that. But let me say one other thing here. The problem we have in Congress is not reauthorization, per se. That is an issue. But the problem is Congress just throws money at the FAA and doesn't say what are you going to do with it? If you go back in the last five to ten years, they've wasted more money than it would take to rebuild the entire system several times over.
JIM LEHRER: Who's wasted the money?
MICHAEL BOYD: The FAA. The advanced automation system was several billion dollars. We have several other programs that were out there, billions of dollars wasted because, as the intro this piece said, there have been several programs started, stopped, started stopped because there hasn't been leadership there, and what concerns me is Ms. Garvey saying we got to get consensus. Well, consensus on what? We have an inefficient system. Let's fix that system. It's not all that hard in terms of concept to fix, but we have to have strong leadership to do it, and it's not an issue of money. True, Congress plays games with money, but the point is: All they want to do is throw money at the FAA without saying, "what are you going to do with this stuff?"
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Jenkins?
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, not really. We have some very good proposals right now before Congress in terms of reforming the FAA, making it more accountable, making it a performance-based organization where you would have a chief operating officer who would be held accountable for the actions of the FAA.
JIM LEHRER: Is Jane Garvey not now accountable for the actions of the F.A.A.?
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, certainly she is, but in prior times we had a real problem that we never defined how performance was measured. And for the first time, we're coming up with metrics to measure how well FAA is doing its job, performing its services.
MICHAEL BOYD: We have to have management, not just metrics and measurements. We have to have a management plan, a leadership plan and what we have to do, and I think everybody would agree with this, we've got to get the politics and the patronage positions out of the FAA. And however that's done, it's fine. But to simply say, we're going to make it a performance-based organization, that's a buzzword. We've heard things like this for ten years. What we need to know is what the FAA is going to do to fix the system, what is their plan? It's been herky jerk, one little program after another program after another program westbound billions have been wasted. We need more than buzzwords and acronyms.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Jenkins, would you agree that...
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, we haven't heard these terms for ten years. These are new concepts that are being put around, and they're actually being implemented for the first time.
MICHAEL BOYD: It's just the latest in a whole series of these things, Darryl.
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, that's just not true.
MICHAEL BOYD: It is true.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you, question, Mr. Jenkins. Do you agree with the basic premise, though, or the basic point that Mr. Boyd is making, that there has been a lot of wasted money spent thus far in trying to fix the system?
DARRYL JENKINS: I don't think anybody would disagree with it. That's not the problem that we now have. That's in the past. What we need to do at this time, and what really was for the first time in 20 years made me hopeful about the FAA was this summer, when the administrator got the airlines together and they did this one minor change of switching everything in terms of flow control to Herndon. That will make incredible improvements in the short run, and in the...
MICHAEL BOYD: I would disagree. I think it's a minor impact.
JIM LEHRER: Hold on, Mr. Boyd.
DARRYL JENKINS: Any impact that we have, even if it's minor, is something that we've never had before, and so that makes it a watershed event.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, gentlemen, both of you all are experts. The rest of us are not. Mr. Jenkins, explain your point. Why will that step improve things?
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, before you had different regions of the country who were really only looking at their one small area. Herndon flow control has the entire picture, and so they might have some backups here but they could give them some routings, which the local region was not aware of. So this flow of information is much greater. It gives with a small impacts, but these small impacts are the first impacts that we've seen in years that are positive, and that's the important point is that we're seeing small changes happen. We don't need overnight draconian changes. If we have small changes that add up over the years, then we ultimately get to the point that we want, and that's what's encouraging for the first time.
MICHAEL BOYD: I would disagree with that. I mean it's not draconian. I think we need to have effective changes. But if you look at their "modernization program" time after time, there has been incidents, this month -- I mean last month. We had a problem in Los Angeles, we had a problem in Miami,. All these things they're installing, they haven't worked properly because they haven't been thought out. Now, maybe this performance-based stuff will work, but the problem we have is we have not had a solid plan on what needs to be done and how it's going to be done. It's been basically, "let's have a press release, let's throw more money at them." And the incremental things over time will work. Well, right now I'll put it on the line, we do not have a particularly safe air traffic control system We really don't.
DARRYL JENKINS: I don't agree with that. The system is safe because of delays. Now, that's not what we want.
MICHAEL BOYD: That's not accurate. When a system goes down, when a center goes down for 35 minutes and controllers don't know where the airplanes are and the back-up system goes down as well, you cannot say that safety is not affected. It is affected, and that's happening month after month in control centers all across America, and that's a fact.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Jenkins, what else do you think? Now, you've praised...
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, first of all, the fact that we have consensus means that we're moving in a direction where the government and the airlines who they're serving are agreeing on. That's a plan. Consensus is important.
MICHAEL BOYD: I'm not sure that's we have total agreement. Everybody has agreement we want to do away with things, but how it's going to be accomplished is the real issue, I think.
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, in the short run, we have an agreement for the first time on one issue, and that is more than we have ever had before.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, let me ask you each of you as experts, starting with you, Mr. Jenkins, if you had the power to institute one major change to improve this system, what would it be?
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, I think that's going on right now where we're getting some measurements to determine which direction we're going, and if we have a direction and you're in aviation, you're halfway where you're wanting to get to.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean do you have a specific thing that you think could improve things dramatically on the delay thing, a specific thing?
DARRYL JENKINS: Well, I don't want to get into the business of trying to improve things dramatically because that's what's caused a lot of the problems that we are at right now. If we will take some very small steps, like the administrator is currently doing and add those up over time, get consensus with the airlines on the improvements that need to be made... see, before for example they came up with this microwave landing system which was going to solve all the problems, but none of the airlines wanted it. They spent years and billions of dollars in doing this, and it ended up being nothing. So now we have the FAA, the airlines working together. One small step, we got that taken care of. Then we go to the next point.
JIM LEHRER: All right, Mr. Boyd, either a small or a large step, what would you recommend if you were the power of one?
MICHAEL BOYD: What we have to do, Jim, is develop a parallel system. That can be done -- a parallel system that's almost a clean sheet approach that could be used somewhere down the line in the next three to five years to replace this broken down approach we have now. We do need to make some quantum improvements in here because 200 people died in Guam because a certain piece of equipment was badly installed, the FAA knew it, did nothing about it. It's that kind of an approach we can no longer afford. People have died, more people will be at risk or will die unless we develop a new clean-sheet approach. What I would suggest, and it can be done, is a parallel system being developed from scratch at the bottom and gradually replacing this hodgepodge mess we have today.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, drug abuse programs for California prisoners and the McCain campaign. Spencer Michels has the prison story.
SPENCER MICHELS: At a prison near San Diego, nearly 450 inmates live in three crowded gymnasiums, because there is no other housing available. Some sleep in triple bunk beds. Longer sentences and tougher sentencing laws, especially for drug crimes, have made overcrowding the rule in California prisons. With 162,000 prisoners and 33 prisons, this is the largest prison system in the free world, with a budget larger than that of the University of California. Harsher treatment has also been the rule for at least two decades. Weights and other bodybuilding equipment popular with prisoners were banned. New prison designs are more sterile and controlling. Lockdowns are more frequent. And there have been alleged abuses of the system that have contributed to tensions and violence. Guards were accused of staging fights among inmates and then shooting at them. This prison surveillance video from Corcoran prison shows one of those incidents. Between 1989 and '95, seven inmates died, 43 were injured. TheU.S. Attorney brought criminal civil rights charges still pending against eight guards.
PAUL SEAVE, U.S. Attorney: These defendants used their authority to sponsor blood sports. In the process, they violated the civil rights of the individuals and abused their power and the public trust.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Corcoran incidents, plus the statewide conditions due to overcrowding and the prevalence of prison gangs, have many people saying the system is ripe for change. Much of the motivation for that change comes from a fear of what will happen when large numbers of people are released. About half of all California prisoners are let out on parole every two years. Many are unprepared for life on the outside, according to Sociology Professor Elliott Currie.
ELLIOTT CURRIE: The vast, vast majority of people that we put behind bars are coming out. They're going to be on your street next year. And the question is, what kind of a guy do you want to be on your street next year? I think the real issue is, what are we going to do to make it less likely that he's going to be dangerous, to make it less likely that he's going to hurt somebody, that he's going to rob somebody?
SPENCER MICHELS: There's no question that most prisoners have a hard time going straight once they're outside. 75 percent of them have no job, 50 percent are essentially illiterate, and 85 percent are substance abusers. Most of the inmates at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison just two miles from the Mexican border, have come back into custody several times. These prisoners say nothing inside has prepared them for the transition. Todd Perdue is serving his fourth term.
TODD PERDUE, Inmate: All I learned there was how to make knives out of coffee... you know, out of coffee cans and out of plastic and how to make bombs. I didn't really learn anything that would help me for society. And they dumped me out there with $200 gate money and said, "make a life."
SPENCER MICHELS: Donovan's warden, John Ratelle, says the pressures on the outside may be too great for many inmates to handle.
JOHN RATELLE, Prison Warden: We give them $200 parole money, and 200 bucks, if he doesn't have a place to go or a place... you know, somewhere to go, and if he doesn't have a job, then what does he do? He's going to revert back to crime because he's got to survive. Sometimes people panic, and they go back to their same neighborhoods, the same place where they came from, their buddies, peer pressure. A lot of those things play on a person's success or failure.
SPENCER MICHELS: While incarcerated, the vast majority of state prisoners have little to do all day. Only 4 percent, or 7,000, work in prison industries, like this bakery, which provides bread for other prisons. Often the minimal skills inmates learn here don't translate to jobs on the outside. Since prisoner-made products can be sold only to state institutions, the number of jobs is limited. Prisons also provide classes in printing and graphics and landscaping and other potential occupations. But at Donovan, only about 10 percent of the inmates are enrolled in these vocational training programs, about the same percentage statewide. Other inmates are ineligible because of disciplinary problems, or a history of violence, or they're just not interested.
INSTRUCTOR: That's because you typed a lower case "K."
SPENCER MICHELS: Academic and reading classes take place in all California prisons by law, and 10 percent of the inmates are enrolled in these programs as well. Sometimes the classes make a big difference, but often they don't reach the inmates who need them. Frederick Woods is an inmate clerk in the program.
FREDERICK WOODS, Inmate: There's a lot of inmates who are really interested and really willing to get into the program and get their education, but then there's a lot of them who are in the program who don't reap all the benefits because they really don't want the education.
SPENCER MICHELS: Most experts believe nothing will work to make prisoners ready to function as citizens until the issue of their drug abuse is confronted. That is happening on a small scale at R.J. Donovan, where the system's first drug program has existed since 1990. But substance abuse is hardly addressed at all in most California prisons.
SPOKESMAN: I don't know if you guys think that you don't have an addictive personality, and I would suggest that... take a look at yourself again.
SPENCER MICHELS: Donovan's effort was a pilot project involving 200 prisoners.
SAM CHOPPIN, Inmate: For me, personally, I don't have any family, so it's been real easy for me to get back into that cycle of drugs and violence, and, because of that, coming back to jail and prison. Coming through this, this has given me a support network, which is like a surrogate family, so that gives me people to fall onto when I need that help.
SPOKESMAN: Let us celebrate this gift not only for ourselves...
INMATES: Let us celebrate this gift not only for ourselves...
SPENCER MICHELS: The cost of the drug program is $3,000 per inmate, on top of the $21,000 a year for keeping an inmate behind bars. Program advocates like the wardens say the drug program actually saves money by keeping inmates from returning to prison.
SPENCER MICHELS: You're saying it's cheaper to pay the extra money to do the drug program than it is to keep the guy in prison?
JOHN RATELLE: Absolutely. Well, to keep the guy from coming back to prison is a better term, I think.
SPENCER MICHELS: Anybody listening to that argument?
JOHN RATELLE: Yeah, I think so. I think... We're getting some recognition in the legislature. They've given us more money on substance abuse programs.
SPENCER MICHELS: California will soon be providing drug programs for about 9,000 inmates, a huge increase. Corrections officials were swayed by a study which showed that the recidivism rate among inmates who completed substance abuse programs in prison and also after their release was only a third that of those who did not take part. Corrections director Cal Terhune:
CAL TERHUNE, Director, California Corrections Department: Yes, it's worth it. If you can cut down the recycling, it's going to be worth it. And investment at the front end in terms of prevention, before they commit the crime, is going to pay off in the long run.
SPENCER MICHELS: In the study, the key to success was the drug treatment programs for parolees, like this one in San Francisco called Milestones.
DAVID: My name's David. I'm an addict.
GROUP: Hi, David.
SPENCER MICHELS: 60 former inmates now on parole from state prison live for six months to a year in a residential facility, where they have meetings, get help with substance abuse, job searches, health, and adjustment to society. Most of them had no access to drug programs inside prison.
FREDERICK STRONG, Parolee: I had a substance abuse problem when I went in, and through my course of staying in the system-- it's been like 12 years now, almost 13-- being inside, I felt that they don't deal with the issue. They'll tell you not to use drugs, but they don't tell you how to stay off of them.
DAVID LENNON, Parolee: The rehabilitation, they're not interested. We are a number, we are a statistic for the state of California, the California Department of Corrections.
SPENCER MICHELS: These people have yet to make it. Even the few who got some treatment in prison emphasize the need for follow-up programs, which they didn't get until now.
ANNA LORENA URBINA, Parolee: And I finished the drug program, but then when I came out, I came out with a lot of issues, and I didn't follow up on my recovery, and I went back to prison two times more after that.
SPENCER MICHELS: These parolees complained that both in-prison and aftercare programs like Milestones are scarce, and there's often a waiting list. Corrections officials agree.
CAL TERHUNE: Those are the kinds of programs that we're just question quietly spinning out. But there's a lot been done and a lot more to do. But we're in the right direction.
SPENCER MICHELS: In fact, the number of community beds for drug treatment has been increasing under state pressure. But politically, beefing up prison drug and education programs does not please some tough-on-crime politicians. Republican Assemblyman Jim Battin is skeptical of those plans.
JIM BATTIN, California Assemblyman: If you go to prison for 18 months on a drug offense, you're not getting drugs for 18 months unless you're getting them within the prison. To have a drug treatment program inside a prison is almost nonsensical, because they're denied the drugs. We have to make prisons a place of punishment, a place of deterrence, and that's a place of justice.
SPENCER MICHELS: Battin does not want to change the purpose of the Department of Corrections, which right now is purely punishment.
JIM BATTIN: And there is an effort right now in the legislature to make prisons a place of rehabilitation first and punishment second, and that doesn't work. They tried to do that before. It's a failed policy of the left. It has not worked in the past. When we had that, we had people get early release, we had more victimization, we had higher crime rates.
SPENCER MICHELS: Battin is opposing the bill by California Democratic Senator John Vasconcellos that would make one purpose of prison rehabilitation.
SPENCER MICHELS: You include rehabilitation, is that the right word?
JOHN VASCONCELLOS, California State Senator: Yes, yes, it is the right word. It's the right word, and it's the essential effort, so that when people come out of prison, they don't, you know, continue their actions and rob the rest of us, and go back to prison again and we pay some more money.
SPENCER MICHELS: Vasconcellos says he doesn't want to ease up on punishment for criminals.
JOHN VASCONCELLOS: I'm not talking about not punishing them. I'm just simply talking about doing it in a smart way, so that when a person comes out, he isn't more rageful and more likely to make more trouble for me.
SPENCER MICHELS: After 20 years of expensive prison construction and almost no concern for rehabilitation, Vasconcellos says that despite some opposition, he senses a political opening.
JOHN VASCONCELLOS: Times change, people change, and people wake up and issues get framed differently and recognized differently, and we as leaders are about to try to help that process happen-- or ought to be.
SPENCER MICHELS: California's prison-building binge may be slowing down. Nonetheless, Democratic Governor Gray Davis recently signed a bill authorizing construction of yet another new prison.
GOV. GRAY DAVIS: By April of 2002, we'll be out of space entirely, double cells everywhere, and we run the risk, if we did not do something, that a federal judge would order that prisoners be released before they serve their full sentence.
SPENCER MICHELS: Elected as a tough-on-crime candidate, Davis has yet to be heard from on whether he will support major policy changes for this vast prison system.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has the McCain campaign story.
MARGARET WARNER: Tonight, we begin a series of snapshots of some of the presidential candidates out on the hustings. We sent a camera crew to New Hampshire earlier this week to follow republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
MARGARET WARNER: John McCain is banking his Republican presidential hopes on New Hampshire, site of the first primary next year.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: How are you? It's great to see you.
MARGARET WARNER: He's made 15 trips to New Hampshire already and this week took his campaign for a four-day bus tour of the state. The staple of the trip was the town hall meeting, a series of gatherings that the Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war often began with a joke.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: It doesn't take a lot of talent to get shot down. I was able to intercept a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane, which many of you know is no mean feat.
MARGARET WARNER: At this senior center in Plymouth McCain asked his audience for sympathy.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran for President of the United States - I'm sure you remember that; Maurice Udall from Arizona ran for President of the United States; Bruce Babbitt from Arizona ran for President of the United States. Arizona may be the only state in America where mothers don't tell their children that some day they can grow up and be President of the United States.
SPOKESMAN: Senator John McCain.
MARGARET WARNER: But he quickly went on, as he did at a VFW Hall in Littleton, to explain why he's running.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: My friends, I'm running for President of the United States to restore our foreign policy and our military and the capabilities that we need to display in this post-Cold War era. We went from a very dangerous but very predictable world during the Cold War. We now in a far less predictable but very dangerous world we exist today. The next President of the United States, whether the American people care or not, and I pray that they will begin to care, will have to spend a great deal of time and energy on these issues. And you can't, and you have to start by restoring our military. We've got to reform this government. We've got to reform education in America. We've got to reform the military. We've got to reform the tax code, which is now 44,000 pages long. We have to reform our government to get in tune with this information technology, which is proceeding with breathtaking speed, which is responsible for this incredible economy that we're experiencing throughout the nation and here in New Hampshire. But we can't do it, we can't do it unless we reform the system of financing campaigns, which has caused the public interest to be submerged by the special interests. My friends, it is a sad and terrible time in America when we pass laws, such as the last tax bill, the tax cut, which has tax benefits for special interests that take effect immediately, and the tax cuts that were supposed to help average Americans don't go into effect until well into the next century.
MARGARET WARNER: McCain devoted most of his time, however, to taking questions. This man in Littleton challenged McCain to explain why he opposed trade protections fordomestic industries, like New Hampshire's textile mills.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I would be more than happy to provide job training, reeducation and help to anyone who is displaced.
MARGARET WARNER: The questioner wasn't convinced and challenged McCain again.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Sir, I did not know that your ambitions were for your children to work in a textile mill, to be honest with you. I would rather have them work in a high-tech industry, I would rather have them work in the computer industry, I would rather give them the kind of education and training that's necessary in order for them to really have prosperous and full lives. We have an honest disagreement, sir.
MAN: We do.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yes, sir. But I will be glad... everybody's entitled to their opinion, but not everybody's entitled to their facts. And I would be glad to show you the economic statistics of the state of New Hampshire, which are drastically improved. Thank you for your question.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Why is it that the republican leadership in Washington always seems to be one or two steps behind the Clinton administration in getting a message out on individual issues?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I equate this, our relationship, Republican relationship with President Clinton, that of the Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner. Republicans are always just about to get President Clinton and we've almost got our arms around him and then the dynamite goes off where we run over the cliff or the train runs over us or... I would argue that we go back to Ronald Reagan, we go back to 1994, where we can set out a specific positive agenda for the American people, and it doesn't matter what President Clinton or any of the Democrats do, and we'll fight the battle of ideas, not the battle of personalities.
MARGARET WARNER: But on another subject, abortion, McCain has been less direct.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I am pro-life, and I am not ashamed of that position. But I believe very strongly that we have to go back to the time when we were an inclusive party and we worked together and not allow this to divide us up. And I don't want to exclude anyone from the Republican Party on a single-issue position.
MARGARET WARNER: More for more, we turn now to Dan Balz of the "Washington Post." The NewsHour's working with the Post in covering the 2000 presidential race. Dan's been traveling with McCain this week and he's in Manchester, New Hampshire this evening.
So, Dan, were those excerpts typical of the way john McCain's interacting with the voters on this bus tour?
DAN BALZ: Very typical, Margaret. This is a bus tour that very much reflects McCain's personality, and I think what you showed people there is a good indication of the kind of flavor that he is conveying as he goes down through New Hampshire this week. He is contentious, he is blunt, he is funny, he's self-deprecating, he's willing to engage with his audiences, he's not afraid to disagree, and he is hoping that in the long run, that that will create for him the kind of persona that people up here will warm to.
MARGARET WARNER: Strategists say that they're trying to draw contrasts with other candidates in the race by not playing it safe?
DAN BALZ: Well, this is in part what they are working with, but they couldn't do anything else other than that with John McCain. John McCain has never been the kind of politician who plays it safe. I think one of the things they're trying to do is show a contrast perhaps with Governor Bush, but with any other candidate, as well, that this is a candidate who believes passionately in reforming the political system and that, until we do that, as he says, you can't get the other issues that people care about completed in Washington. And so he is driving that message home wherever he can go. The other thing I think that he's trying to do is to present himself as a person of character and of substance, perhaps, again in contrast to Governor Bush, who's been criticized for not being substantive enough and to say to people that I have been through the kind of experiences in my life, both in the battles that I've fought in Congress and also the experience I had in Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war, that gives me the character to be a strong leader as President. That's what I think he's banking on.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how are the audiences responding to this straight talk?
DAN BALZ: Well, they respond reasonably well. I don't think that he's necessarily made the sale with all of them, and there are a lot of people who still are, you know, at this early stage in the campaign, even here in New Hampshire, are still being introduced to the candidates. They don't know Senator McCain that well at this point. I think they like the fact that he's straightforward, I think they like the fact that he's down to earth. I don't know whether, over time, that he will wear well in the way he confronts people sometimes angrily, as he did the person about protectionism and the textile mills. There were a number of instances this week where he got into a tangle with a caller or a person who disagreed with him on things. Now, he stands his ground, and he believes that that's the best way to deal with people.
MARGARET WARNER: Is part of this also a bid for the independent voters in New Hampshire who, unlike most states, can go and vote in either primary they want?
DAN BALZ: It is very much a bid for that. As we said, New Hampshire figures crucially in Senator McCain's plans. He skipped the Iowa straw poll last month. He is likely to skip the Iowa caucuses. He told us today on the bus that he will make that decision in the next couple of weeks, but nobody expects him to be a participant in the Iowa caucuses. He's running essentially a two-state strategy at this point New Hampshire and then South Carolina. Now, here in New Hampshire, I think he's banking on three things: One is that this is a state that likes to give front-runners trouble. 1984, Walter Mondale, who was the Democratic front-runner at the time, lost the New Hampshire primary. In 1992, President Bush got a strong challenge from Pat Buchanan up here, and in 1996, Bob Dole, who eventually became the Republican nominee, lost this primary to Patrick Buchanan. Voters up here like to cause trouble with front-runners. I think, second, Senator McCain recognizes that here in New Hampshire, you have a Republican electorate that is somewhat more moderate than he would face in the Iowa Caucuses, and you have a growing cadre of independent voters up here who I think the McCain forces believe will be attracted to his very strong reform message. The third thing that he's trying to do here and in other places is play the veteran's card. As you said, he spent a number of times doing town meetings in VFW halls this week. Next week he will begin a book tour for a book that he has written about himself and his father and grandfather. It is a book that details in great detail his experiences as a prisoner of war, and I think he is hoping that that will present a persona to people that here in New Hampshire and elsewhere will be attractive.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, I noticed at least in some of the accounts, that he is getting quite a few questions about abortion, though that's not necessarily... hasn't been historically a hot issue in New Hampshire. Is that issue really dogging him this week?
DAN BALZ: It is dogging him right now because he kind of fell into a problem ten days ago. He did an interview when he was traveling in California a couple of weeks ago with the San Francisco "Chronicle," and in that interview, he indicated or said fairly bluntly that he didn't think in either the short term or the long term that Rowe V. Wade should or would be overturned. Now, this created a real backlash among pro-life forces, and it has forced Senator McCain to kind of backtrack himself as to where he... not where he stands on the issue, but how he's presenting the issue. He has said this week a couple of different things, not necessarily inconsistent, but he's tried to say a couple of things. One is he says, "I have a 17-year pro-life voting record." He said, "I probably have a longer voting record on abortion than anybody else in the race other than Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah." The second thing he says is that the Republican Party ought to be inclusive, and that it ought to be, as a party of Lincoln, a party that does not exclude people on the basis of one issue or another issue. So he's trying to say that the party needs to reach out to people who disagree, but he's also trying to say that... to voters who are skeptical about what he's had to say in the last ten days, that he is personally very much a pro-life Senator.
MARGARET WARNER: You said earlier that he said something to you on the bus, or reporters on the bus. Does he actually sit with the reporters on the bus; does he interact with you? Is he just as candid?
DAN BALZ: Very, very much so. This is in some ways with a throwback to with a much earlier kind of campaign. We're used now to, even those of us who travel with a candidate, to not seeing the candidate that much on the candidate's plane. If we're on the bus, they're generally on another bus. They tend to be rather isolated. Senator McCain's quite the opposite. He sits in the back of the bus where the reporters are. There's kind of a rotating cadre of reporters who are along this week. He comes back, he spends the entire time on every leg sitting back in the back of the bus with reporters. Everything is on the record. He takes any and all questions. There is, as you can imagine, a lot of banter that goes back and forth, and he is very good at that. He is a real wise cracker from his Navy days. But at the same time, he's quite willing to ask -- answer any question, large or small. And it's quite unusual for a candidate.
MARGARET WARNER: It also creates the opportunity for gaffes, doesn't it?
DAN BALZ: It does create the opportunity for gaffes, and Senator McCain is somebody who has on occasion kind of put his foot in his mouth, as he's acknowledged on this trip. But I think he believes that in the long run, people appreciate somebody who is not overly packaged, who is candid, who is honest to a fault, if you want to put it that way, and that he is going to be that kind of candidate.
MARGARET WARNER: Brief last question: He is second in the polls in New Hampshire. How significant do you think that is?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think it's important. The latest polls up here do show him second. One poll shows him a clear second at this point, though Governor Bush still has a healthy lead. But it is still early at this point. I think he believes he's making good progress here.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, thanks very much, Dan.
DAN BALZ: Thank you, Margaret.
JIM LEHRER: Again, the major stories of this Wednesday: Mandatory evacuations were ordered for North Carolina's outer banks as Tropical Storm Dennis hovered offshore; Detroit teachers were on strike, demanding more pay and smaller classes; and the FAA reported flight delays up 20 percent this year and blamed bad weather, more passengers and new traffic control equipment. We'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
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This episode's headline: Airline Delays; Getting a Life; Candid Campaigner. ANCHOR: JIM LEHRER; GUESTS: JANE GARVEY, FAA Administrator; MICHAEL BOYD, Aviation Systems Research; DARRYL JENKINS, George Washington University DAN BALZ, Washington Post; CORRESPONDENTS: TOM BEARDEN; TERENCE SMITH; KWAME HOLMAN;ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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Chicago: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 1999-09-01, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2023,
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