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January 17, 2011

Can you believe prisons now have tanning beds ... in Russia?!?!?!

There is this amusing new prison story, headlined "Notorious Russian prison to get tanning beds," coming from the AP out of Moscow.  Here are the details:

A centuries-old Russian prison notorious for its primitive conditions will soon offer inmates a new perk — tanning beds....

[Viktor] was quoted as saying the tanning beds are meant to compensate for inadequate sunlight in the cells. But inmates will have to pay and at 10 rubles (33 cents) a minute, that's a sizable fee in a country where the average monthly salary is well under $1,000.

The prison's dismal conditions attracted wide attention in 2009 after the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a young lawyer who died of pancreas disease there after inadequate medical care.

January 17, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

"Illinois death penalty decision leaves uncertainty"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective piece from the Chicago Tribune article providing the latest update concerning the limbo state of the death penalty in Illinois.  Here is how the piece starts:

Ten years after Illinois halted executions, the uncertainty over Gov. Pat Quinn's pending decision on whether to end capital punishment for good raises a number of questions about the state's current death penalty cases and the 15 men on death row.

A bill recently passed by the state House and Senate would abolish the death penalty as of July 1, but there are no guarantees the governor will sign it.  Quinn supports the death penalty but has also kept in place the moratorium on capital punishment instituted by a predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, after the death sentences of 13 men were overturned and Ryan concluded the state's death penalty system wasn't working.

Quinn's decision could come any time after the law is certified by the General Assembly, and he's being lobbied hard by death penalty opponents, prosecutors and victim's rights groups.  The situation has created a period of uncertainty for prosecutors and defense attorneys with pending death penalty cases, as well as those on death row.

Some recent related posts:

January 17, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 16, 2011

Notable new paper on the prosecution and sentencing of children for prostitution

Tamar Birckhead has this notable new paper, titled "The 'Youngest Profession': Consent, Autonomy, and Prostituted Children," posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Although reliable estimates do not exist, the data suggests that the number of children believed to be at risk for commercial sexual exploitation in the United States is between 200000 and 300000 and that the average age of entry is between eleven and fourteen, with some as young as nine. The number of prostituted children who are criminally prosecuted for these acts is equally difficult to estimate.  In 2008 -- the most recent year for which data is available -- approximately 206 males and 643 females under age eighteen were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as having been arrested within United States borders for prostitution and commercialized sex.  Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that these numbers reflect only a small fraction of the children who face criminal charges as a result of their prostituted status.  Research also reveals that because most states have laws that hold children criminally liable for 'selling' sex, law enforcement and the courts readily pathologize these youth, a significant percentage of whom are runaways, drug addicted or from low-income homes in which they were neglected and abused.  Statistics additionally suggest that the number of American girls who are sexually exploited is increasing, particularly for those between the ages of thirteen and seventeen.  Likewise, it is estimated that eighty percent of prostituted women began this activity when they, themselves, were younger than eighteen.  Yet, nearly all states can criminally prosecute children for prostitution even when they are too young to legally consent to sex with adults, and very few communities have developed effective programs designed to prevent or intervene in the sexual exploitation of youth.

This Article critically examines the prevalence of laws allowing for the criminal prosecution of minors for prostitution.  It argues that rather than maintain a legal scheme that characterizes and treats such juveniles as willing participants who, if harmed, are merely getting what they deserve, a more nuanced approach must be developed in which -- at a minimum -- criminal liability should be consistent with age of consent and statutory rape laws.  It analyzes the range of ways in which states have addressed the problem of prostituted children, and it highlights those few that have successfully utilized strategies of intervention and rehabilitation rather than prosecution and incarceration.  It contrasts the impact of state versus federal legislation as well as domestic versus international policy in this area and the ways in which these differences serve to perpetuate pernicious stereotypes vis-à-vis youth and crime.  The Article addresses the historical treatment of prostituted children as criminals rather than victims by both American law and society, and critiques contemporary rationales for continuing a punitive approach toward these youth.  The Article explores the conflicting statutory, common law, and colloquial meanings of the terms 'prostitution,' 'consent,' and 'bodily autonomy' as they relate to children and sexuality.  It also considers the extent to which the criminal offenses of prostitution and statutory rape address different sets of harms and explores how gender and sexual orientation are implicated in the discussion.  The Article concludes by highlighting model programs directed at prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation as well as proposing strategies for reform, such as decriminalization and diversion.

January 16, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Is there growing momentum behind death penalty repeal efforts?

The question in the title of this post is motivated in part by the fact that Illinois is just a signature by its Governor away from becoming the 17th state in the US without the death penalty.  But it is also inspired by these recent major articles discussing death penalty repeal efforts afoot in other states:

Of course, modern death penalty reform discussions are not only a one-way ratchet toward abolition.  As this local article explains, "New Mexico death penalty supporters plan to try to bring back capital punishment in the legislative session that starts next week. They've been working on 'repealing the repeal' ever since the state did away with it two years ago, and now they are ready to put it on the agenda for the 60 day session."

January 16, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Real-life drama in China over crime and punishment of toll dodgers

As effectively explained in this BBC article, many fascinating aspects of China's criminal justice system is brought to light in an amazing and still developing story of massive toll evasion.  Here are the details:

The younger brother of a Chinese man sentenced to life in prison for dodging road tolls has turned himself into police, state media reports.  Shi Junfeng said he -- and not his elder brother - had put military number plates on the vehicles to evade tolls of 3.7m yuan (£350,000;$560,000).

The case caused an outcry in China, with many questioning the harsh sentence given to Shi Jianfeng.  The court in Henan province had already ordered a retrial.

Shi Jianfeng had been found guilty last week of evading the fees over a nine-month period while delivering sand and gravel in two trucks.  The court ruled he had used military number plates, meaning the vehicles could avoid paying road tolls. He was sentenced to life in prison, a fine of 2m yuan and the loss of his political rights. He also had his illegal earnings confiscated.

But last Friday, the court in Pingdingshan ordered a retrial of the case, ruling that other people may have been involved. Court official Liu Penghua said the convicted man had claimed he was "manipulated by a relative," the Xinhua news agency reported.

On Saturday night, Shi Junfeng turned himself in to police in Yuzhou City, saying his brother, a farmer, had taken the blame for him.  It appears he had not thought his older brother would be sentenced so severely, telling police he had offered bribes to officials and had been assured he would be released quickly....

The case had generated a furious reaction online in China. Many argued that far more lenient sentences are usually given for more serious crimes.  There were also complaints that road tolls, required on most major highways, are too high for ordinary people to be able to afford.

I find the notion that a Chinese driver could rack up over a half-million dollars in tolls over a nine-month period to be perhaps the most stunning part of this whole story.  I often think tolls going from New Jersey into Manhattan are crazy high, but even the most expensive route is not more than $25 round trip.  One would have to make that costly trip more than fifty times every day to have a toll bill anywhere comparable to what these Chinese brothers racked up.

January 16, 2011 in Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack