Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Praise for Texas justice embracing "Right on Crime" from across the pond
This new BBC article, headlined "Why Texas is closing prisons in favour of rehab," provides a notable example of the rest of the world taking note (and praising) the "right on crime" movement. The piece is authored by a Danny Kruger, a former speechwriter for UK's prime minister David Cameron, and here are excerpts:
Coming from London to spend a couple of days in Texas last month, I was struck most of all by how generous and straightforward everyone was. Talking to all sorts of different people about crime and punishment, the same impression came across: We expect people to do the right thing and support them when they do. When they don't we punish them, but then we welcome them back and expect good behaviour again. It's not naive, it's just clear.
For years that straightforward moral outlook translated into a tough criminal justice system. As in the rest of the US, the economic dislocations of the 1970s, compounded by the crack epidemic in the 1980s, led to a series of laws and penal policies which saw the prison population skyrocket. Texas, for instance, has half the population of the UK but twice its number of prisoners.
Then something happened in 2007, when Texas Republican Congressman Jerry Madden was appointed chairman of the House Corrections Committee with the now famous words by his party leader: "Don't build new prisons. They cost too much." The impulse to what has become the Right on Crime initiative was fiscal conservatism — the strong sense that the taxpayer was paying way too much money to fight a losing war against drugs, mental ill-health and petty criminality.
What Madden found was that too many low-level offenders were spending too long in prison, and not reforming. On the contrary, they were getting worse inside and not getting the help they needed on release. The only response until then, from Democrat as well as Republican legislators, was to build more prisons. Indeed, Mr Madden's analysis suggested that a further 17,000 prisoners were coming down the pipe towards them, requiring an extra $500m (£320m) for new prisons.
But he and his party didn't want to spend more money building new prisons. So they thought of something else — rehab. Consistent with the straightforward Texan manner, the Congressional Republicans did not attempt to tackle what in Britain are known as "the causes of crime" — the socio-economic factors that make people more disposed to offend. Instead, they focused on the individual criminal, and his or her personal choices. Here, they believe, moral clarity and generosity are what's needed.
Though fiscal conservatism may have got the ball rolling, what I saw in Texas — spending time in court and speaking to offenders, prison guards, non-profit staff and volunteers — goes way beyond the desire to save money. The Prison Entrepreneurship Programme, for instance, matches prisoners with businesspeople and settles them in a residential community on release. Its guiding values are Christian and its staff's motives seem to be love and hope for their "brothers", who in turn support the next batch of prisoners leaving jail.
The statutory system is not unloving either. Judge Robert Francis's drugs court in Dallas is a well-funded welfare programme all of its own — though it is unlike any welfare programme most of the 250 ex-offenders who attend it have ever seen. Clean and tidy, it is staffed by around 30 professionals who are intensely committed to seeing their clients stay clean and out of jail, even if that means sending them back to prison for short periods, as Judge Francis regularly does when required....
Immediate, comprehensible and proportionate sanctions are given for bad behaviour, plus accountability to a kind leader and supportive community. This is the magic sauce of Right on Crime.
Far from having to build new jails for the 17,000 expected new inmates, Jerry Madden and his colleagues have succeeded in closing three prisons. I visited one by the Trinity River in Dallas, now ready for sale and redevelopment. They spent less than half the $500 million earmarked for prison building on rehab initiatives and crime is falling faster than elsewhere.
This, then, ticks all the boxes - it cuts crime, saves money and demonstrates love and compassion towards some of the most excluded members of society. It is, in a sense, what conservatives in America and Britain dream of — a realistic vision of a smaller state, where individuals are accountable for their actions and communities take responsibility for themselves and their neighbours. It is a more positive version of the anti-politics — anti-Washington, anti-Westminster — tide that seems to be sweeping the West.
December 3, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, October 27, 2014
Prosecutors in South Africa indicate they plan to appeal Pistorius outcome
As reported in this article, headlined "South Africa prosecutors to appeal against Pistorius sentence," it appears that the Blade Runner is not done running from serious legal difficulties. Here are the bascis:
South Africa’s state prosecutor plans to appeal against Oscar Pistorius’s culpable homicide conviction and five-year prison sentence for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, it said on Monday.
Nathi Mncube, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said the NPA expected to file papers in the next few days. Until the papers were filed, it would not announce the grounds for appeal, it said.
But Pistorius’s conviction for culpable homicide has drawn criticism from some legal commentators. After the athlete, a double-amputee who starred at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, was sentenced last week, there was more controversy when lawyers said he could serve as little as 10 months, or a sixth of the five-year term.
In South Africa, an appeal can only be made on a matter of law, “where we think . . . the judge made an error in interpretation and in the manner in which she applied the law to the facts”, Mr Mncube said.
Pistorius had been charged with premeditated murder after shooting Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate, four times through the locked toilet door in a bathroom at his home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. But Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the prosecution failed to show Pistorius had intent to kill, while saying there was “no basis on which this court could make inferences of why the accused would want to kill the deceased”. Instead, she appeared to believe Pistorius’s version of events, despite describing the 27-year-old as a “poor” and “evasive” witness.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
"How Changes in American Culture Triggered Hyper-Incarceration: Variations on the Tazian View"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Christopher Slobogin now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
American imprisonment rates are far higher than the rates in virtually every Western country, even after taking into account differing rates of crime. The late Professor Andrew Taslitz suggested that at least one explanation for this puzzle is the relative lack of “populist, deliberative democracy” in the United States.
This article, written for a symposium honoring Professor Taslitz, examines that thesis from a comparative perspective, looking in particular at how differences between American and European attitudes toward populism, capitalism, religiosity, racial attitudes and proceduralism may have led to increased incarceration rates. It also tries to explain another puzzle that has received little attention: why these cultural differences, which have existed for some time, only had an impact on incarceration rates after the 1960s.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Graphic representation of female prisoners around the world
I just tripped across this interesting piece and infographic published last month via Forbes. The piece is headlined "Nearly A Third Of All Female Prisoners Worldwide Are Incarcerated In The United States," and here is the text that goes along with the infographic:
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly a third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States of America. There are 201,200 women in US prisons, representing 8.8 percent of the total American prison population.
China comes a very distant second to the United States with 84,600 female prisoners in total or 5.1% of the overall Chinese prison population. Russia is in third position -- 59,000 of its prisoners are women and this comes to 7.8 percent of the total.
Across the world, 625,000 women and children are being held in penal institutions with the female prison population growing on all five continents.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Bladerunner Oscar Pistorius sentenced to five years in prison for killing girlfriend
As reported in this lengthy CNN piece, "Oscar Pistorius' fall from grace culminated Tuesday with a five-year sentence in the shooting death of his girlfriend." Here is more:
The sentence was imposed for the charge of culpable homicide, which in South Africa means a person was killed unintentionally, but unlawfully. Under South African law, he will have to serve at least one-sixth of his sentence -- 10 months -- before he can ask to be placed under correctional supervision, usually house arrest, instead....
During his trial, the double-amputee sprinter often sobbed at the mention of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp's name. He insisted that he mistook her for an intruder when he shot her through a toilet door on Valentine's Day 2013. But there was very little visible reaction from Pistorius as the sentence was read out in the Pretoria court.
Speaking to CNN's Robyn Curnow in the last few weeks before his sentencing, Pistorius told her that he would respect and accept the decision of the court and that he was not afraid of imprisonment. He said he hoped to contribute while in prison by teaching people how to read or start a gym or running club. "Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society," his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, told reporters. "As an uncle, I hope Oscar will start his own healing process as he walks down the path of restoration. As a family, we are ready to support and guide Oscar as he serves his sentence."
The Steenkamp family's lawyer, Dup De Bruyn, said in a statement: "The family is satisfied. They are glad that it is over and are satisfied that justice has been done."
The prosecution had asked for a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for Pistorius. After the ruling Tuesday, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority said it had not yet decided whether to appeal Judge Thokozile Masipa's verdict that he is not guilty of murder. Pistorius' defense had called for a sentence of house arrest and community service. There was no immediate reaction from the defense team on the sentencing. Both sides now have a 14-day period in which they can choose to lodge any appeal, according to CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps....
Giving her reasoning Tuesday, Masipa emphasized that the decision on sentencing would be "mine and mine alone." She pointed out that sentencing is not an exact science but relies on an assessment of elements, including the nature and seriousness of the crime, the personal circumstances of the accused and the interests of society.
She said she would also take into account the factors in sentencing of retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. In any case, she said, "sentencing is about achieving the right balance."
In her final remarks, Masipa dismissed evidence given by probation officer Annette Vergeer that prison would not be able to accommodate Pistorius' disability, saying her testimony was based on outdated information and sketchy. She said Pistorius would not present the prison system with an "insurmountable challenge."
The judge added that she felt that Pistorius' vulnerability had been overemphasized in the evidence given and that his excellent coping strategies -- shown in his ability to compete with able-bodied athletes -- had been overlooked. He would be able to continue treatment for physical problems and mental health issues while in prison, she said.
In terms of the seriousness of the offense, Masipa said Pistorius had shown gross negligence in shooting into a small toilet cubicle, knowing there was someone inside who could not escape. He also knew how to handle firearms, she said, adding that these were "very aggravating" factors.
On the other hand, mitigating factors include that Pistorius is a first offender and remorseful, Masipa said. She also mentioned his contribution to society in giving his time and money to charities and inspiring others with disabilities to believe they could succeed.
Perhaps seeking to preempt criticism from those who'd like to see either a tougher or more lenient sentence, Masipa pointed out that the purpose of the court is to serve the public interest, not make itself popular. She also indicated that her sentence wasn't affected by Pistorius' fame. "It would be a sad day for this country if the impression was to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous," she said.
The judge also highlighted the loss suffered by Steenkamp's family, which has had a negative effect on her father's health. Steenkamp was young, vivacious and full of life at the time of her death, she said. "The loss of life cannot be reversed. Nothing I say or do today can reverse what happened," she said.
Previous related post:
October 21, 2014 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Monday, October 13, 2014
"Will Oscar Pistorius serve any prison time for killing Reeva Steenkamp?"
The question in the title of this post is the first line of this AP article headlined "Factors that may affect if Pistorius spends time in prison." Because I know very little about South African sentencing law and procedure, I found this AP article quite informative, and here are excerpts:
Judge Thokozile Masipa began hearing testimony Monday before deciding what sentence the double-amputee Olympic athlete should serve. Pistorius was acquitted of murder in Steenkamp's shooting death but convicted of a lesser charge of culpable homicide, or killing Steenkamp through negligence. It has a wide range of possible sentences in South Africa, from a fine and no prison time to as much as 15 years in jail....
Judge Masipa will hear testimony from a small number of witnesses called by the defence and then prosecution before deciding on Pistorius' sentence. The defence began presenting witness testimony on Monday, arguing why the judge should be lenient. Prosecutors could call Steenkamp's family members to show that Pistorius should be sent to prison for years because of the suffering he has caused....
Pistorius' lawyers cited what they say is his remorse and previous good character as reasons for a lenient sentence. Defence lawyers began by calling a psychologist who has counselled the athlete since he killed Steenkamp. Dr. Lore Hartzenberg testified that Pistorius was a "broken man" wracked with grief following the shooting, and had lost his reputation, his friends and his career. The defence hopes her testimony -- which focused on what she said was Pistorius' emotional pain following an accidental killing -- will help persuade Masipa that Pistorius is remorseful, has suffered already and shouldn't be sent to prison because he needs ongoing therapy.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel countered that Pistorius was "still alive" and Steenkamp wasn't and that should be considered....
Pistorius' work with charities before the Feb. 14, 2013 shooting was listed extensively by his agent, Peet van Zyl, who was also called by the defence. Van Zyl's testimony was designed to paint the Paralympic champion as a generally good person who had no previous criminal record. He also said that Pistorius had lost all his athletics endorsements because of the court case and had already been punished financially.
A social worker from South Africa's department of correctional services was the only one of the three defence witnesses who testified on the first day of the hearing to suggest a sentence. Joel Maringa said three years of "correctional supervision" would be appropriate, where Pistorius would be partly under house arrest and have to do community service, but would also be able to train and attend athletics meets.
Nel fiercely criticized that suggestion, saying it was "shockingly inappropriate" after Pistorius killed someone. The prosecution, which sought a murder conviction, has insisted that Pistorius should go to prison because of the level of negligence he displayed when he fired four hollow-point bullets through a toilet cubicle door in his home and into a small space without checking who was inside.
Masipa's options are wide-ranging: She could order a fine and a suspended prison sentence, meaning the 27-year-old Pistorius spends no time in jail unless he offends again. But she could also sentence him to up to 15 years in prison. In between those two scenarios, Masipa could order he be put under house arrest for a period. Pistorius could apply for parole after serving half of any prison sentence.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Criticizing the tenure of AG Eric Holder based on the death penalty as a human rights issue
This extended New Republic commentary authored by Mugambi Jouet, somewhat inaccurately titled "What Eric Holder — and Most Americans — Don't Understand About the Death Penalty," takes shots at Holder's specific record on the death penalty:
Attorney General Eric Holder's recent resignation announcement prompted a flurry of assessments on his six years of service under President Obama. He let Wall Street off too easy. He was a hero to the poor. He compromised civil liberties in the name of national security—and defended civil rights better than any attorney general before him. But the debate over Holder’s record has overlooked one of the most important aspects of his legacy. Holder has been profoundly at odds with the rest of the Western world on one of the most significant human rights issues of our time: the death penalty.
All Western democracies except America have abolished capital punishment and consider it an inherent human rights violation. America further stands out as one of the countries that execute the most people. Thirty-nine prisoners were executed by the United States in 2013. While that figure marked a continuing decline in the annual number of U.S. executions, it still placed America fifth worldwide, right behind several authoritarian regimes: China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
No federal prisoner has been executed since 2003, yet Holder’s decisions could ultimately lead this de facto moratorium to end, as he authorized federal prosecutors to pursue capital punishment in several dozen cases. "Even though I am personally opposed to the death penalty, as Attorney General I have to enforce federal law," Holder has argued. Prosecutors actually have the discretion not to pursue the death penalty at all — at the risk of losing popularity — since enforcing the law does not require pursuing capital punishment as opposed to incarceration....
Holder notably approved the decision to seek the death penalty in the federal trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of perpetrating the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 — and whom a majority of Americans want to be executed. Nevertheless, the state of Massachusetts has abolished the death penalty and only 33 percent of Boston residents support executing Tsarnaev as opposed to sentencing him to life in prison without parole. However, Holder’s decisions supporting capital punishment have hardly been limited to terrorism cases. For example, he authorized the recent decision to seek the death penalty for Jessie Con-Ui, a Pennsylvania prisoner accused of murdering a federal correctional officer....
The death penalty is rarely framed as a human rights issue in America, unlike in other Western democracies. That's partly because the principle of human rights plays a very limited role overall in the legal and political debate in the U.S., where "human rights" commonly evoke foreign problems like abuses in Third World dictatorships — not problems at home.
The situation is different on the other side of the Atlantic, where the European Court of Human Rights tackles a broad range of problems facing European states, from freedom of speech to labor rights, discrimination, and criminal justice reform. National human rights commissions also exist in multiple countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, and New Zealand. These bodies focus mostly or exclusively on monitoring domestic compliance with human rights standards. On the other hand, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, an arm of the U.S. Congress, focuses on the human rights records of foreign countries.
The relative absence of human rights as a principle in modern America is remarkable given how U.S. leaders actively promoted the concept in its infancy. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invoked “human rights” in his “Four Freedoms Speech” of 1941. Eleanor Roosevelt was among the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. As the human rights movement progressed in later decades, Martin Luther King said in 1968 that “we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.”
Even though Holder regards King as one of his models — and despite his proposals to make the U.S. penal system less punitive and discriminatory — the nation’s first black attorney general hardly put human rights at the center of his agenda.
The death penalty is far from the only human right issue where America stands apart from other Western democracies. America effectively has the world’s top incarceration rate, with 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. America is likewise virtually alone worldwide in authorizing life imprisonment for juveniles. Its reliance on extremely lengthy periods of solitary confinement has been denounced by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. The extreme punishments regularly meted to U.S. prisoners are generally considered flagrant human rights violations in other Western countries. Nevertheless, Holder argued that America has “the greatest justice system the world has ever known.”
By the same token, no other modern Western democracy has gone as far as America in disregarding international human rights standards as part of anti-terrorism measures. This trend has been epitomized by indefinite detention at Guantanamo and the torture of alleged terrorists under the Bush administration. These practices have sharply divided U.S. public opinion but only a segment of Americans have depicted them as “human rights” abuses....
[T]he limited weight of human rights in the U.S. legal and political debate is not without consequences. Human rights are a far stronger basis to oppose practices like the death penalty or torture than the administrative arguments frequently invoked in America. The human rights argument against such practices is largely based on the premise that they violate human dignity....
Holder's narrow focus on problems with the administration of capital punishment suggests that he is among the many U.S. public officials and reformers who believe they have no duty to assess the “moral” issues regarding the death penalty. Whether this stance is justified or not, it seems quite exceptionally American in the modern Western world. Most contemporary European, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander jurists probably would disagree with the notion that it is not their duty to assess whether executions violate human dignity.
Martin Luther King, who considered the death penalty an affront to human dignity, argued that “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Perhaps Eric Holder — and his boss, Barack Obama — would have been willing to argue that the death penalty is dehumanizing if they did not fear losing popularity.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Reviewing how death is different (but still being used) in Japan
This new piece from The Economist, headlined "The death penalty in Japan: Hanging tough," discusses the on-going debate over capital punishment in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are excerpts:
It is one of the anomalies of Japan’s approach to the death penalty that a stricken conscience can bring the system grinding to a halt. At least two Japanese justice ministers have refused to sign execution orders, most recently Seiken Sugiura, a devout Buddhist who oversaw a 15-month moratorium from 2005 to 2006. But Japan’s new justice minister, Midori Matsushima, seems unburdened by such doubts.
Ms Matsushima, who took office this month, has swatted away demands to review the system. Japan is one of 22 nations and the only developed country — apart from America, where it is falling out of favour — that retains capital punishment. “I don’t think it deserves any immediate reform,” she said last week: in her view the gallows are needed “to punish certain very serious crimes”.
Calls for a review have grown since the release earlier this year of Iwao Hakamada, a 78-year-old who spent 45 years of his life in a toilet-sized cell awaiting execution. A Japanese court said the police evidence that put him behind bars in 1966 was probably fabricated. Mr Hakamada, dubbed the world’s longest-serving death-row prisoner, is awaiting a fresh verdict later this year. Prosecutors have lodged an appeal against his retrial.
Opponents are hoping that the state’s stubborn fight to wheel another elderly man back to the gallows (he is severely ill and suffers from advanced dementia) may trigger debate and a backlash. But critics face an uphill struggle. Japan’s media largely steers clear of the topic. Ms Matsushima points to public support of over 85% on carefully-worded surveys put out by the cabinet: respondents reply to whether execution is “unavoidable if the circumstance demands it”.
Mr Hakamada would not be the first elderly or infirm inmate to be hanged in Japan. On Christmas day in 2006, Fujinami Yoshio, aged 75, was brought to the gallows in the Tokyo Detention Centre in a wheelchair. Even the openly abolitionist Keiko Chiba, who was justice minister from 2009 to 2010, failed to make a dent in the system. In July 2010 she signed and attended two executions in a bid, she said, to start a public discussion that quickly petered out.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Long-incarcerated mass murderer given right to end his life in Belgium
A helpful reader alerted me to this fascinating article from overseas headlined "Serial murderer and rapist, 50, given right to die under controversial Belgian euthanasia laws." Here are excerpts:
A serial murderer and rapist has been given the right to end his life under controversial Belgian euthanasia laws, it has emerged. Frank Van Den Bleeken, 50, has been behind bars for 30 years and has no hope of release because of his intensely violent urges. Now judges in Brussels have agreed that Van Den Bleeken can commit suicide with the help of medics.
Jos Vander Velpen, the prisoner’s lawyer, said: ‘Over recent years, he has been seen by several doctors and psychologists and their conclusion is that he is suffering, and suffering unbearably.’
It will be the first time that a Belgian legal ruling about euthanasia which specifically applies to a serving prisoner has been handed down. It was rubber stamped by the country’s Justice Ministry, which is ultimately responsible for everyone serving time in jail.
In all cases, patients must be conscious and have presented a ‘voluntary, considered and repeated’ request to die. Mr Vander Velpen said his client met all such conditions, and for the past four years had felt he ‘couldn’t stand to live like this any longer and could no longer accept the pain’.
Van Den Bleeken will be transferred from his prison in Bruges to a hospital, where he will be euthanised. Like every other country in the Union, Belgium does not have a death penalty, and technically doctors will only be helping Van Den Bleeken die.
Van Den Bleeken himself said in recent TV documentary: ‘If people commit a sexual crime, help them to deal with it. Just locking them up helps no one — neither the individual, society or the victims. ‘I am a human being, and regardless of what I’ve done, I remain a human being. So, yes, give me euthanasia.’
Despite being a mainly Roman Catholic country, Belgium has always been at the forefront of liberalising euthanasia laws. It made euthanasia legal in 2002, making it only the second country in the world to do so after Holland. Last year alone, Belgium euthanised a record 1,807 people.
Van Den Bleeken has only left prison once in the past three decades — to attend his mother’s funeral. A Belgian justice ministry spokesman said Van Den Bleeken would be euthanised ‘shortly’ at this own request.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the decision to grant Van Den Bleeken a right to die, as evidenced by this companion commentary piece headlined "Why should our sister's killer be allowed to die with dignity when our suffering goes on?". Here is an excerpt of that piece providing some more context:
Van Den Bleeken is the first serving prisoner to be granted the right to die because of psychological torment. Another Belgian inmate was euthanised last year but he suffered from an incurable physical illness. But, as a direct result of the ruling, 15 other Belgian prisoners have already applied for euthanasia, even though the death penalty was abolished in 1996.
The case has renewed controversy about state-sanctioned suicide and raised serious ethical concerns. But it also calls into question the very nature of punishment and whether murderers and rapists should “suffer” for their heinous crimes or get treatment and rehabilitation.
Medics warn that euthanasia must not become an alternative to treatment while prison reformers insist it must not become a back-door return to the death penalty.
The country’s leading euthanasia advocate is also opposed to Van Den Bleeken’s death. Professor Wim Distelmans, chairman of the Belgian Board of Control for Euthanasia ... said: “It is wrong to allow him to end his life like this.” But Nikhil Roy, Director of Programmes at Penal Reform International, said: “While people are in prison it is the responsibility of the prison authorities to provide adequate care and opportunities for rehabilitation. This case highlights the lack of adequate therapy for prisoners and the fact that mental health issues are widespread in prisons around the world.”
September 18, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Greek priest helps poor inmates buy their way out of Greek prisons
This new AP article, headlined "In Greek crisis, priest roams prisons to buy inmates their freedom," reports on what might be viewed as a remarkable "alternative sentencing" program in Greece and the noble role played by a clergy to make the system a bit less economically unfair. Here are the details:
In Greek justice, money talks ...: Some inmates jailed for minor offences are allowed to buy their freedom — at an average rate of five euros per day.
With the rich at a clear advantage, Greek Orthodox priest Gervasios Raptopoulos has devoted his life to paying off the prison terms of penniless inmates.
The soft-spoken 83-year-old with a long white beard and black robes has helped more than 15,000 convicts secure their freedom over nearly four decades, according to records kept by his charity. The Greek rules apply only to people convicted of offences that carry a maximum five-year sentence, such as petty fraud, bodily harm, weapons possession, illegal logging, resisting arrest and minor drugs offences.
His work, however, is getting harder. Gervasios, 83, has seen his charity's funds, which all come from private donations, plummet in Greece's financial crisis. And there has been a sharp rise in inmates who can't afford to pay their way out of prison. "Where people would offer 100 euros ($135), they now give 50 ($67). But that doesn't stop us," he told The Associated Press in an interview.
The crisis, which has worsened already hellish prison conditions, makes his efforts even more pressing. "Our society rejects inmates and pushes them into the margins," he said. "People often say: 'It serves them right.'"
While behind bars, inmates also need money to buy necessities such as toilet paper and soap when the often meagre supplies provided by prison run out. Gervasios helps them, too, either with cash or handouts.
Greece has a prison population of about 13,000 — far above capacity — forcing authorities to cram inmates into police holding cells as they wait for a place in jail. Gervasios' charity allocates up to 500 euros ($675) for each prisoner they help, but the amount needed varies. Sometimes a small sum goes a long way. "Once, we gave a man 8.5 euros, which was what he lacked to gain his freedom," he said....
Many prisoners released by his efforts in Greece are foreigners. If they die in prison, the charity pays for their bodies to be taken home. Since launching the charity in 1978, Father Gervasios has received several state awards, including one of the highest civilian honors granted by the government. The Justice Ministry, responsible for Greece's prisons, is unstinting in its praise.
"For decades now, Father Gervasios Raptopoulos has carried out exceptional work, offering human warmth and solidarity to prisoners," said Marinos Skandamis, the ministry's secretary-general. It is inmates and prison staff who are the most grateful. "We would send him papers concerning prisoners who could be freed with a cash payment, and details on what they were in prison for," said Costas Kapandais, a former governor at Greece's Komotini and Diavata prisons. "He didn't turn down a single request."
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Will Canada's courts continue to strike down mandatory minimums as unconstitutional?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent commentary in a Canadian paper sent my way by a helpful reader. The piece by Lisa Kerr is headlined, "Mandatory minimums for drug crimes have no future in Canada: As the B.C. Court of Appeal prepares to hear the first major challenge to mandatory minimums, there’s reason to think the policy will be rightly short-lived." Here are excerpts:
This week, the B.C. Court of Appeal hears the first major challenge to the latest symptom of a punitive plague: mandatory incarceration for a drug crime. The defendant, 25-year-old Joseph Lloyd, lives in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, where he struggles with addiction and regularly interacts with the court system. In the past, local judges could use their expertise to craft an individualized punishment for people like Lloyd. Community supervision, drug programming, or specific amounts of jail time could target his specific circumstances.
New legislation compels judges to impose a minimum one-year prison term on all individuals who meet a handful of criteria. Judges can no longer consider whether it is in the public interest to incarcerate someone like Lloyd, or for how long. They can no longer consider whether a person will lose housing or employment. While one year in a chaotic jail is unlikely to help a struggling individual to recover stability, that is a judge’s only option unless the law is struck down.
In the United States, the removal of discretion from sentencing judges is the central cause of its famously high rate of incarceration. There are nine million prisoners in the world. Over two million of them are in the U.S....
The arrival of mandatory sentences does not herald the “Americanization” of Canadian crime policy. The deep principles of our criminal justice system cannot be dismantled overnight. Our prosecutors are not a bloodthirsty lot — they are largely anonymous and professional public servants. Unlike many of their American counterparts, Canadian prosecutors are not subject to elections and public scrutiny. They are better positioned to pursue a broad notion of the public interest, rather than just long prison sentences.
Canadian judges are also likely to resist interference by politicians who are detached from the daily reality of human misery faced in criminal courts. And they have the tools to do so. While Canada and the U.S. have identical language in the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” the prohibition has been interpreted very differently in the courts.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for a third offence of stealing golf clubs. In 1987, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the only previous attempt at automatic incarceration for drug crime: a seven-year term for drug trafficking. So far, mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offences are unconstitutional in this country.
Canadian institutions are likely to resist this untimely American policy transplant. There is no collapse of faith in our courts, there is no crime wave, and there is no Southern Strategy. Joseph Lloyd should encounter a court system that is free to encounter him.
Friday, May 23, 2014
"Treating Prisoners With Dignity Can Reduce Crime"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new National Journal commentary authored by Nicholas Turner and John Wetzel. The piece's subheadline is "In Europe, prisoners work for real wages and even cook for themselves. And when they leave prison, they don't come back." And here are excerpts:
It sounds like the first line of a joke: "Three state corrections teams and some experts who are old hands at visiting prisons go to meet their warden counterparts in Germany and the Netherlands in mid-January to see what they could learn."
But it's a true story — and what high-level delegations from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania learned through the Vera Institute of Justice's European-American Prison Project is no laughing matter. What we learned, in fact, has serious and timely boots-on-the-ground implications....
For those of us who visited Germany and The Netherlands, the approach to sentencing and the prison philosophy we saw astonished and inspired us. Not only are far fewer people imprisoned, but even those who have committed serious violent crimes serve far shorter sentences.
In these European countries, prisons are organized around the belief that, since virtually all prisoners will return to their communities, it is better to approach their incarceration with conditions as close to "normal" as possible — with the addition of treatment, behavioral interventions, skills training, and needed education — and to remove them from communities for the shortest possible time so that institutional life does not become their norm.
Inmates live in rooms and sleep in beds, not on concrete or steel slabs with thin padding. Inmates have privacy — correctional officers knock before entering — they wear their own clothes, and can decorate their space as they wish. They cook their own meals, are paid for work that they do, and have opportunities to visit family, learn skills, and gain education. Inmates are required to save money to ensure that they are not penniless upon release. There are different expectations for their corrections officers — who are drawn primarily from the ranks of lawyers, social workers, and mental health professionals — to be part of a "therapeutic culture" between staff and offenders, and consequently receive more training and higher pay. There is little to no violence — including in communal kitchens where there are knives and other "dangerous" implements. And their maximum time in any kind of punitive solitary is eight hours.
Prison policies grounded in the belief that prisoners should be treated with dignity were startlingly effective — and have eminently pragmatic implications here at home. The adverse social and economic outcomes for former prisoners in the U.S. are severe — and they are concentrated in communities that are already struggling mightily. With 95 percent of our nation's incarcerated individuals eventually returning home from prison — and 40 percent going right back to prison within three years — we would do well to heed the strategies used in these nations to teach prisoners how to be good and productive citizens that can rebuild their communities....
Are there challenges to wholesale reform? Of course. Money. Infrastructure. Strains of racial division borne of our history and heterogeneity. And, cultural differences especially as relates to violence may mean that some European practices may not translate smoothly to the U.S. Yet we are at a moment of potential for significant shifts. It will require legislation and policy change, including rethinking sentencing for lower offenses and reducing the time for those who must be in prison. But the notion that we should strive to create an environment within our prisons conducive to our goal — to return good citizens to our communities — is a challenge we can and must meet.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Corruption nets former Israeli prime minister a six-year prison sentence
As reported here via CNN, Israel's former "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison for taking bribes while mayor of Jerusalem." Here are more details concerning this high-profile crime and punishment from the promised land:
Olmert was also fined 1 million shekels (about $289,000), Israeli state radio IB reported.
Olmert was convicted in March of receiving about $161,000 in bribes related to a controversial Jerusalem housing project called Holyland. The judge acquitted Olmert on a third count of bribery. The developer of Holyland, Hillel Cherney, had been previously convicted of bribing Olmert and other high-level officials in exchange for Holyland approvals.
Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003. Olmert, an attorney who in 1973 became the youngest person ever elected to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009. He announced his resignation shortly after police recommended corruption charges against him.
In August 2012, he was convicted of breach of trust and acquitted on two corruption-related charges after a trial that lasted nearly three years. He was given a 3-month suspended jail sentenced and fined about $19,000 in that case....
Prosecutors accused him of double-billing government agencies for travel, taking cash from an American businessman in exchange for official favors and acting on behalf of his former law partner's clients.
Friday, May 09, 2014
"Legal Institutions and Social Values: Theory and Evidence from Plea Bargaining Regimes"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new empirical paper by Yehonatan Givati now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
How do social values shape legal institutions across countries? To address this question I focus on one important legal institution -- the use of plea bargaining in criminal cases. I develop a model in which the optimal scope of plea bargaining depends on social values. Specifically, a lower social emphasis on ensuring that innocent individuals are not punished, and a greater social emphasis on ensuring that guilty individuals are punished, lead to a greater use of plea bargaining. Using unique cross-country data on social preferences for punishing the innocent versus letting the guilty go free, as well as an original coding of plea bargaining regimes across countries, I obtain results that are consistent with the model.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Is SCOTUS now no longer all that interested in criminal justice issues?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this chart concerning the make-up of the Supreme Court's merits docket this Term from the latest Stat Pack put together by the folks at SCOUTSblog. The chart highlights that nearly 75% of the merits docket this Term involves civil cases. In addition, this SCOTUSblog list of cert grants for October 2014 reveals that only one of nine grants for the next Term involves a criminal law issue (and that issue, as noted here, seems stunningly minor).
When Justices Alito and Sotomayor first joined the Court, it seemed as though they brought some extra interest and extra attention to the criminal justice part of the SCOTUS docket. But of late it seems as though the Court is more eager to avoid rather than take up some important criminal justice matters.
Notably, there are any number of big lurking criminal justice issues relating to the Second (right to carry), Fourth (GPS tracking), Sixth (applications of Apprendi and Booker) and Eighth Amendments (applications of Graham and Miller). I have an inkling that some of these matters will end up on the October 2014 docket, but this post perhaps highlights that I have a hankering for some more major criminal cases to be on the docket.
Saturday, April 05, 2014
"Is the Death Penalty Starting to Make a Global Comeback?"
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing Slate commentary. Here are excerpts:
An Indian court today sentenced three men to death for the horrific gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai last year. They are the first to be sentenced under India’s tough new anti-rape law.
The sentence hammers home something that’s been obvious for some time now: After appearing to be on the verge of abolishing the death penalty entirely, India has now firmly rejoined the ranks of the world’s executioners. It’s one of a number of countries — including some of the world’s largest democracies — that have recently re-embraced capital punishment.
A 1983 Indian Supreme Court decision allows for capital punishment in only the “rarest of the rare” cases, and from 2004 to 2011 the country didn’t carry out any executions at all. From 1995 to 2012, it carried out only three. Then in 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the last surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, was hanged in secret in what appeared to be an unusually swift and haphazard execution. The Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru was hanged under similar circumstances last year. Seventy-two people in total were sentenced to die in India last year, including four of the men involved in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi in 2012 — a case that shocked the country and prompted the drafting of laws aimed at speeding up the prosecution of rapists.
India’s not the only country heading in this direction. Amnesty International’s 2013 death penalty report noted that executions were up 15 percent last year — and that’s not even counting China, where the number of executions is a state secret. Just three countries — Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia — accounted for 80 percent of executions, but to my mind, the most interesting recent trend has been been the countries that, like India, have been bucking the general global movement away from the death penalty.
In 2012 Japan carried out its first executions since 2010. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, four rounds of “secret executions” have taken place. Nigeria carried out its first executions in seven years last year and Indonesia its first in five years. Vietnam resumed them after an 18-month pause with the execution of seven people by lethal injection.
It’s true that in terms of number of countries, the world is moving away from the death penalty. According to Amnesty’s numbers, 37 countries had the death penalty in 1994, compared with 22 today. In Europe and Latin America, the practice has essentially been entirely banished and an increasing number of African countries are reviewing their laws.
On the other hand, with the exception of Brazil, where it’s banned, and Russia, where it’s legal but abolished in practice, the world’s 10 biggest countries are all death penalty states. With India, Japan, and Indonesia rejoining the U.S., the world’s largest democracies are death penalty countries and the practice has heavy popular support in all of them.
UPDATE: This interesting international article highlights related death penalty developments under the headline "Vietnam is sentencing corrupt bankers to death, by firing squad."
Thursday, March 27, 2014
"Global Executions Rise With Help From Iran and Iraq"
The title of this post is the headline of this new piece via Time reporting on new worldwide execution data assembled by Amnesty International. Here are the basics:
A steep rise in the number of people executed in Iran and Iraq caused the total number of executions worldwide to rise 15 percent last year, Amnesty International said Thursday. Almost 80 percent of all known executions were recorded in only three countries: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In 2013, the number of executions in Iraq went up to 169, while Iran saw them rise to 369. At least 778 people were put to death in 2013, the rights group said, compared to 682 in 2012.
China is still thought to execute the most people, though exact numbers are kept secret. Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia and Vietnam last year all resumed their use of capital punishment. But there has been a general decline in the total number of countries using capital punishment in the last 20 years. Many countries who executed people in 2012 did not do so in 2013, including Gambia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Notable (and amusing?) account of an execution method gone to the dogs
In various settings, some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitivie in its use of imprisonment compared to all other nations in the world and also that the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty. And advocates for sentencing and corrections reform (myself included) sometimes contend that the US ought to try to learn from the policies and practices of other nations. These realities came to mind when I read this notable recent article sent my way by a helpful reader reporting on a recent high-profile sentencing and punishment in another part of the world:
The execution of Jang Song Thaek, the No. 2 man in North Korea, took Beijing by surprise and will adversely affect bilateral relations. Beijing's displeasure is expressed through the publication of a detailed account of Jang's brutal execution in Wen Wei Po, its official mouthpiece, in Hong Kong, on Dec 12.
According to the report, unlike previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides. Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called "quan jue", or execution by dogs.
The report said the entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials. The horrifying report vividly depicted the brutality of the young North Korean leader. The fact that it appeared in a Beijing-controlled newspaper showed that China no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime.
Amusingly, as this new Reuters piece reports, it now appears that the "international media frenzy over reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle had been executed by throwing him to a pack of dogs appears to have originated as satire on a Chinese microblogging website." Here is more:
One of the pitfalls of reporting on North Korea is that few independent media have offices there and visiting media are tightly controlled in a country which ranks among the lowest in global surveys of press freedom. Because of the lack of first hand information, many lurid stories about the country gain credence.
Trevor Powell, a Chicago-based software engineer, who first spotted the link to the Weibo post and reported it on his own blog said that analysts and experts were "still all missing the obvious fact that the original source of the Wen Wei Po story was a tweet from a known satirist or someone posing as him/her." Powell blogged about the post here.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
New guidelines for sentencing sex offenses promulgated in the UK
This notable new story from across the pond, headlined "Sex offences sentencing overhaul: More emphasis on long-term impact on victims as celebrities have fame used against them," highlights that sentencing rules in other nations also often get ratcheted up following public concern about too lenient sentences in high-profile cases. Here are the basics:
Celebrities who commit sex-offences could see their public image used against them when being sentenced as part of an overhaul of decade-old sentencing guidance for judges in England and Wales. Sex-offenders who are considered to have abused their position of power may be handed longer jail sentences when the guidelines come into effect in April 2014.
Previous “good character” may be considered as an aggravating factor when it has been used to commit a sexual offence, new guidelines drawn up by the Sentencing Council said. The guidelines cover more than 50 offences including rape, child sex offences and trafficking and focus more on the long-term and psychological impact on victims than the previous 2004 guidelines. They also introduce a higher starting point for sentences for offences such as rape of 15 years.
The new guidance was drawn up by the Sentencing Council after a public consultation and research was undertaken with victims groups, medical practitioners, police, NGOs, magistrates and judges. “Across the justice system, changes have been made to ensure that the alleged offenders' behaviour and the context and circumstances of the incident are scrutinised, rather than the credibility of the victim,” Chief Constable David Whatton, national policing lead for violence and public protection, said....
The guidelines come following a series of high-profile sex offence cases, including revelations about disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile, that lead to high numbers of sex attack victims coming forward. Cases involving grooming gangs in Rochdale and Oxford separately raised questions about social care and attitudes held towards victims....
While the Sentencing Council can recommend a starting point, offenders can still only receive the maximum sentence available at the time the offence was committed.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
So many notable marijuana stories and so little time to blog 'em all
As my my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar winds down with students working on final papers, local, state, national and international stories concerning modern marijuana reform efforts is really starting to heat up. Here are headlines and links from just today's latest news of note:
From CNN here, "Uruguay to legalize marijuana, Senate says"
From the Denver Post here, "Colorado officials, pot businesses clash over inventory tracking"
From ESPN magazine here, "Smoke screen: It's time for the NFL to embrace a new pain reliever: marijuana"
From the Huffington Post here, "Polls Suggest California Is Poised To Legalize Marijuana In 2014"
From Politicker here, "Pols Begin Push to Legalize Marijuana in New York State"
From the San Jose Mercury News here, "San Jose medical marijuana crackdown begins after council vote on regulations"
I would be interested in reader perspectives on which of these stories seems the most notable and/or consequential for sentencing law and policy in particular or for American criminal justice more generally.
Cross posted in part at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform