Thursday, April 04, 2013

Perfect retributivism?: Saudi court orders paralysis as punishment for assault that resulted in paralysis

A colleague sent me this remarkable international sentencing story, headlined "Surgical Paralysis Ordered in Saudi Arabia as Punishment for Teenage Assault: Spine-for-a-spine punishment has mother 'frightened to death'."  Here are the basics:

Ali Al-Khawahir, 24, is awaiting court-ordered surgical paralysis in Saudi Arabia for an assault he committed when he was 14 years old, according to news reports.

Al-Khawahir has reportedly spent 10 years in prison since stabbing a friend in the spine during a fight. The wound left his friend paralyzed.  The Saudi legal system allows eye-for-an-eye punishments.

The convicted man's mother told Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat that the family is seeking help raising $270,000 in "blood money," which in Saudi Arabia can be requested by a crime's victim -- or victim's family in cases of murder -- in exchange for punishment. "We don't have even a tenth of this sum," she said, according to a translation by The Guardian....

Amnesty International condemned the sentence as "outrageous" in a statement released this week. "Paralysing someone as punishment for a crime would be torture," said Ann Harrison, the organization's Middle East and North Africa deputy director. "That such a punishment might be implemented is utterly shocking."  Tooth extractions, said Amnesty, have also been ordered in Saudi Arabia.

Israeli news website Ynet reports that 13 years ago a Saudi hospital gouged out an Egyptian man's eye as punishment for an acid attack that injured another man. A similar sentence for an Indian man six years later was set aside after international outrage.

If victims do not seek "blood money" or perpetrators cannot afford to pay the amount requested, the sentence is carried out.

Though I never want to be accused of defending this seemingly brutal form of retributivist punishment, I cannot help but note that a sentence of LWOP (especially if it involves extended confinement in a supermax-type prison) could and would in some cases be more limiting of a offender's freedom than being confined to a wheelchair for life.  And, of course, there are many (perhaps thousands) of folks serving LWOP sentences in US prisons for crimes less severe than aggravated assault leading to permanent paralysis. (Recall that Terrance Graham was serving an LWOP in Florida for robbery offenses committed while a teenager until the US Supreme Court decided the sentence was unconstitutional.)

As should be obvious, I am not trying to make the case for either paralysis or LWOP as justifiable punishments, but rather I am trying to suggest that some reasons we may find this court-ordered lifetime confinement to a wheelchair os horrific ought also give us reason to be deeply troubled by court-ordered lifetime confinement to a cage.  More broadly, I mean for this story and my headline to highlight that an aggressive commitment to the deontological punishment philosophy of retributivism may make it difficult to assail, at least in theory, the distinctive punishment ordered by the Saudi court in this case.

April 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Friday, March 01, 2013

"Chinese TV Special on Executions Stirs Debate"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times article, which gets started this way:

During a two-hour television broadcast that was part morality play, part propaganda tour de force, the Chinese government on Friday sent four foreign drug traffickers to their deaths after convicting them of killing 13 Chinese sailors two years ago as they sailed down the Mekong River through Myanmar.

Although the live program ended shortly before the men were executed by lethal injection, it became an instantly polarizing sensation, with viewers divided on whether the broadcast was a crass exercise in blood lust or a long-awaited catharsis for a nation outraged by the killings in October 2011.  Some critics said the program recalled an era not long ago when condemned prisoners were paraded through the streets before being shot in the head.

“Rather than showcasing rule of law, the program displayed state control over human life in a manner designed to attract gawkers,” Han Youyi, a criminal law professor, wrote via microblog.  “State-administered violence is no loftier than criminal violence.”  One prominent rights lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, insisted that the show, by the national broadcaster CCTV, violated Chinese criminal code by making a spectacle of the condemned.  “I found it shocking,” he said in an interview.

The program largely focused on Naw Kham, the Burmese ringleader of a drug gang who was accused of orchestrating the brutal execution of the sailors and then making the crime appear drug related.  In a nation where millions work overseas, sometimes in dangerous corners of the world, the killings were especially unsettling.  Last April, six men, including Mr. Naw Kham, were apprehended in Laos by a team of investigators that included officers from China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Mr. Naw Kham and his accomplices were convicted last November during a two-day trial in China’s southwest Yunnan Province.  The condemned men, including a Laotian, a Thai and a third of “unknown nationality,” reportedly confessed to the crime.

The two other men who escaped execution received long prison terms.  Last month a Chinese public security official told a newspaper that Beijing had considered using a drone strike to kill Mr. Naw Kham but later decided to capture him alive.  Given the considerable viewership on Friday, that decision proved to be a public relations coup.

The program included interviews with triumphant police officers, images of the condemned men in shackles and the sort of blustery talking heads that would be familiar to American cable television audiences.  The graphic elements that flashed behind the CCTV news anchor featured the tagline “Killing the Kingpin.”...

In a commentary posted on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, CCTV defended the program, saying it demonstrated China’s commitment to justice.  “There were no glimpses of the execution.  We only saw the drug ringleaders’ weaknesses and fear of death,” it said.  “In contrast to brutal murder by his gang, the methodical court trial and humane injections have shown the dignity and civilizing effects of rule of law.”

Shortly before the men were led from their cells to the van that would take them to the death chamber, a reporter asked Mr. Naw Kham to talk about his family and then taunted him by showing him photos of the victims’ relatives.  “I want to raise my children and have them educated,” Mr. Naw Kham said with a faint smile on his face.  “I don’t want to die.”

I think one could have lots distinct reactions to this notable effort to make more public and prominent the administration of capital justice in China.  But, especially in light of on-going US controversies concerning drone warfare, I find especially interesting the report that this programming was only made possible because China decided not  using a drone strike to kill Mr. Naw Kham while he was in another country.  I wonder if folks who are most troubled by the US use of drone strikes will be quick to praise China for employing a notable different (and much more public and transparent) means to achieve a form of international justice.

March 1, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Television | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Doesn't the new USSC report necessarily rebut any appellate "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline child porn sentences?

Regular readers know that I have never been a fan of the so-called "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences adopted by some circuit courts after Booker .  This is because, despite its repeated reference and application in the circuits which have adopted it, there has yet to be any appellate rulings which explores — or, for that matter, even expressly discusses — when and how this “presumption” can be rebutted on appeal of a within-guideline sentence and what might be the legal consequences of any such (phantom) rebuttal. In actuality, this purported "presumption" is really just the means some circuits use to declare that any and every within-guideline sentence is functionally immune from substantive reasonableness review: notably, in the eight+ years since Booker, not a single within-guideline sentence has ever been found substantively unreasonable in the circuits that have embraced this so-called “presumption.”

That I said, I remain ever hopeful that those circuits which embrace the so-called "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences will try to give some sensible and functional meaning to this appellate review standard. And, as the question in the title of this post suggest, I think the US Sentencing Commission's new report on federal child pornography sentencing (basics here), provides a unique opportunity to give the review standard some real meaning. I come to this conclusion after seeing this key passage (from p. xviii) in the executive summary of the new report:

The current sentencing scheme in §2G2.2 places a disproportionate emphasis on outdated measures of culpability regarding offenders’ collecting behavior and insufficient emphases on offenders’ community involvement and sexual dangerousness.  As a result, penalty ranges are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders. The guideline thus should be revised to more fully account for these three factors and thereby provide for more proportionate punishments.

In short, the US Sentencing Commission is saying that the current federal guidelines for child pornography are broken because they give too much significance to some offense factors and too little to others, and thus guideline-calculated ranges for child porn offenses are "too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders." Put even more directly, the USSC is here declaring that the existing child porn guidelines are not a reasonable means to ensure just, effective and proportionate punishment.

This basic reality in turn prompts my query, which is designed to promote circuits which generally apply the "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences to now recognize (and expressly hold) that this appellate presumption does not apply in any case involving the child porn guidelines. In saying this, I am not asserting that this new USSC report necessarily connoted that any and all within-guideline child porn sentence must be declared (or even presumed) substantively reasonable. But I am asserting that, because the USSC has now clearly declared that the existing guidelines now set forth "penalty ranges [that] are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders," it would be both unjust and obtuse for a circuit court to now presume any within-guideline child porn sentence is substantively reasonable.

Recent related post:

February 27, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Japan's new government embraces death penalty via three new executions

As reported in this new piece from The Guardian, headlined " Japan executions resume with three hangings: Hopes dashed of reprieve under Shinzo Abe's government with first sentences carried out since September 2012," Japan new government carried out its first set of executions this week.  Here are details on the latest executions and concerning Japan's recent capital punishment history:

Japan has carried out three executions -- the first since the country's conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was elected last December, and a sign that Tokyo will defy international pressure to abolish the death penalty.

The justice ministry said the executions were carried out in the early hours of Thursday in three different locations.  One of the condemned men, Kaoru Kobayashi, had been sentenced to death for the abduction, sexual assault and murder of a seven-year-old schoolgirl in 2004.  He sent a photograph of the murdered girl to her mother.

The executions, the first since September 2012, could signal a return to more regular hangings under the current justice minister, Sadakazu Tanigaki.  "I ordered the executions after giving them careful consideration," Tanigaki told reporters.  "These were extremely cruel cases in which the victims had their precious lives taken away for very selfish reasons."

Amnesty International Japan condemned the executions. "The Japanese government cannot be excused from abiding by international human rights standards, just by citing opinion among the public," it said in a statement.  Opinion polls put support for capital punishment among the Japanese at about 80%.

Earlier this year Tanigaki indicated he would have no hesitation in signing execution orders; some previous holders of the post had refused to approve them, leading to a de facto moratorium.  "I will have to do what needs to be done according to the rule of law," he told journalists, adding that the secrecy surrounding hangings would continue.  Inmates are given very little notice before they are led to the gallows and their families are informed only after the executions have taken place.  "Even death row inmates have guarantees of privacy and we have to consider the feelings of their relatives," Tanigaki said. "I don't think it is necessarily a good idea to release more information."

At the end of last year Japan had 133 inmates on death row, the highest number since records were first kept in 1949.  They include Shoko Asahara, leader of the doomsday cult behind the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in which 13 people died and thousands were made ill.

The previous government, led by the left-of centre Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), executed nine people during its three years and three months in office.  That included an 18-month period from July 2010 in which no hangings took place.  In the three years to 2008 there were 28 executions under LDP administrations.

The DPJ raised hopes among abolitionists in 2010 when it established a panel to look into Japan's use of capital punishment but the body was disbanded without reaching a conclusion in January 2012.

February 21, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Just Prisons: What Would Jesus Do?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy commentary at The Huffington Post authored by Ron Nikkel, who is the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. The piece provides a critical religious and international perspective on incarceration and here is an excerpt:

Many people simply take prisons for granted, accepting them as a fact of life for a safe society or at worst being somewhat of a necessary "evil" for justice to be served.  The history of prisons is checkered with jails and prisons being used both as unjust instruments of political, social, economic, and ironically religious coercion and control; and in other times and places being used as a rather blunt instrument deemed to serve the course of justice.  However, the more I have studied the impact of prisons on the lives of people, the more I see prisons as one of the most confusing, irrational and socially destructive institutions ever devised by humankind. Prisons cannot ever be equated with justice being done.  Prisons by themselves do not equate to justice.  While prisons may be useful for restraining some offenders and preventing others from committing further crimes whilst they are locked up, most offenders, their families and communities do not benefit from imprisonment. The overall ecology of imprisonment is as counterproductive as dousing a fire with fuel.

February 12, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Indonesia sentences British woman to death for drug smuggling"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable international sentencing story which I suspect will get a significant measure of worldwide attention for various reasons.  Here are the details:

A 56-year-old British woman caught smuggling blocks of cocaine in her suitcase has been sentenced to death in Indonesia.  Prosecutors in Bali had asked for a 15-year sentence for Lindsay June Sandiford, who was arrested last May carrying what officials said was cocaine worth an estimated $2.6 million.

But a panel of judges opted Tuesday to hand down the death penalty.  Their decision was based on the defendant having shown no regret for what she did, Indonesian state news agency Antara reported.

Sandiford, from northeast England, was found to have blocks of cocaine weighing 4.7 kilograms (10.4 pounds) in her suitcase when she arrived on the island of Bali in May, the court heard.

"We were surprised by the decision, because we never expected the death penalty," Ezra Karo Karo, a lawyer acting for Sandiford, is quoted by Antara as saying.  He said the judge did not consider mitigating circumstances in his client's case, such as that she acted under the threat of violence to her family, the news agency reported.

The UK Foreign Office confirmed the sentence but said only that it would continue to provide consular assistance.   "The UK remains strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances," a Foreign Office statement said.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has strict laws against drug trafficking.   The head of Bali's Customs and Excise Agency monitoring division, Made Wijaya, warned at the time of her arrest that Sandiford could face execution if convicted.

"The main reason is because narcotics can massively endanger the young and, thus, whoever is caught with drugs should be severely punished.  If three people can consume one gram of cocaine, then this operation has potentially saved up to 14,000 lives," he said....

Any appeal for Sandiford must be filed within 14 days....  Sandiford's lawyer told Antara that it was likely that his client would appeal the sentence.

January 22, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 05, 2013

"Mexico considers marijuana legalization after ballot wins in U.S."

The title of this post is the headline of this new Los Angeles Times article, which gets started this way:

Forgive the Mexicans for trying to get this straight: So now the United States, which has spent decades battling Mexican marijuana, is on a legalization bender?

The same United States that long viewed cannabis as a menace, funding crop-poisoning programs, tearing up auto bodies at the border, and deploying sniffer dogs, fiber-optic scopes and backscatter X-ray machines to detect the lowly weed?

The success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington in November has sparked a new conversation in a nation that is one of the world's top marijuana growers: Should Mexico, which has suffered mightily in its war against the deadly drug cartels, follow the Western states' lead?

Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, opposes legalization, but he also told CNN recently that the news from Washington and Colorado "could bring us to rethinking the strategy."

Such rethinking has already begun. Shortly after the approval of the U.S. ballot measures, the governor of Colima state, Mario Anguiano, floated the idea of a legalization referendum for his small coastal state.  In the Mexican Congress, Fernando Belaunzaran, a lawmaker with the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, has introduced a national legalization bill.  The cartels probably derive 20% to 25% of their drug export revenue from marijuana, and Belaunzaran contends that legalization will eat into profit that allows the cartels to buy the advanced weapons that are the cause of much bloodshed.

January 5, 2013 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, October 29, 2012

"China Sentences Man To Year In Jail For Ringing Exam Bell 5 Minutes Early"

The title of this post is the headline of this (amusing?) article which tells a story that is arguably not quite as bad as it sounds or maybe actually even worse.  Here are the details:

A man in the central Chinese province of Hunan was sentenced to a year in prison for improperly administering the nation's ultra-competitive national college entrance exam, according to multiple reports.

Xiao Yulong, now a former employee of the high school in which the exam was administered, rang the bell and ended the exam four minutes and 48 seconds early, which disrupted the test for approximately 1,000 students, according to the Xinhua news agency.

A written statement issued by the county people's court on October 26 said that Xiao, 54, "was careless in his work and mistakenly rang the bell too early, resulting in adverse social impact."   He was officially sentenced to one year in jail with a one-year reprieve for negligence. However, the one-year reprieve means he will likely serve "either very little or no time inside," Reuters reports.

Thousands of students and parents had gathered in protest against the teacher's actions at the local ministry of education and the school prior to Xiao's sentencing.

The reported reprieve suggests that Xiao Yulong was ultimately just given relative a slap on the wrist; yet it is still remarkable and disturbing that an official's negligent test administration became the subject of a criminal prosecution.  Bringing this story back to the US, perhaps there is a lesson here for politicians worried about underperforming public school systems and competing in the global market with China.  Maybe mayors like Rahm Emanuel need to start advocating for jail time for negligent teachers like in China when facing off with teachers' unions (as public school battles rage on in Chicago and elsewhere).

October 29, 2012 in Offense Characteristics, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, September 24, 2012

Notable contrasts between Irish and US sentencing responses to child porn possession offenses

The Irish Examiner has this notable new piece, headlined "Sentences contrast in Ireland and US," discussing the very different punishment schemes for child porn downloaders in two not-so-different nations.  Here is how the piece gets started:

What is an acceptable sentence for the possession of child pornography? That’s downloading and viewing the images, not being physically present when the abuse was carried out and the images made.

Consider two cases which progressed through the courts on opposite sides of the Atlantic within a year of each other.

In May, a British national, Simeon Betts, appeared in court in Ireland charged with a stash of child pornography which included 50 videos. The material found on three laptops included the rapes of children as young as four, and gardaí said the level of abuse was of the "upmost scale". Adult males were filmed raping the children, and in one instance an animal also featured in the abuse. For the possession of such sickening material, Betts, aged 45, was sentenced at Limerick Circuit Court to four years in prison, with the final two years suspended.

Now consider the case of Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca, a 26-year-old who appeared in a Florida court room in November. Vilca had been caught with a significant stash of images — he faced 454 counts. Some of the videos and pictures showed boys aged between six and 12 years engaged in sexual activity with adults and each other. For possessing the images, Vilca was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole....

These two cases show the extremes in which different jurisdictions view the crime of child pornography — and how the leniency or severity are both subject to significant scrutiny among their populations.

In America, the US Sentencing Commission is reviewing the sentencing guidelines for the crime. A survey of the country’s federal judges even found that 70% thought the sentences were too high. Many possession offences in the US carry a minimum tariff of five years and the average sentence handed down is seven years.

Here, sentencing for child pornography crimes falls under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998. That legislation states that, for producing or distributing child pornography, the maximum sentence is 14 years in prison. For possession, the maximum sentence is five years.

September 24, 2012 in Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Monday, September 10, 2012

After high-profile child rapes, Koreans talk of physical castration and harsher sentencing for sex offenders

This news report from Korea, which is headlined "How should Korea combat pedophilia?", provides a useful reminder that America is not exceptional in its intense sentencing policy response to high-profile sex offenses against children.  Here are excerpts:

The kidnap and rape of a 7-year-old girl in Naju, South Jeolla Province, earlier this month has reopened the debate on how to deal with society’s most reviled criminals. Like the case of Cho Doo-soon, who brutally raped an 8-year-old girl in 2008, Ko Jong-seok’s heinous act has sparked a raft of proposals from lawmakers and law enforcement to deal with those who prey on children. In the days after the attack, the National Police Agency announced one month of increased police patrols and a crackdown on child pornography, while a lawmaker from the Saenuri Party, Rep. Park In-sook, proposed a bill that would allow for the physical castration of child rapists.

“How much these children suffer is unbelievably much, much more than the penalty they (the perpetrators) receive from the judge,” Park, a cardiologist by profession, told The Korea Herald on Friday.  Park rejected the suggestion that the procedure would be at odds with the principles of a civilized society, adding that it has few side effects and does not even require a general anesthetic.

“These children live with permanent damage, physically, mentally, and psychologically, neurologically … and economically … So if you compare the human rights of these criminals with the victims, whose human rights are more important? Who should be protected? It is just incomparable,” she said, pointing out that Finland, the Czech Republic and Germany, among other countries, allow the practice.

Park, who has also proposed the introduction of a smartphone application that would alert users to the location of convicted sex offenders within a 1 km radius, added that a recent opinion poll showed that 96 percent of Koreans support her castration bill proposal.  “This is the philosophy I had all my life but I had no chance to speak to the public until I came to the National Assembly,” she said.  “Also, the important thing is these crimes are getting worse and becoming more often.”

When it comes to an effective legal response to those who target children, understanding more about the scale and nature of the problem is crucial, said Korean Institute of Criminology research fellow Kim Han-kyun.  “The first step we need to take is to study and research the real reality of pedophiles and sex offenders against children in our society, then we may have specific and substantive measures against pedophiles,” said Kim. “But the problem is no one knows yet how many pedophiles there are in our society and (how) serious the problem of pedophiles is now at the moment in our society.”

While it is unclear how many pedophiles exist in Korea ― U.S. estimates put the figure there at around 4 percent of the population ― recorded sex crimes against the young have risen in recent years.  The number of cases of sexual assault and rape against minors soared from 857 in 2007 to 2,054 last year.  Even more strikingly, the offender in 43 percent of cases from January to June 2011 involving victims under 13 received a suspended sentence.  Where prison sentences have been applied, they have often been seen by the public as excessively lenient. Cho Doo-soon’s attack on the 8-year-old known only as Na-young led to a 12-year prison sentence, a punishment widely denounced as too light for a crime that left a school girl with permanent, life-changing injuries.

“The statutory punishment on sex offenders and sex offenders against children is severe enough but the problem is the sentencing,” said Kim.  “Although South Korean legislators have made very strict and severe punishment, the judges have given soft sentences.  I think the sentencing guidelines for sex offenses against child should be amended for more harsh and strict sanctions on such offenders.”  A conservative, male-dominated judiciary is likely part of the reason for soft sentencing, added Park....

While pedophilia has long been termed a mental disorder, an increasing body of opinion in recent years has defined it as an unalterable sexual orientation, calling into question the effectiveness of treatment. In the U.S., about 50 percent of convicted pedophiles reoffend, though programs to treat the predilection have shown mixed success.

Explanations for the root causes also differ, ranging from childhood abuse to less white matter in the brain. “Pedophilia is related to low self-esteem, poor social skills and impaired self-concept, psychologically,” said Park. “The patients tend to be very shy and passive-aggressive when it comes to personality. Some doctors say this disorder is related to inappropriate attachment with the primary care-giver in childhood. Personally, I reckon poor cognitive inhibition of deviated sexual fantasy is the main cause of actual child sexual molestation.”

September 10, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Iraq announces 21 executions in single day"

The title of this post is the headline of this new press report, which provides these details:

Iraq has executed 21 people convicted of terror-related charges, including three women, on the same day, a spokesman said on Tuesday, bringing to 91 the number of people executed so far this year. The executions come despite a call from the UN’s human rights chief for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Iraq, amid concerns over the lack of transparency in court proceedings.

“The justice ministry carried out 21 executions against those condemned of terrorist charges, including three women terrorists,” Haidar Al Saadi said in a text message. He did not give any further details. A justice ministry official said the executions were carried out on Monday morning.

Iraq has carried out several mass executions in 2012, including one in which 14 people were put to death on February 7, and another in which 17 were executed on January 31.

Recent related post:

August 28, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gambia gets real serious about carrying out death sentences real fast

Gambia-mapAs reported in this AP article, the African country of Gambia has just completed nine executions and it gearing up for dozens more. Here are the details:

Gambia has executed nine convicted criminals, the Civil Society Associations reported Saturday as Amnesty International warned that dozens more on death-row are under imminent threat as the West African nation carries out its first death sentences in 27 years.

President Yaya Jammeh vowed earlier this month to execute all inmates sentenced to death "to ensure that criminals get what they deserve, that is, those who killed are killed and those who deserve to be put away from the society are put away from the society in accordance with the law."

A government statement issued late Friday night said "All persons on death row have been tried by the Gambian courts of competent jurisdiction and thereof convicted and sentenced to death in accordance with the law. They have exhausted all their legal rights of appeal as provided by the law."

It added "the peace and stability of our beloved nation as regards to protection of the lives, liberty and property of individuals must at all cost be preserved and jealously guarded."

Eight men and one woman were removed from their prison cells Friday night and executed, London-based Amnesty reported, quoting "credible sources." It said two of those executed are believed to be foreigners from Senegal.

A barrage of protests met the move, with expressions of shock coming from the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the French and Nigerian governments and human rights groups. It was not clear how the prisoners were executed, but Gambia's constitution says executions should be by hanging. "What is however clear is that inmates were rounded up at 9.30 p.m. Thursday August 23 and that by the morning of August 24, the bodies were actually lying in the Mile Two Prison yard," the Civil Society Associations of Gambia reported.

Amnesty warned "more persons are under threat of imminent executions today and in the coming days." Amnesty said the executions are the first in Gambia since 1987. Gambia reinstated the death penalty in 1995 but had not executed anyone, former minister Omar Jallow has told The Associated Press.

Amnesty said there were 47 inmates on death row before Friday's executions: government figures put the number at 42 men and two women and another three men reportedly also received the death sentence this year.

Capital punishment can be imposed in Gambia for murder and treason. Three of those reportedly executed had been sentenced for treason, Amnesty said. It's not known how many of those on death row have been sentenced for alleged coup-plotting, a treasonable offense that could indicate Jammeh is using the executions to get rid of political opponents.

Perhaps those deeply troubled by how California officials have handled its (now seemingly dormant) death penalty lately ought to try to get officials in Gambia to give some instructions to capital punishment colleagues on a very different west coast.

August 25, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, August 24, 2012

"21-Year Sentence For Norwegian Killer Of 77; But He May Serve For Life"

The title of this post is the headline of this NPR report on the sentencing in Norway of Anders Breivik. I selected this piece to link on the blog because it provided a seemingly more accurate (and reassuring?) headline than some other press accounts which perhaps suggest Breivik could be a free man within a decade.   Here is how NPR explains matters:

At first the news may be a shock because of what would seem to Americans to be such a relatively light punishment considering the crime: Anders Behring Breivik, the "self-styled anti-Muslim militant" who killed 77 people in Norway on July 22, 2011, was sentenced today by a five-judge panel in Oslo to a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 21 years, as The Associated Press reports.  Twenty-one years is the most Norwegian law would allow. There is no death penalty in Norway.

But, the wire service adds: "Such sentences can be extended as long as an inmate is considered too dangerous to be released.  Legal experts have said that in Breivik's case that could mean he will spend the rest of his life in prison."  The Norway Post puts it this way: the prison sentence can be "prolonged at a later date, five years at a time, if he is deemed to remain a danger to society."

Part of today's ruling also focused on the issue of whether Breivik is sane enough to be held criminally responsible for the slaughter.  The court concluded he is.  On Morning Edition today, New York Times correspondent Alan Cowell said the verdict and sentence is something of a victory for Brevik because he did not want to be declared insane.  "If he'd been found insane, he could have been treated indefinitely," Cowell said.  Also, in Breivik's mind the sanity judgment lends credibility to his crimes.

Recent related post:

August 24, 2012 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Mass killer's Norwegian prison cell has treadmill, computer access"

Norway prisonThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Fox News report providing a remarkable perspective on how some other nations treat their most notorious criminals.  Here is how the lengthy story begins:

Accused mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik's Norwegian prison cell is more spacious than most New York City apartments.   The confessed killer, who will receive his sentence Friday for killing 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage at a youth camp, was transported Wednesday to Norway's Ila Prison, just outside Oslo.

The high-security prison offers Breivik not one, but three 86-square-foot cells.  One cell functions as a bedroom, another as an exercise room, complete with treadmill, and the third is a study, where Breivik can use a laptop computer.

Officials at Oslo's Ila Prison say the goal is to eventually transfer Breivik to join other prisoners at section of the jail that offers access to a school that teaches from primary grades through university-level courses, a library, a gym, and allows inmates to work in the prison's various shops and participate in leisure activities.  It's all about a philosophy of humane prison treatment and rehabilitation that forms the bedrock of the Scandinavian penal system. "I like to put it this way: He's a human being.  He has human rights.  This is about creating a humane prison regime," said Ellen Bjercke, a spokeswoman for Ila Prison.

Since Breivik's guilt is not in question, the key decision for the Oslo district court Friday is whether to declare him insane after two psychiatric teams reached opposite conclusions on his mental health.  If found to be mentally fit, Breivik would face a sentence of "preventive detention." Unlike a regular prison sentence -- which can be no longer than 21 years in Norway -- that confinement option can be extended for as long as an inmate is considered dangerous to society.  It also offers more programs and therapy than an ordinary prison sentence.

If declared insane, the confessed killer will be the sole patient of a psychiatric ward that Norway built just for him at the prison, with 17 people on staff to treat him. It cost between 2 million and 3 million kroner ($340,000-$510,000), according to Norway's Health Ministry. The facility, featuring a 100-square-foot cell with a bathroom, would offer Breivik some recreational and educational options with therapists from a psychiatric hospital, but not the breadth of options available to prison inmates. Bjercke estimated the cost of keeping Breivik there at 7 million-10 million kroner a year ($1.2 million-1.7 million).

While in isolation, Breivik has access to TV and newspapers and a computer, but no Internet connection.  He has three cells instead of one in "compensation" for not having access to activities offered to other inmates, Bjercke said.  In addition, prison staff and a priest come see him more often than other inmates, so that he has someone to talk to. "Isolation is torture," Bjercke said.

August 23, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Monday, July 30, 2012

Huge Iranian fraud results in death sentences

As reported in this New York Times piece, which is headlined "Iran Sentences Four to Death Over $2.6 Billion Bank Fraud," Iran has imposed a notable set of sentences in a notable fraud case. Here are the details:

In the first sentences to be handed down in a $2.6 billion embezzlement case, an Iranian court ordered the death penalty for four people in the fraud that was uncovered in a network of Iranian banks last year, Iranian state media reported on Monday.

The four, who were not named in the report by the Fars news agency, were among 39 suspects who were convicted in what the Iranian authorities have described as the biggest financial swindle in the country’s history. The top prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, told reporters that two of the defendants had been given life sentences, while the others were given sentences of up to 25 years....

The other suspects were not named, but have been said to include managers of bank branches, and a number of clerks who were accused of accepting bribes. Fars quoted Mr. Mohseni-Ejei as saying that the other sentences that were handed down included prison terms of 10 and 20 years, as well as lighter sentences.

July 30, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A comparative perspective on "The Life Sentence and Parole"

Especially given changes to LWOP sentencing in the United States now required by the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment work in Graham and Miller, this new article appearing on SSRN provides interesting and important comparative insights on long prison terms.  The article by Diarmuid Griffin and Ian O'Donnell is titled "The Life Sentence and Parole," and here is the abstract:

Taking the life sentence as the new ‘ultimate penalty’ for many countries, this paper explores the factors associated with the release of life-sentence prisoners on parole. The Republic of Ireland is selected as a case study because it is in the unusual position of being influenced by European human rights norms as well as by the Anglo-American drive towards increased punitiveness.  As an apparent outlier to both the human rights and punitive approaches, or perhaps as a hybrid of sorts, the relative impact of the two models can be elucidated.  The article also provides an example of how small penal systems can be resistant to broader trends and the value of directing the criminological gaze upon countries where it seldom falls.

July 26, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Do US civil commitment procedures risk a "flagrant denial" of human rights?

The question in the title of this post is my response to this (slightly dated) article from the UK's Independent, which is headlined "Court blocks Shawn Sullivan's US extradition."  (Many thanks to the helpful reader who altered me to a story that developed the same day as the SCOTUS health care ruling).  Here is the basic back story:

US government attempts to extradite from Britain a man accused of child sex crimes were blocked by the High Court.... [as] judges sitting in London allowed an appeal against extradition by fugitive Shawn Sullivan, 43, after the American authorities refused to give an assurance that he would not be placed on a controversial sex offenders treatment programme in Minnesota.

Sullivan has been described as one of the US's most-wanted alleged sex criminals, and has also been convicted of sexually assaulting two 12-year-old girls in Ireland. His lawyers argued he could be declared "sexually dangerous" and placed on the US programme without a trial and with no hope of release.

Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Eady ruled on June 20 there was a real risk that, if extradited, Sullivan would be subjected to an order of civil commitment to the treatment programme in a "flagrant denial" of his human rights. The judges then gave the US government a last opportunity to provide an assurance that there would be no commitment order made.

Today Lord Justice Moses announced it had been confirmed by the Americans in a post-judgment note that "the United States will not provide an assurance", and Sullivan's appeal under the 2003 Extradition Act was therefore allowed. "The appellant will be discharged from the proceedings," said the judge.

Sullivan, who has joint Irish-US nationality, is wanted to stand trial for allegedly abusing three American girls in the mid-1990s. He was arrested in London in June 2010 while living with Ministry of Justice policy manager Sarah Smith, 34, in Barnes, south-west London. They married while he was held at Wandsworth Prison, before he was granted bail.

His counsel Ben Brandon said at a one-day hearing in April that no one had been released from the treatment programme, operated by the Department of Human Services in Minnesota, since it began in its current form in 1988. Commitment usually followed a person completing a prison sentence but a criminal conviction was not necessary for it to take place, said Mr Brandon. Aaron Watkins, appearing for the US government, told the court Sullivan did not satisfy the criteria for civil commitment but agreed no assurances had been given.

The judges ruled there was a real risk Sullivan would face commitment and a flagrant denial of his right not to suffer loss of liberty without due process, a right protected by Article 5.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Justice Moses said under the programme "there is no requirement that the offences took place recently nor, indeed, that the misconduct resulted in conviction, provided that the misconduct is substantiated by credible evidence". Mr Justice Eady said the risk of a flagrant denial of human rights was "more than fanciful".

The full ruling referenced in this news account is available at this link, and here are key passage from the ruling:

Civil commitment is unknown to European law, but is a process available in 20 states in the United States. Minnesota's law is said to be more draconian than many others.... [The] Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) for the State of Minnesota ... reports that the standard for commitment is relatively low, and many sexual offenders qualify for commitment.......[and] of the 600 committed since 1988, the evidence suggests that not one has been released, even on a conditional, supervised basis....

[T]he essential and justifiable purpose of these proceedings is to ensure that the appellant faces the trial he ought to face in respect of the serious allegations made against him. It is plainly in the interests of justice that he should face such a trial. Extradition is not being sought for the purposes of civil commitment....

[But] I conclude that there is a real risk that if returned Mr Sullivan will be the subject of an order of civil commitment ... [and] that there is a real risk that if extradited the appellant might be subject to an order for civil commitment within Minnesota and that that amounts to a risk that he would suffer a flagrant denial of his rights enshrined in [Art. 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights].

July 22, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Monday, July 09, 2012

"Singapore to relax, but not remove, death penalty"

The title of this post is part of the headline of this new Reuters article, which gets started this way:

Singapore's deputy prime minister on Monday said the country plans to ease its mandatory death penalty in some drug and murder cases but not abolish the ultimate punishment that human rights groups condemn as barbaric.

The wealthy Southeast Asian city-state, which has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs and imposes long jail terms on convicted users, has hanged hundreds of people -- including dozens of foreigners -- for narcotics offences in the last two decades, Amnesty International and other groups say.  That approach prompted science fiction writer William Gibson to describe Singapore as "Disneyland with the death penalty".

But the government, reflecting changes in "our society's norms and expectations", will put forward a draft law by the end of this year to give judges more leeway to deal with certain drug and murder cases, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told parliament.  "While there is a broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts."

To avoid execution for drug trafficking, two specific conditions must be met, he said. First, the accused must have acted only as a courier, with no other part in the supply or distribution.  "We also propose to give the courts the discretion to spare a drug courier from the death penalty if he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act, and instead sentence him to life imprisonment with caning," Teo said.

This sure does not sound like a significant relaxation of the death penalty in Singapore.

July 9, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 05, 2012

U.N. Secretary-General calls for worldwide abolition of capital punishment

As reported in this AP article, "U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for the death penalty to be abolished."  Here is more:

Ban told a panel on the issue convened Tuesday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights: "The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process."

Since the General Assembly endorsed a call for a death penalty moratorium in 2007, several nations have abolished the death penalty, including Argentina, Burundi, Gabon, Latvia, Togo and Uzbekistan.  The U.N. says 150 nations have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.

Ban said he was especially concerned that the death penalty is still used for juvenile offenders, and 32 nations use it for drug-related offenses.

For a host of reasons, I do not expect US officials to echo this UN call for worldwide abolition of the death penalty.  But I could imagine the US agreeing to a UN resolution which says the death penalty should be reserved for only the very worst crimes such a intentional murder, treason and acts of terrorism.  I wonder if both opponents and supporters of the death penalty inside the US would be willing and even eager to have the US serve as a potent international advocate for limiting the use of the death penalty in this way worldwide.

July 5, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Judge down under laments mandatory 20 years (with parole) for brutal contract killer

The debates on this blog over the Supreme Court's recent work in Miller finding unconstitutional a mandatory LWOP sentence for a juvenile killer (see comments to posts here and here) have been robust and at times (over)heated.  With the Miller case and controversy fresh in mind, I found this new local story from Australia quite interesting and comparatively telling.  The story is headlined "Judge slams mandatory sentencing laws as 'unjust'," and here are excerpts:

A Supreme Court judge has criticised the Northern Territory sentencing regime as "unjust and unfair".  Justice Dean Mildren made the comment after sentencing Darren Jason Halfpenny to 20 years in jail for the contract killing of a man in Katherine.

Justice Mildren said he was required to impose a minimum 20 year prison term because of the mandatory sentencing regime in the Territory.   "It is unjust and unfair, and contrary to the public interest, that prisoners who plead guilty ... and are remorseful ... are left in a situation where their earlier release is left in the hands of the executive (government)," he said.

Russell Golflam of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory agrees. "Mandatory sentencing is, in principle, obnoxious," he said.  Mr Golflam says judges should be given the power to do the job that they're paid to do; impose appropriate penalties according to the circumstances of the case.  "Parliament and governments should not take that job away from judges," he said. He is calling for the Sentencing Act to be amended.

Justice Mildren recommended that Halfpenny be released on parole after 14 years because he will testify against his co-accused in the murder....

During the trial, the court heard Darren Halfpenny and two friends, Christopher Malyschko and Zac Grieve, donned shower caps and gloves before entering the Katherine house where Ray Niceforo lived.  The court was told Mr Niceforo, 41, was struck in the head with a blunt object seven times, then had a rope tied around his neck.

His body was wrapped in a tarpaulin and put into a van before being dumped in bushland. The body was found the following day and an autopsy found Mr Niceforo died from a blunt force head injury or asphyxiation.

Halfpenny was questioned by police a few days later and confessed.  He later agreed to testify against his co-accused, Malyschko and Grieve, who have been charged with murder.

The court was told the three men carried out the killing for a payment of $5,000 each. Crown prosecutor Jack Karzevski, QC, said the contract killing was commissioned by Bronwyn Buttery, the ex-partner of Mr Niceforo, who has also been charged with murder.

So, let's do a little compare/contrast concerning judicial sentencing attitudes in the land down under and in the land of the free: 

--- in Australia, a sentencing judge is bemoaning as "unjust and unfair" a legislative requirement to impose a 20-year prison term with parole on an adult who intentionally committed a brutal contract murder.  This kind of homicide in the US would clearly qualify as first-degree murder in just about every US state and in most would make the defendant eligible for the death penalty.  The defendant's decision to plead guilty and cooperate would likely prompt most US prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table but likely still would make a (perhaps mandatory) LWOP sentence still possible (even probably) for the premeditated and henious crime.

--- in the United States, four Justices of our Supreme Court in Miller have bemoaned the majority's ruling that the US Constitutional prohibits a legislative requirement to impos a life prison term without parole on a 14-year-old who unexpectedly had a role in the another's lethal shooting of a store clerk during an intentional robbery.  This kind of homicide in Australia, I suspect based on this somewhat dated report on homicide sentencing patterns, would likely result in the offender getting a prison sentence of just over 10 years with the possibility of parole a few years soon.

For a host of reasons, I am strongly disinclined to assert that Australia's sentencing approach to murder offenses is to preferred to the US system, and that kind of claim is not the point of this post.  Rather, my goal here is just to highlight (especially on July 4th, the day we most celebrate America as the land of the free and the home of the brave) the reality that a judge in Australia is quick to lament having to impose a 20-year prison term with parole on a brutal adult contract killer, while in Miller we see four Justices being quick to lament our Constitution being interpretted to giving a 14-year-old convicted of felony murder just the chance to seek a sentence less than life prison term without parole.

July 4, 2012 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Friday, June 22, 2012

New Hampshire Gov apparently opts for "die" over "live free" with veto of medical marijuana bill

NHThe state motto for New Hampshire is "Live Free or Die."  Based on this AP article, headlined "NH gov Lynch vetoes bill legalizing home cultivation of marijuana for medical uses," it would appear that New Hampshire's (Democratic) governor has decided die is the preferred choice to living free when it comes to marijuana.  Here are the basics:

As promised, Gov. John Lynch has vetoed a bill that would legalize the home cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.

The bill would allow patients with debilitating medical conditions or the patient's designated caretaker to cultivate and possess up to six ounces of marijuana, four mature plants and 12 seedlings at a registered location.  Lynch says that would lead to a virtually unlimited number of potential cultivation sites, making it impossible to control the distribution and prevent illegal use.

Lynch also vetoed a similar bill in 2009.  The current bill passed both the House and Senate with wide margins, making it likely that the Legislature could override Lynch's veto next week.

Governor Lynch yesterday released this long statement explaining the reasons for his veto, and these passages from the statement provide a great indication of how effective law enforcement and its vision of "big brother government" can be in blocking these sorts of criminal justice reforms:

Law enforcement has serious concerns about preventing the unauthorized use of marijuana under this legislation. SB 409 requires that the cultivation locations be registered with the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. But the bill restricts the identification of those cultivation locations to law enforcement only in the very narrow instances where an individual has been arrested and claims to be engaged in the medical use of marijuana, or where state and local law enforcement have probable cause that marijuana is being cultivated or used at a particular location and seek confirmation that the cultivation or use is for medical purposes.

While SB 409 requires that marijuana for medical use be cultivated in a "locked and enclosed site," neither state nor local law enforcement is authorized to generally inspect and confirm that these conditions are being maintained. The inspection and oversight of cultivation sites is assigned to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department has neither the staff nor the statewide presence to adequately regulate the security of marijuana cultivation sites, which are unlimited in number. Effective and continuous oversight of cultivation sites is critical to prevent unlawful access to marijuana.

In other words, NH Gov Lynch says here he needed to veto this bill in part because cops and prosecutors are not being given permanent and unlimited authority to engage in "continuous oversight" of any and everyone who registers to grow marijuana for medical purposes. Yeesh.

NH choiceI am pleased and hopeful that legislators in New Hampshire are strongly inclined on this issue to opt for the "live free" rather than "die" opinion in the state's motto. 

Importantly, as reinforced by this new Politico piece, headlined "New Hampshire speaker touts conservative wins," in the Granite state this pot policy debate is not a left/right, soft versus hard on crime matter.  Rather, the Republican-dominated legislature plainly understands in New Hampshire than a real commitment to freedom and limited government should mean letting people grow the wicked weed in some cases. In telling contrast, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire plainly appreciates that a real commitment to a nanny state must mean restricting any and all access to the wicked weed unless and until big brother government can be sure to be able to keep a close watch on when and how that weed is being used.

Meanwhile, for some (not quite closely) related news from another notable jurisdiction, check out this new press article headlined "Uruguay says it may sell marijuana to combat cocaine." Here is the heart of this story:

Selling marijuana is part of a package of measures meant to combat the abuse of cocaine and pasta basica, a drug akin to crack, diverting Uruguayan drug users toward marijuana instead. The measures come after a recent rash of gang and drug crime in the ordinarily peaceful nation.

If Uruguayan lawmakers agree, theirs would be the first country where the government has not only legalized or regulated marijuana but taken over the market, experts say. Backers of drug legalization and regulation praised the idea as an intriguing step forward.

“Mothers wanting to protect their children should realize that a strictly regulated market is much safer than an illegal market,” said Amanda Fielding, founder of the Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform based in Britain. "We need to let governments experiment -- cautiously -- with policies that might minimize harm."

That argument was disputed by drug opponents, who contend that getting government into the marijuana business won't curb the black market or stop users from moving on to harder drugs.... "Why would people pay taxes and higher prices and put themselves out there to be known by the government?" asked Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation based in Florida. Since the government will only sell to adults, "kids will become the target of the black market."

June 22, 2012 in Pot Prohibition Issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Taiwan struggling with death penalty administration

A helpful reader alerted me to this intriguing new BBC article concerning controversies over the operation of the death penalty in Taiwan.  The article is headlined "Death penalty dilemma dividing Taiwan," and here are excerpts:

In 1997 a Taiwanese soldier was executed for murder, despite there being no evidence against him.  The authorities last year admitted he was innocent and compensated his family, but legal experts warn a similar tragedy could happen again under the current judicial system.

Chiang Kuo-ching was convicted of raping and killing a five-year-old girl.  He was one of two soldiers who worked in the same building as the girl's mother, and had failed a lie detector test because he was scared.  He insisted he was innocent, but was executed at the age of 21.

After a long campaign by his parents, investigators reopened the case in 2010 and indicted a man with a history of sexual offences last year.  The government admitted Mr Chiang was tortured into confessing and late last year apologised to his family.

Despite this alarming case, Taiwan's judges continue to sentence defendants to death with no material evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, experts say.  Instead, they rely mainly on confessions or co-defendants' statements, and routinely accept as evidence police interrogations that are not recorded or videotaped, even though the law requires recordings to prevent police torture, lawyers and others say.

"The problem is even though on paper judges are supposed to follow the principle of innocent until proven guilty, in practice many don't," said Lin Feng-cheng, head of Taiwan's Judicial Reform Foundation.  "They and the society want to quickly solve a case and bring justice to the victims' families," he said....

From 2006 to 2009, no executions were carried out, as the government tried to bring Taiwan closer to the international trend of abolishing the death penalty.   But the moratorium ended in 2010 after former Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng inadvertently drew attention to it, by publicly stating that she would not sign off on any executions.

Facing public pressure, President Ma Ying-jeou replaced Ms Wang with Tseng Yung-fu, who promptly ordered four people be executed, and another five last year.  Taiwan's judges — most of whom favour the death penalty — meanwhile sentenced 15 people to death at the Supreme Court level last year, the highest number in the past decade....

Taiwan's government says it wants to eventually abolish the death penalty, but not until it can convince the public.  Surveys show that more than 70% of the population favours it. "At present, the majority of the people in Taiwan are still opposed to the abolition of the death penalty and therefore we think it is inappropriate for the government to do away with the death penalty right now," said Chen Wen-chi, an adviser and spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice....

There are 57 inmates currently on death row.  At least one of them, and four others sentenced to death but still undergoing appeals, were convicted with no material evidence, Lin Feng-cheng said.  "The mistakes made in Chiang Kuo-ching's case are typical of mistakes still made in Taiwan," said Mr Lin.  "We believe if we continue the death penalty, the risks are very high."

June 3, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Protests in Egypt after sentencing of Mubarak and other former leaders

I never quite know how to react to sentencings in other nations of international figures, but this New York Times story indicates that Egyptian are not reacting especially well to the sentencing of its former leader.  This new piece is headlined "New Turmoil in Egypt Greets Mixed Verdict for Mubarak," and here are excepts:

An Egyptian judge on Saturday sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to life in prison as an accessory in the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the protests that ended his 30 years of autocratic rule.

For many Egyptians, the conviction — the first of an Arab leader detained after last year’s uprisings — might have been one of the most important achievements so far of the revolution that stunned the world 16 months ago but has stuttered ever since. The country is still awaiting the ratification of a new constitution, the election of a new president and the hand-over of power by its interim military rulers.

Even that victory, however, appeared tenuous. Lawyers critical of Mr. Mubarak warned that the verdict was vulnerable to appeal. The judge, Ahmed Rafaat, seemed to leave an opening for reversal, stating that the prosecutors had presented no evidence that either Mr. Mubarak or his top aides had directly ordered the killing of protesters. Instead, the judge found that Mr. Mubarak was an “accessory to murder” because he had failed to stop the killing, a rationale that lawyers said would not meet the usual requirements for a murder conviction under Egyptian or international law.

The judge sentenced Mr. Mubarak’s feared former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, to the same penalty for the same reason. But he acquitted several lower-ranking officials in the chain of command responsible for the police, raising more questions about responsibility for the killings.

Mr. Rafaat also dismissed corruption charges against Mr. Mubarak and his deeply unpopular sons, Alaa and Gamal, on technical grounds. By late afternoon, thousands of protesters angry at the limits of the decision were pouring into the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere.

Against a backdrop of military rule, in which the generals, prosecutors and judges were all appointed by Mr. Mubarak, the degree of judicial independence is impossible to know. Lawyers and political leaders called the decision political, and demonstrators denounced the ruling as a sham aimed at placating the street with a seemingly tough verdict that would collapse on appeal....

Mr. Mubarak, 84, was housed during the trial in a military hospital where he enjoyed visits from his family, according to news reports, and a daily swim. After the verdict, a helicopter flew him to a Cairo prison.

June 2, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Former Liberian leader sentenced to 50 years for war crimes at ICC

As reported in this New York Times article, "Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia and a once-powerful warlord, was sentenced on Wednesday to 50 years in prison over his role in atrocities committed in Sierre Leone during its civil war in the 1990s." Here is more:

The judge presiding over the sentencing in an international criminal court near The Hague said Mr. Taylor had been found guilty of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history” and that the lengthy prison term underscored his position at the top of government during that period....

Mr. Taylor was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.  Prosecutors had sought an even longer sentence of 80 years. If carried out, the term decided on Wednesday would likely mean the 64-year-old Mr. Taylor will spend the rest of his life behind bars.  Asked to stand as the sentence was read, he looked at the floor.

His legal team said it would immediately file an appeal. "The sentence is clearly excessive, clearly disproportionate to his circumstances, his age and his health and does not take into account the fact that he stepped down from office voluntarily," said Morris Anya, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Taylor.

The prosecution said it was considering its own appeal, both to lengthen the sentence and to broaden the responsibility attributed to Mr. Taylor for crimes committed under his leadership....

After more than a year of deliberations, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Mr. Taylor guilty in late April of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition. Prosecutors have said that Mr. Taylor was motivated in these gruesome actions not by any ideology but rather by “pure avarice” and a thirst for power.

May 30, 2012 in Offense Characteristics, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Florida courts struggling with how to apply Graham to multi-decade juve sentences

This new AP piece, headlined "Fla. justices asked to rule on juvenile sentences," reports on how state courts in the Sunshine State are still struggling through the impact and implications of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling limiting juve LWOP sentences for nonhomicide offenses.  Here are the details:

A three-judge appellate panel on Tuesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of a 70-year prison sentence for a teenager convicted of attempted first-degree murder in Jacksonville.  The Florida 1st District Court of Appeal panel certified the issue to the justices as a question of great public importance.

Meanwhile, the state is appealing a decision by another 1st District panel that reversed a Pensacola inmate's 80-year sentence for a pair of armed robberies committed when he was 17.

They are among several cases arising from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, also in a Florida case, that sentencing juveniles to life in prison for non-homicide crimes is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.  The high court ruling came in the case of Terrance Graham, who was initially sentenced to life in prison.  The sentence was then reduced to 25 years in prison....

The state is appealing a 1st District ruling in April that reversed Antonio Demetrius Floyd's 80-year sentence.  A three-judge appellate panel ruled a sentence that long is the functional equivalent of life in prison.  Floyd originally received a life sentence but it was reduced after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Tuesday's certification came in the case of Shimeek Grindine, who was 14 when he shot a man during a 2009 robbery attempt.  The appellate court previously affirmed Grindine's sentence in December on a 2-1 vote.  The dissenting judge, James R. Wolf, wrote that he was at a loss on how to apply the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Graham, also from Jacksonville, because the Legislature abolished parole in Florida.

"Is a 60-year sentence lawful, but a 70-year sentence not?" Wolf asked. "Regardless, it is clear to me that appellant will spend most of his life in prison. This result would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the  Graham decision."

The Legislature this year considered but did not pass bills that would have addressed the issue. They would have let a judge reduce a sentence of 10 or more years for non-homicide crimes committed as a juvenile once an inmate was at least 25 years old.

May 29, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released this week coming from the University of San Francisco School of Law's Center for Law and Global Justice.  This press release provides a background and summary of this report, and here are excerpts from the press release:

Sentencing laws in the United States are at odds with the country’s human rights obligations to direct its prisons system towards rehabilitation, the University of San Francisco School of Law’s Center for Law and Global Justice said ... in a report examining the sentencing laws of all the countries around the world.  U.S. laws increasing the likelihood and length of prison sentences have created a prisons system out of step with the rest of the world.  They help to explain why, despite a declining crime rate, the U.S. prison population has grown six-fold since 1980 to become the world’s largest per capita.

The report, “Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context,” compiles comparative research on sentencing laws around the globe and documents how sentencing laws distinguish the United States from other countries.  Researchers found that the United States is in the minority of countries using several sentencing practices, such as life without parole, consecutive sentences, juvenile life without parole, juvenile transfer to adult courts, and successive prosecution of the same defendant by the state and federal government.  Conversely, sentencing practices promulgated under international law and used around the world, such as setting 12 as the minimum age of criminal liability and retroactive application of sentencing laws that benefit offenders, are not systematically applied in the United States. Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes and “three strikes” laws are used in the U.S. more widely than elsewhere in the world....

Fact Sheet for “Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context”

  • The United States is among only 20% of countries around the world having life without parole (LWOP) sentences.  LWOP sentences can never be reviewed and condemn the convict to die in prison.

  • The United States allows for LWOP sentences for a single, non-violent offense such as drug possession, whereas it is often restricted to multiple, violent crimes in other countries.

  • The United States is one of only nine countries which have both the death penalty and LWOP, along with China, Comoros, Cuba, Israel, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.

  • There are currently over 41,000 prisoners serving LWOP sentences in the United States, compared to 59 in Australia, 41 in England, and 37 in the Netherlands.  On a per capita basis, the United States LWOP population is 51 times Australia’s, 173 times England’s, and 59 times the Netherlands’....

  • The United States, Canada, and Micronesia are the only federalist countries known to researchers allowing successive prosecution of the same defendant by federal and state governments for the same crime....

  • Under international human rights law, if legislators pass a new law to lighten sentences, offenders have a right to benefit from it retroactively.  Though 67% of countries have codified that right, the United States has not....

  • The vast majority of countries (84%) account for the age of the offender at trial, leaving the United States in the minority of countries (16%) trying and sentencing children as adults.

  • The United States is the only country in the world to use juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences, with an estimated 2,594 juveniles offenders serving such sentences.

May 24, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Friday, May 11, 2012

Former president of Poland urges "Saying No to Costly Drug Laws"

Aleksander Kwasniewski, the president of Poland from 1995 to 2005, has this notable op-ed in the New York Times under the headline "Saying No to Costly Drug Laws." Here are excerpts:

In the year 2000, as the president of Poland, I signed one of Europe’s most conservative laws on drug possession. Any amount of illicit substances a person possessed meant they were eligible for up to three years in prison. Our hope was that this would help to liberate Poland, and especially its youths, from drugs that not only have a potential to ruin the lives of the people who abuse them but also have been propelling the spread of H.I.V. among people who inject them....

We assumed that giving the criminal justice system the power to arrest, prosecute and jail people caught with even minuscule amounts of drugs, including marijuana, would improve police effectiveness in bringing to justice persons responsible for supplying illicit drugs. We also expected that the prospect of being put behind bars would deter people from abusing illegal drugs, and thus dampen demand.

We were mistaken on both of our assumptions. Jail sentences for the possession of illicit drugs — in any amount and for any purpose — did not lead to the jailing of drug traffickers. Nor did it prove to be a deterrent to drug abuse.

What the law did do, however, was enable the police to increase their arrest numbers by hauling in droves of young people caught with small amounts of marijuana. More than a half of all arrests under the law were of people aged 24 and younger. Criminalization of drug users resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of identified cases of drug possession: from 2,815 in 2000 to 30,548 in 2008....

It is my hope that political and community leaders in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe, will learn from Poland’s experience in criminalizing drug possession, a move that clearly fell short of its goals. Such a policy failure should not be repeated anywhere else in the world.

For this reason, I decided to join the Global Commission on Drug Policy, an effort by former heads of state — including César Gaviria of Colombia, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico — to advocate for reform of ineffective drug laws. I feel honored to have become the first former president of a country from Eastern Europe to join this body. I very much encourage political leaders from other regions of the world to sign on and show their support for policies that actually protect citizens.

The Global Commission offers a set of policy recommendations that should be the cornerstones of drug laws around the world. One of the main approaches that the commission supports is the decriminalization of drug use and possession of drugs for personal use....

Political leaders these days have ample evidence as to which approaches to drug policy actually help societies function better, and rigorous scientific investigation should always form the basis of policy making. Our role as politicians is to protect our communities and improve the functioning of our states. This may mean that we have to admit to having made mistakes. Fortunately now we know how to correct them.

May 11, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Japan gets back into death penalty business with three hangings

Recent political developments in Japan had led me and others to think that country might remove itself from the short list of developed nations still making regular use of the death penalty.  However, this new Reuters story, headlined "Japan hangs 3 murderers in first executions since 2010," suggests that capital punishment is not yet dead in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are the details:

Japan hanged three convicted multiple murderers on Thursday, the Justice Ministry said, its first executions in almost two years putting it back alongside the United States as the only leading developed nations to carry out the death penalty. Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa authorized the executions of the three men and they were hanged in jails in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, the ministry said.

They were the first executions in Japan since two death row inmates were hanged in July 2010. Those executions marked the first time capital sentences had been carried out since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in late 2009.

There are currently 132 inmates on death row in Japan, Kyodo news agency reported. They include 13 members of the doomsday cult that staged deadly gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Japanese media reported that one of the men executed on Thursday had killed five people at a train station in western Japan in 1999.

A government survey in 2009 showed that 86 percent of Japanese people supported the death penalty. Despite the delay between executions, there has been no formal moratorium on capital punishment.

Former justice minister Keiko Chiba, an opponent of the death penalty, authorized and attended the 2010 hangings and later allowed the media into the death chamber in an attempt to stir up public debate. Ogawa, who took office in a cabinet reshuffle in January, has said he would order executions of those on death row because the Japanese people supported capital punishment....

Japan and the United States are the only countries in the Group of Eight leading economies to carry out the death penalty. Both have been the target of strong criticism by Amnesty and other human rights groups.

March 29, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Soldier could face death penalty in Afghan killings, Panetta says"

The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN report, which highlights how the hottest issue of international relations is now also a sentencing story:

The U.S. Army soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan men, women and children in a house-to-house shooting rampage could face the death penalty, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. Panetta spoke to reporters as he flew to the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan for high-level talks Tuesday....

An American sergeant is suspected of shooting nine children, three women and four men in two villages near his combat outpost in southern Afghanistan on Sunday. He turned himself in after the killings, the military said. The Army's Criminal Investigation Command is leading the investigation. The suspect has not been charged....

Leaders from across Afghanistan's fragmented political terrain have expressed anger and outrage over the attack in the district of Panjwai in Kandahar province. Karzai has condemned the weekend bloodshed as "unforgivable." Afghanistan's parliament has demanded a public trial for the suspect, and the Afghan Taliban have described U.S. troops as "sick-minded American savages" and vowed to exact revenge....

Sunday's killings have brought a deluge of high-level statements from Washington expressing shock, sadness and insistence that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan would stay on course....

The still-unidentified suspect in the attack served three tours of duty in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan, said Gen. John Allen, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. A U.S. military official, who asked not to be named because he was talking about an ongoing investigation, said the suspect is an Army staff sergeant who arrived in Afghanistan in January.

During the suspect's last deployment, in 2010, he was riding in a vehicle that rolled over in a wreck, according to a senior Defense Department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. The sergeant was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury after the wreck but was found fit for duty after treatment, the official said.

March 13, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 03, 2012

China's popular reality show: "Interviews Before Execution"

China tvThis lengthy Daily Mail piece tells the remarkable story of a remarkable hit on Chinese television.  The piece carries this lengthy headline: "The Execution Factor: It was designed as propaganda to deter would-be criminals. Instead interviews on death row have become China's new TV hit."  Here are excerpts:

With her silk scarves and immaculate make-up, Ding Yu looks every inch the modern television presenter. Indeed, for the past five years she has hosted a hugely successful prime-time show in China which has a devoted following of 40 million viewers every Saturday night.

But while in Britain the weekend evening entertainment will be The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, Ms Ding’s show features harrowing -- some would say voyeuristic -- footage of prisoners confessing their crimes and begging forgiveness before being led away to their executions.  The scenes are recorded sometimes minutes before the prisoners are put to death, or in other cases when only days of their life remain.

The glamorous Ms Ding conducts face-to-face interviews with the prisoners, who have often committed especially gruesome crimes. Her subjects sit in handcuffs and leg chains, guarded by warders.  She warms up with anodyne questions about favourite films or music, but then hectors the prisoners about the violent details of their crimes and eventually wrings apologies out of them.

She promises to relay final messages to family members, who are usually not allowed to visit them on death row. The cameras keep rolling as the condemned say a farewell message and are led away to be killed by firing squad or lethal injection....

Officials in the ruling Communist Party regard the series as a propaganda tool to warn citizens of the consequences of crime.  Inmates are selected for Ms Ding by judiciary officials who pick out what they consider suitable cases to ‘educate the public’.  So far, the show’s makers claim, only five condemned prisoners who were asked have refused to be interviewed.

Convicted criminals in China can be put to death for 55 capital crimes, ranging from theft to crimes against the state.  However, the show focuses exclusively on murder cases, conspicuously avoiding any crimes that might have political elements.  The case that has drawn the largest number of viewers so far is that of Bao Rongting, an openly gay man who was condemned to death for murdering his mother and then violating her dead body....

The series has made a household name of Ms Ding, who is married and has a young son. She is often recognised in the street while doing her shopping with her family.  Denying her show is exploitative, she said: ‘Some viewers might consider it cruel to ask a criminal to do an interview when they are about to be executed.  On the contrary, they want to be heard.  When I am face-to-face with them I feel sorry and regretful for them.  But I don’t sympathise with them, for they should pay a heavy price for their wrongdoing.  They deserve it.’...

Lu Peijin, the boss of TV Legal Channel in Henan province, said Ms Ding came up with the concept for the show and he agreed immediately, but that getting approval from officials was a long process.  ‘I thought it was a great idea right away,’ said Mr Lu, who said that the stated aim of the show was not to entertain but to ‘inform and educate according to government policy.  We want the audience to be warned,’ he said. ‘If they are warned, tragedies might be averted.  That is good for society.’

I am intrigued and fascainated by the plausible suggestion that many condemned prisoners might want this kind of last chance to be heard.  Also notable is the suggestion that educative and deterrence goals of the death penalty might be served by this kind of reality show.  And, I cannot help but wonder if somewhere Nancy Grace is thinking about how she might develop a US version of this show.

March 3, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Television | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Canadian judge resisting mandatory sentencing provisions

The Toronto Globe and Mail has this new article, headlined "In challenge to Ottawa, judge refuses to impose mandatory sentence" which provides a northern perspective on the classic concerns about federal judges forced to impose rigid mandatory sentencing terms. Here are excerpts from the piece:

An Ontario Superior Court judge has refused to impose a mandatory three-year sentence on a man caught with a loaded handgun, putting the courts on a collision course with the federal government’s belief in fixed sentences that provide judges with little discretion.

In a decision Monday, Madam Justice Anne Molloy added fuel to a rising sense of judicial anger over mandatory minimum sentences by striking down the compulsory term as cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, she sentenced the defendant, Leroy Smickle, to a year of house arrest. Judge Molloy concluded that Mr. Smickle, a 30-year-old Toronto man with no criminal record, had merely been showing off by striking a “cool” pose over the Internet when police happened to burst into an apartment on March 9, 2009, in search of another man.

The government has adamantly held to the view that mandatory minimums are a necessary restraint on judges who might impose inappropriately lenient sentences for certain offences. That is part of a larger tough-on-crime agenda that includes everything from harsher prison sentences to restricting parole and pardons.

Several months ago, in another major challenge in Ontario Superior Court, a similar sentencing provision was upheld in a firearms case, Regina v. Nur. That, combined with the Smickle ruling, could well result in a high-profile appeal that goes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Critics argue that a one-size-fits-all sentencing policy inevitably leads to unfair results. In her ruling Monday, Judge Molloy added her voice to those criticisms by saying there are an endless number of scenarios where a fixed sentence would be so cruel as to violate the Charter of Rights....

“In my opinion, a reasonable person knowing the circumstances of this case and the principles underlying both the Charter and the general sentencing provision of the Criminal Code, would consider a three-year sentence to be fundamentally unfair, outrageous, abhorrent and intolerable,” Judge Molloy said....

The judge noted that bad drafting was partially to blame for the legal straitjacket she found herself in. She took issue with a discrepancy in the firearms law, passed in 2008, which allows a judge to impose a more lenient sentence should the Crown choose to proceed summarily with a charge – an option that includes no jury and swifter resolution. She said that if the Crown instead proceeds by indictment, as it did in Mr. Smickle’s case, the minimum sentence automatically becomes three years.

The discrepancy created by the two sentence ranges is so “irrational and arbitrary” that it would shock the community were she to impose the mandatory sentence on Mr. Smickle, Judge Molloy said.

February 14, 2012 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Capital Punishment and Contingency"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece by Professor Carol Steiker, which reviews David Garland's recent book on capital punishment titled "Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition."  Here is a brief summary of the piece via SSRN:

This book review of David Garland’s “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition,” assesses Garland’s contributions both to the literature about the American death penalty and to the broader debate about the nature and causes of American penal exceptionalism. Garland’s perspective is considered in light of the work of James Whitman, Franklin Zimring, Michael Tonry, Nicola Lacey, and William Stuntz.  After situating Garland in the larger conversation, the review goes on to illustrate and deepen Garland account of the contingency of America’s recent death penalty story by imaging three counterfactual (and extremely divergent) American death penalty stories-that-might-have-been.

January 27, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Interesting global drug use data via new study in The Lancet

This New York Times article, which is headlined "Marijuana Use Most Rampant in Australia, Study Finds," reports on lots of interesting global illegal drug use data:

A study published Friday in a British medical journal may have finally uncovered the secret behind Australia’s laid-back lifestyle, and it turns out to be more than just sun and surf: The denizens Down Under, it turns out, consume more marijuana than any other people on the planet.

The study, an analysis of global trends in illegal drugs and their effect on public health published in The Lancet, a prestigious journal, found that Australia and neighboring New Zealand topped the lists globally for consumption of both marijuana and amphetamines, a category of drugs whose use the study found to be growing rapidly around the world.

The study’s co-authors, Professors Louisa Degenhardt of the University of New South Wales and Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland, reported that as much as 15 percent of the populations of Australia and New Zealand between the ages of 15 and 64 had used some form of marijuana in 2009, the latest year for which data were available.

The Americas, by comparison, clocked in at 7 percent, although North America batted above the neighborhood average with nearly 11 percent of its population partaking. Asia demonstrated the lowest global marijuana use patterns at no more than 2.5 percent, the study said, although difficulties in obtaining accurate data in less developed countries were cited as one possible reason for the low figures....

Stepping back for a global perspective, the study found that marijuana was the world’s most widely consumed illicit drug, with anywhere from 125 million to 203 million people partaking annually. Use of the drug far outstrips that of other illicit drugs globally, with 14 million to 56 million people estimated to use amphetamines, 14 million to 21 million estimated to use cocaine and 12 million to 21 million estimated to use opiates like heroin.

Still, despite marijuana’s significantly outpacing other illicit drugs in terms of the volume of use, the study found that it was the least likely of all illicit drugs to cause death. Additionally, barely 1 percent of deaths in Australia annually can be attributed to illegal drugs, the report said, compared with almost 12 percent from tobacco use.

This global study is actually part of a series of articles in The Lancet available at this link and set up with this executive summary:

A three-part Series assesses the global public-health toll and policy implications of drug addiction. The first paper summarises data for the prevalence and consequences of problem use of amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, and opioids.  In high-income countries, illicit drug use contributes less to the burden of disease than tobacco, but a substantial proportion of that burden is due to alcohol.  Intelligent policy responses to drug problems need better prevalence data for different types of illicit drug use and the harms that their use causes globally.  This need is especially urgent in high-income countries with substantial rates of illicit drug use and in low-income and middle-income countries close to illicit drug production areas.  The second paper reviews existing drug policies and highlights the need for greater reliance on scientific evidence-based policy making.  The final paper examines the value of international drug conventions in protecting public health.

January 7, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, January 06, 2012

"Criminal serving his sentence with monks pleads to be sent back to prison... because monastery life is too hard"

The title of this post is the headline of this amusing article from the UK, which was sent my way by a kind reader.  Here is how the piece starts:

A convicted criminal who was serving out his sentence in a monastery has escaped for the second time and asked to be sent back to prison because life was too tough.

Thief David Catalano, 31, was sent to a Santa Maria degli Angeli community run by Capuchin monks in Sicily last November.  But he found their austere lifetstyle too tough to handle and soon escaped. After a short while on the run he was caught by police and sent back.

On Monday he fled for the second time in six weeks, only to swiftly turn himself in at a police station and beg officers to send him back to jail in the nearby town of Nicosia.   He told the stunned policemen: 'Prison is better than being at that hostel run by monks.'

A police spokesman said: 'Catalano arrived out of the blue and said there was no way he could stay on with the monks.  He said it was too tough and he wanted to go back to prison, so we happily obliged and he is now back behind bars serving the rest of his sentence.'

January 6, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Should we celebrate news that the number of executions in China has decreased dramatically in recent years?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this news report headlined "China halves executions to about 4,000 a year: NGO." Here are the new data from the article:

China has halved its executions since 2007, when its high court began reviewing death row cases, but still puts around 4,000 people to death every year, a US campaign group said on Tuesday.   The exact number of people executed in China every year is a state secret, but according to Amnesty International, the country puts more people to death than the rest of the world put together.

The rare data, compiled by San Francisco-based campaign group Dui Hua, is partly based on a claim by a Chinese legal scholar at the quasi-governmental think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that executions have been halved.  It comes in the same week China executed a South African woman by lethal injection for drug smuggling after rejecting last-minute pleas for clemency from her government.

Dui Hua executive director John Kamm said the figure, which is nearly eight times the 527 Amnesty International says were executed outside China in 2010 -- was still far too high. "China has made dramatic progress in reducing the number of executions, but the number is still far too high and declining far too slowly," he said....

Beijing has taken measures in recent years to rein in the use of capital punishment, including requiring the country's supreme court to review all such sentences before they are carried out. Most executions are imposed for violent crimes such as murder and robbery, state media have said, but drug trafficking and some corruption cases are also punishable by death.

Earlier this year, China eliminated capital punishment for some economic crimes, including tax fraud, as it moved to curb use of the death penalty.   The amendment, which took effect on May 1, also exempted from capital punishment anyone over the age of 75 at the time of trial, unless they had committed murder "with exceptional cruelty".   Previously, only convicts younger than 18 or pregnant at the time of trial were exempt.

Executions in China have traditionally been carried out by shooting, but lethal injections are increasingly being used.

I am never sure how to react to stories about the administration of capital punishment in other countries, so I am eager to hear reader reactions to this news.  I am especially curious to hear if ardent supports of the death penalty in the United States are worried about the endurance of this punishment if (and when?) other countries with a local capital punishment record start moving away from this death as a sanction.

December 13, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, November 25, 2011

South Korea rolls out new robot prison guard

20111124000765_0As reported in this Wall Street Journal piece, "South Korea is about to put a new type of droid through its paces: a robot prison guard." Here are the brave new world details:

Under a project sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, trials of the robots will be held for a month at a jail in the city of Pohang, southeast of Seoul, from March.  The robots are designed to patrol the corridors of corrective institutions, monitoring conditions inside the cells.  If they detect sudden or unusual activity such as violent behavior they alert human guards.

“Unlike CCTV that just monitors cells through screens, the robots are programmed to analyze various activities of those in prison and identify abnormal behavior,” Prof. Lee Baik-chul of Kyonggi University, who is in charge of the 1 billion-won ($863,000) project, told the Journal.

The robots can also work as a communication channel when inmates want to contact guards in an emergency.  According to Mr. Lee, prison officers have welcomed the idea because the robots can potentially reduce their workload, particularly at night.

And how about the reaction of inmates?  “That’s a concern. But the robots are not terminators.  Their job is not cracking down on violent prisoners.  They are helpers.  When an inmate is in a life-threatening situation or seriously ill, he or she can reach out for help quickly,” he said.

Mr. Lee said his team is putting the final touches to the appearance of the robots to make them look more “humane and friendly” to those behind bars. 

November 25, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prison terms for downloading child porn in Canada are a lot different, eh?

This crime and punishment story from Canada, which is headlined "Man in record child porn bust set for sentencing," spotlights just how different the sentencing scale is for child porn downloading north of the border.  Here are the basics (with my emphasis added):

A New Brunswick man who pleaded guilty in a case involving the largest collection of child pornography in Canada will be sentenced Monday following a delay for a psychiatric evaluation.  Douglas Hugh Stewart, 52, of Moncton earlier pleaded guilty to possessing, accessing and distributing child pornography.

Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock said police found almost six million images and videos of girls — more than 4.5 million pornographic.  The others were images of children who were nude, including in bathtubs.

Lamrock said Stewart had been collecting since the 1980s and he looked for new material on a regular basis, and the size of the collection is something never dealt with before in Canadian courts.  Police spent 700 hours going through the images, involving girls as young as two years old.

The Crown is recommending a sentence of five to seven years in prison and wants Stewart to be listed as a registered sex offender.  Defence lawyer Maurice Blanchard is requesting a sentence of four years. The defence also noted Stewart has no criminal record, and co-operated with police from the beginning of the case.

Because the defendant here had downloaded and stored 6 million(!) images, I am tempted to call this case the holocaust of kiddie porn and to call the defendant the Hitler of child porn downloaders.  And yet notably, prosecutors in Canada have responded to the most aggravated of all cases of child porn downloading by recommending a sentence of five to seven years in prison.  

Meanwhile, in the United States, defendants prosecuted in federal court who downloaded 600 images of child porn regularly face guideline recommended sentencing ranges of a decade or more in federal prison — in other words, defendants who downloaded only 0.01% of the number of images downloaded by this Canadian defendant regularly face federal sentences at least twice as long as the sentence being urged by Canadian prosecutors.  And, in a notable state case from Arizona a few years back, Morton Berger received a 200-year state sentence for a much smaller kiddie porn collection (basics here and here), and just a few weeks ago in Florida, Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca received a life without parole sentence for having lots of kiddie porn on a single laptop (basics here and here).

A few related older and more recent child porn prosecution and sentencing posts:

UPDATE:  The link above (also here) now has the updated sentencing story reporting that the Canadian defendant that I am calling the Hitler of child porn downloaders "has been sentenced to five years in prison in connection with the largest collection of child pornography ever seized in Canada."  Notably, five years is the statutory mandatory minimum term facing federal defendants charged with receipt of just a few images of child pornography, and the latest federal statistics reveal that federal child porn offenders on average receive a 10 year federal prison term.

November 14, 2011 in Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Friday, October 28, 2011

UK debate over new sentencing structures continuing

All persons interesting in structured sentencing laws ought to be keeping an eye on the interesting debates taking place in the UK now over a new set of proposed mandatory sentencing rules.  Here are links to two pieces from papers across the pond, both with telling headlined, that provide some of the details:

October 28, 2011 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interesting new row about mandatory sentencing terms for juves across the pond

This new piece from The Guardian reports on an interesting dispute over a new UK sentencing proposal for extending a mandatory sentencing term to certain juvenile offenders.  The piece is headlined "Ken Clarke criticises mandatory sentence for teenagers carrying knives," and here is how it starts:

Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, is heading for a fresh clash with his cabinet colleague, Theresa May and Tory backbenchers after publicly criticising moves to impose mandatory prison sentences on teenagers found with a knife.

Clarke said telling a court that it must send a 13-year-old first time offender to a secure children's home would be "bit of a leap for the British justice system".  He added that mandatory sentences were a "totally different system of sentencing juveniles".

The coalition cabinet has agreed that a mandatory minimum six-month prison sentence for adults caught carrying a knife should be added to the sentencing and punishment bill but May, the home secretary, has reportedly been pressing for it to be extended to under-18s as well.

Two London Conservative MPs, Nick de Bois and David Burrowes, backed by the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and 38 other Tory MPs, have been campaigning for the change, claiming that 40% of all knife crime is committed by teenagers.

Clarke told the Commons home affairs committee that this claim was untrue.  He said mandatory sentences in British law were an American innovation based on the assumption that judges could not be trusted to sentence on the basis of the circumstances in each case.  "We have — because of the seriousness that we attach to knife crime and we think a strong message has got to be sent to people indulging in knife crime — agreed such a mandatory sentence for adults," said Clarke.

But, he added: "This is being tabled and that is the government's proposal.  The idea that mandatory sentences for certain types of offence, should be extended to young offenders, to children, to juveniles is a bit of a leap for the British judicial system."

The justice secretary made clear that the only mandatory sentence he really approved of was the life sentence for murderers. The experience of every other mandatory sentence introduced into Britain, including "three strikes and you're out" rule that remained on the statute book, was that the judges found a way round to ensure the sentence fit the circumstances of the crime.

October 25, 2011 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, October 03, 2011

"Italy appeals court clears Knox of murder"

The title of this post is the headline of this new AP story coming from Italy.  Here are the basics:

An Italian appeals court has thrown out Amanda Knox's murder conviction and ordered the young American freed after nearly four years in prison for the death of her British roommate.

Knox collapsed in tears after the verdict was read out Monday. Her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, also was cleared of killing 21-year-old Meredith Kercher in 2007.

The Kercher family looked on grimly as the verdict was read out by the judge after 11 hours of deliberations by the eight-member jury.  Outside the courthouse, some of the hundreds of observers shouted "Shame, shame!"

For a host of reasons, I have mostly been disturbed by the extraordinary amount of media coverage that has been given to this Italian murder case.  Nevertheless, for a host of reasons, I doubt this latest legal development is likely to lower the case's profile anytime soon.  (Indeed, I am already speculating about how many forthcoming commentaries will have Amanda Knox and Troy Davis in the title.)

As always, I welcome reader comments on the Knox case itself, on any unique facets of the Italian criminal justice system, and also on what all the MSM attention tells us about our modern perspectives on American crime and punishment.

October 3, 2011 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some comparative perspective on executions and the death penalty

Over at CNN is this new piece headlined "World shocked by U.S. execution of Troy Davis," which suggests that all or nearly all countries of the world find Gerogia's application of the death penalty  shocking.   A more accurate headline would focus on Europeans being shocked, as many countries in Middle East and Far East still use the death penalty regularly.  In particular, as this new Atlantic piece highlights, China is still the world's capital punishment king:

Research by Amnesty International found that 23 countries used the death penalty in 2010. The U.S., ranked fifth, executed 46 prisoners. Iran, ranked second, executed at least 252. China, according to Amnesty International, executed "thousands."  The exact number is a state secret. The Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S.-based human rights non-profit that focuses on China, estimates China kills about 5,000 prisoners annually. In absolute terms, that would be about 14 executions daily, or in three days what the U.S. performs in an entire year. Most executions in China are reportedly carried out by lethal injection or a single gunshot to the head, although, as in the U.S., there does not appear to be a uniform national policy.

The statistics are less unflattering for China when view per capita. China has the largest population on Earth with 1.3 billion people; 5,000 executions would mean one in every 260,000 residents. In the U.S., the rate in 2010 was one in every 6.7 million. Iran and North Korea executed about one in every 300,000 and 460,000, respectively.

Two of the factors apparently contributing to China's frequent use of the death penalty are the troubled court system and a national policy that permits capital punishment for crimes that are not considered capital in most other countries.  Corruption, embezzling, drug-related crimes, and even theft on a large enough scale can all get you killed in China.  Last month, a Chinese telecommunications executive was sentenced to death for accepting bribes. In March, China sparked a diplomatic incident by executing three Filipino citizens on drug trafficking charges.  Other non-violent crimes punished by death have included, for example, 43-year-old Du Yimin, killed in March 2008 after he borrowed $100 million for investment schemes that never panned out.

In addition, Iran is often mentioned as a notable and notorious user of capital punishment, and this recent news report, headlined "Iran hangs convicted teen murderer, drug trafficker," highlights why:

Iran on Wednesday carried out two hangings, including the public execution of a teenage boy convicted of killing an athlete billed as "Iran's strongest man," local media reported.

Despite calls by human rights group Amnesty International for an 11th-hour stay of the 17-year-old's execution, Alireza Molla-Soltani was sent to the gallows at the scene of the crime in the city of Karaj, west of the capital.

A large crowd of people had gathered to witness the hanging and security forces were present "to ensure the sentence was carried out without any glitches," the official IRNA news agency reported. Molla-Soltani was sentenced to death last month for stabbing the popular athlete, Ruhollah Dadashi, to death in mid-July. The teenager said at his trial he had killed only in self-defence after a driving dispute led him and two other youths into a confrontation with Dadashi, according to Amnesty.

Prosecution spokesman Ali Ramezanmanesh said the boy had reached "religious maturity" and was over 18 years of age. "The law views religious maturity as its criterion which is calculated according to the lunar calendar, therefore the convict is over 18 and there are no legal impediments" in the way of the hanging, he told Fars news agency. The Islamic lunar calendar is some 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, with 354 days a year....

Also on Wednesday, a man convicted of drug trafficking was hanged in prison in the southern city of Minab, the state television website reported.

Along with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions each year. The latest hangings bring to 203 the number of executions reported in Iran so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on media and official reports....

Tehran says the death penalty is essential to maintain law and order, and that it is applied only after exhaustive judicial proceedings. Murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery are among the crimes punishable by death in Iran.

September 22, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"American Prison Culture in an International Context: An Examination of Prisons in America, The Netherlands, and Israel"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new article by Professor Lucian Dervan providing a comparative perspective on imprisonment. The piece is available via SSRN, and here is the abstract:

In 2004, British authorities arrested Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian born cleric sought by the United States for his involvement in instigating terrorist attacks.  As authorities prepared to extradite him in July 2010, the European Court of Human Rights issued a stay. According to the court, al-Masri’s claims that maximum-security prisons in the United States violate European human rights laws prohibiting torture and degrading treatment warranted further examination.

Regardless of the eventual resolution of the al-Masri case, the European Court of Human Rights’ inability to summarily dismiss these assertions demonstrates something quite troubling.  At a minimum, the court’s actions indicate that a perception has developed in the world that the American penal system has gone astray.  But are prisons in the United States that much different from those found in other parts of the world?

In the spring and summer of 2010, I traveled to prisons in the United States, The Netherlands, and Israel to compare the way each country detains its most violent and culpable residents.  The results of this research indicate something quite striking about what makes prisons around the world successful and offer a sobering examination of the deficiencies present in many under-funded American institutions.

This article will begin by examining the cultures of four prison facilities: two prisons in America (one federal and one state), a prison in The Netherlands, and a prison in Israel. For each institution, this article will offer a narrative of my observations regarding the prison’s structure and security, living conditions, and programming.  In particular, the examination of each prison facility will include discussion of the apparent significant impact of each prison’s culture on the perceived rates of violence, the financial costs of administration, and the achievement of moral obligations regarding the treatment of prisoners.

Through this analysis, this article will first propose that prisons with cultures that create a sense of community within the inmate population benefit from lower rates of violence. Second, the article will contend that lower rates of violence also lead to reduced costs of administration.  Finally, this article will argue that regardless of the above-described benefits it is also morally correct to create positive prison environments rather than permit prisons to become warehouses for societal outcasts.

September 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, August 29, 2011

A surprising prison echo resulting from mass murder in Norway

Even after seven plus years of blogging about crime and punishment, I still find myself surprised and intrigued by unexpected consequences that can often flow from particular crimes or particular punishments.  Today's example comes from this international story, which is headlined "Norway prison vacancies rise."  The subheading to the piece is titled "Police are so busy concentrating on the Anders Behring Breivik terror case many criminals are escaping going to jail," and here is more:

Politicians usually complain Norwegian prisons are overcrowded, but there are currently plenty of bunks for potential prisoners since the 22 July massacre.  Oslo District Court reports remand hearings are down 40 percent on the same period last year, admitting the Breivik case has affected numbers.  Many cases are shelved temporarily.

“We now have 25 vacant cells out of 392, so we have the capacity to accommodate remand prisoners from police custody,” said prison director Stig Storvik to NRK.

Underlining Oslo Police are still capable of carrying out their tasks with help for their district colleagues, however, Deputy Police Chief Hans Halvorsen says people must understand their “challenging situation”, despite the drop and recent criticism of the force.   “Of course this is a challenging situation for Oslo police.  There is not much doubt about it. We use large resources.  We have approximately 140 people just focusing on investigating the case alone” he said.

Meanwhile, NRK reports police may consider transferring indicted Anders Behring Breivik, to whom women around the world are sending fan mail, from his solitary confinement in Ila prison to special high-security prisons Skien or Ringerike.

Seems like it really should be petty criminals in Oslo, rather than "women around the world," sending Breivik fan mail.

August 29, 2011 in Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Sushi and whisky: hard time in Russia's VIP prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this report from The Independent newpaper, which gets started this way:

For most people, spending years in a Russian prison camp would be a living nightmare. But one ex-prisoner has described how it can be a time of whisky, sushi and relative freedom -- if you have enough money.

Andrei, a former assistant to a Russian member of parliament who was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2006 for embezzlement, says that from day one of his time in the camps, money was the only language.  In an interview with Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, the former prisoner explains in detail how he paid his way through his years in jail, where he says that anything can be bought for the right price.

"We had whatever we wanted. I even ate sushi every day," he told the paper, to which he showed photographs that backed up his claims.  "We had a great table laid on for us in the camp -- sushi, champagne, whisky."

His allegations come just a month after photos were published of prisoners partying in a prison just outside Moscow.  The photos showed inmates dressed up in togas, sitting down to a lavish meal and having McDonald's delivered to their cell.  The governor of the prison was sacked after the photos appeared on the internet.  Both incidents show how corruption, endemic in Russia, has also engrained itself in the Russian prison system.

August 26, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Bill for tough riot sentencing runs into millions"

The title of this post is the headline of this piece from The Independent discussing some consequences and costs of the legal responses to some of the recent rioting across the pond.  Here is how the piece starts:

The tough sentencing in the aftermath of the riots has led to outbreaks of unrest in prisons across the country, as new research for The Independent on Sunday reveals that the courts' approach to riot-related offences has piled millions of pounds on to the bill for running overcrowded prisons.

Figures show that some two-thirds of the 1,300 arrested following the disturbances were remanded in custody, at a total cost of almost £2m, according to figures provided by the Institute for Public Policy Research.  The IPPR calculates the average cost of an under three-month sentence is £2,245 per offender.

On top of this, research for The Guardian showed riot sentences were on average 25 per cent longer than for the same offences last year, meaning the 30 people so far given custodial sentences for theft or handling stolen goods were sent to prison for 5.1 rather than 4.1 months.

The IPPR figures suggest the difference would add over £20,000 to the cost of jailing these prisoners.  However, with the rate of imprisonment for rioting offences running at 70 per cent, compared with the 3.5 per cent of defendants remanded by magistrates in the whole of last year, the cost is expected to climb dramatically.

Concerns have also been expressed about the number of children arrested following the riots.  The latest figures suggest 17% of defendants facing riot-related charges in court were aged between 11 and 17 -- and, in some areas, up to a third of these were in council care.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said: "We warned [the Government] about this potential, that the prison population could take off at any time, and we were ignored.  Our prisons can't be continually overcrowded, because when they are, our officers can't do the rehabilitation work they're employed to do; it just becomes warehousing."

August 21, 2011 in Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Prison population hits record high in England and Wales"

The title of this post is the headline of this new report from The Guardian about the latest punishment realities across the pond.  Here are some of the the details:

The prison population in England and Wales has hit a record high of 86,654 following the courts' decision to remand hundreds charged with rioting and looting in custody. The Ministry of Justice said the prison population had risen by 723 over the past week. Officials are making contingency plans to accelerate the opening of new prison buildings and bring mothballed accommodation back into use.

There are currently only 1,439 spare useable places left in the jail system, but prison chiefs say they remain confident they have enough to cope with those being imprisoned by the courts in relation to the recent riots. "We are developing contingencies to increase useable capacity should further pressure be placed on the prison estate," a Prison Service spokesperson said....

Geoff Dobson, the deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the rapid increase in prison numbers meant that some parts of the system were "becoming human warehouses, doing little more than banging people up in overcrowded conditions, with regimes that are hard pressed to offer any employment or education.  The likelihood is that for some first time offenders that will provide a fast-track to a criminal career."

His concerns were shared by Paul McDowell, the chief executive of Nacro, the crime reduction charity, and former governor of Brixton prison, who also warned that rehabilitation work to tackle reoffending would simply go by the board as jails tried to cope with the rapid rise in prisoner numbers.

Labour's prison spokesperson, Helen Goodman, said she was becoming increasingly concerned about the remaining capacity.  "The violence that was seen on the streets of Britain last week must be punished, but the Tory-led government also have a responsibility to ensure that the sentences handed down are being served safely," she said.

August 19, 2011 in Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"How Many Medical Marijuana Patients Are Fakers? Does It Matter?"

The questions in the title of this post come from the headline of this interesting new piece over at Reason.com posted by Jacob Sullum.  Here are excerpts:

A recent survey of 1,746 patients at nine medical marijuana evaluation clinics in California indicates that "the patient population has evolved from mostly HIV/AIDS and cancer patients to a significantly more diverse array."  University of California at Santa Cruz sociologist Craig Reinarman and his colleagues, who report their results in the Journal of Psychoactive Studies, say "this trend toward increasing therapeutic uses is bringing marijuana back to the position it held in the U.S. Pharmacopeia prior to its prohibition in 1937."

Reinarman et al. found that "relief of pain, spasms, headache, and anxiety, as well as to improve sleep and relaxation, were the most common reasons patients cited for using medical marijuana." The top three reasons physicians gave for recommending marijuana were "back/spine/neck pain" (31 percent), "sleep disorders" (16 percent), and "anxiety/depression" (13 percent).  Although those may sound like easy-to-fake symptoms, four-fifths of the patients reported trying other, doctor-prescribed medications (most commonly opioids) before marijuana.  They could have been malingering then too, of course, and it may be easier to get a recommendation for marijuana than it is to get a prescription for Vicodin or Valium.  But on the whole, it does not look like allowing the medical use of marijuana has fundamentally changed the nature of the doctor-patient relationship.  Doctors do, after all, commonly prescribe psychoactive pharmaceuticals to treat not only pain but also sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression — all with the government's blessing.  If some people find that marijuana works better for these purposes, there is no rational reason to prevent them from using it....

The authors are keenly aware of the widepread impression that a large portion of California's medical marijuana patients are using phony or exaggerated ailments as an excuse to get high.  They note that it is hard to measure the extent of such "diversion" and that the phenomenon is not limited to marijuana.  More fundamentally, they suggest that the distinction between medical and nonmedical use of drugs is becoming increasingly difficult to draw....

If you believe the government has no business drawing or policing this line, it is hard to get worked up about people who fake their way to a medical marijuana recommendation. But as I argued back in 1993, reformers could pay a price if all the talk about relieving the suffering of cancer and AIDS patients is perceived as a cover for recreational use. Politicians in other states commonly cite the California example as a reason to block medical use or restrict it to a short list of conditions.  Then again, the perception that California's current law encourages dishonesty (much as the medical and religious exceptions to alcohol prohibition did) may strengthen support for outright legalization, which last fall attracted support from 46 percent of California voters.

UPDATE:  This new item from the paper Haaretz in Israel provides an interesting international perspective on these issues. The piece is headlined "Israeli government approves guidelines for medical marijuana," and here are the specifics:

The Israeli government approved on Sunday arrangements and supervision regarding the supply of cannabis for medical and research purposes.  A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's media adviser said "the Health Ministry will -- in coordination with the Israel Police and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority -- oversee the foregoing and will also be responsible for supplies from imports and local cultivation."

Of approximately 6,000 Israelis currently being treated with medical cannabis (aka medical marijuana), most suffer from chronic pain and terminal illnesses.  The therapeutic potential of cannabis has been known for many years and is recognized by the Health Ministry.

But many patients -- such as sexual assault victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who have been recommended psychiatric treatment with medical cannabis -- encounter bureaucratic obstacles.

August 6, 2011 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Friday, August 05, 2011

"As Britain debates the death penalty again, studies from America confirm that it works"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary from across the pond authored by Tim Stanley, a research fellow in American History at Royal Holloway College.   Here are some excerpts from a provocative (and somewhat one-sided) piece:

Britain is talking seriously about the death penalty for the first time in over a decade.... We can expect anti-death penalty campaigners to point to America as an example of why it should stay banned.  The usual images will be invoked of pot-bellied, racist, white judges sentencing innocent saints to death by chainsaw in some Alabama charnel house. Accepting the many obvious injustices in the US legal system, there is an instinctive British snobbery towards Americans that renders any comparison between our two countries unflattering.  Amnesty International, Liberty and the New Statesman will probably ask, “Why would we endorse a system of retribution practiced by those knuckle-dragging, Bible bashing, toothless crazies over in Texas?”  Well, here’s one good reason: it works.

From 2001 to 2007, 12 academic studies were carried out in the US that examined the impact of the death penalty on local crime rates.  They explored the hypothesis that as the potential cost of an action increases, so people are deterred from doing it.  Nine out of twelve of the studies concluded that the death penalty saves lives.  Some of their findings are stunning.  Professors at Emory University determined that each execution deters an average of 18 murders.  Another Emory study found that speeding up executions strengthens deterrence: for every 2.75 years cut from an inmate’s stay on death row, one murder would be prevented. Illinois has just voted to stop executions across the state. According to a University of Houston study, that could be a fatal mistake.  It discovered that an earlier Illinois moratorium in 2000 encouraged 150 additional homicides in four years.

Opponents will point out that the death penalty is practiced in the states with the highest murder rates.  This is true, but it doesn’t mean that executions don’t work -- it just means that they take place where they are needed most. The states without the death penalty historically have lower than average levels of crime.  When the death penalty was suspended nationwide from 1968 to 1976, murder rates went through the roof -- except in those states.  When the ban was lifted, the states that reintroduced the death penalty saw an astonishing 38 per cent fall in their murder rate over twenty years....

There are many failings in the US justice system; the use of the death penalty can be symptomatic of them, but it is not a cause.  For example, it is incredibly costly to execute a criminal.... But the reason for the decades criminals spend waiting for their execution is simple: money-hungry lawyers and sympathetic liberals keep on appealing their sentences. Another complaint is that the death penalty is biased toward black defendants. Tragically, this is true: 42 per cent of death row inmates are black.  However, this reflects appalling indices of poverty, social dysfunction and racism. It is not necessarily a comment upon the appropriateness of the sentence. Many states have taken the decision that, on balance, justice should not be suspended altogether just because it is applied unevenly. That’s tough and needs addressing, but law and order trumps abstract notions of equality in the minds of most voters.

But for anyone who wallows in the superiority of the UK justice system, with its human rights legislation and touchy-feely approach to child murderers, it is worth bearing in mind that our rate of violent crime is actually far higher than that of the United States. According to a 2009 study, there were 2,034 offences per 100,000 people that year in the UK, putting Britain at the top of the international league table.  America recorded just 466.  The US seems to be getting something right: executing cold-blooded killers might be part of it.

August 5, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Monday, August 01, 2011

Venezuela's notable response to prison overcrowding and violence

This new article from the Christian Science Monitor provides a notable international perspective on prison overcrowding problems and how they can be addressed.  The piece is headlined "Venezuela promises to release thousands of prisoners: The new prisons minister, appointed in the wake of a deadly riot at El Rodeo prison outside Caracas, says that she will let 20,000 nonviolent criminals go." Here are excerpts:

Just a month after a deadly prison siege in El Rodeo prison outside Caracas, Venezuela in which some 30 people died, Venezuelan authorities have announced plans to release 40 percent of the country's prison population.  Varela said that the release of some 20,000 prisoners would ease overcrowding, a major issue in jails across Venezuela and the entire region.

“Of the country's 50,000 prisoners, 20,000 should be out of jail," Ms. Varela told a local newspaper.  The country's 30 prisons are designed to hold around 12,500 inmates.  "In prison there are people that do not pose a danger to society, such as shoplifters who have no history of violence.  They can be handled outside prison," she said.

But the new minister is likely to face criticism, even as overcrowding in jails is one of the issues for which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez constantly gets panned.  Venezuela is considered one of the region's most dangerous countries, with the murder rate in Caracas comparable to that of warzones such as Baghdad.  While many prisoners may have gone into jail for minor crimes such as shoplifting, they will no doubt have been hardened by the “Dante-esque" conditions inside, according to Humberto Prado, who helps run the Venezuelan Prison Observatory.

Varela sought to dispel concerns of mass chaos. "I want to promise the Venezuelan people that we won't let the wolves loose," added Varela who was appointed by President Chavez last week....

Riots at El Rodeo jail, in Guatire just east of Caracas, left around 30 dead in a siege that lasted for 27 days. Thousands of troops attempted to regain control against inmates armed with AK47s, machine guns, and hand grenades. Family members waited outside a kilometer-wide perimeter for news of their loved ones, as shooting was heard from the complex.

August 1, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Can Norwegian punishment fit the crime?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable piece in USA Today.  Here are excerpts:

[I]n the days since the world learned that Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence for the killings there has been some criticism of the Norwegian justice.

Anti-Breivik Facebook groups have appeared such as Anders Behring Breivik Haters and Hang Anders Behring Breivik.  One group asked members to vote on whether Norway should reintroduce capital punishment, abolished for civilian crimes in 1902 and banned completely in 1988 (after briefly being used on World War II Nazi collaborators).  The Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten reported that 71,000 of 97,000 members replied no.  

But some say Norway may be too easy on criminals even though its crime rates now are low compared with those in the United States.  "Yes, there will be more momentum for those who opine that the Norwegian penalties are too lenient," said Helge Lurås, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

Lurås said polls show 25% of Norwegians are in favor of the death penalty; among Progress Party members, who are conservative, the figure is 50%.  But even the right wing in Norway is not prepared to look toward the U.S. system of life sentences without parole for murder.  "My sense is that people tend to feel that the penitentiary system and the penalties are insufficiently punitive" in Norway, Lurås said.  "But I think most Norwegians perceive the U.S. criminal system to be far too harsh."

Since Friday's twin terror attacks in Oslo and the nearby island of Utaya, there have been no street protests in this otherwise usually tolerant Nordic society.  Police attorney Christian Hatlo says it is possible that Breivik might be charged for crimes against humanity and face a 30-year sentence.  And if convicted, he could be held beyond his term's expiration if he is deemed to still be a danger to society, perhaps for life.

Many say Norway's justice system should reflect Norway's values.  "Today, most of the people will say that no penalty is too strong for a mass murder," said Harald Stanghelle, political editor at Aftenposten, in a commentary Wednesday. "It's important then to be aware that we are a just society.  He wanted to crush that just society, while we others want to preserve it."...

Norway has refused to deport foreigners if they could face the death penalty at home, as is the case with Mullah Krekar, founder of terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, who lives in Norway. "I think the American system is based on a value other than the norm in Norway," said Arne Brusgaard, 66, an independent consultant. "In the U.S., the focus is not just on freedom of movement, but also on making the punishment regime tough. As far as I can understand, there is too little focus on rehabilitation and reintroduction into society."

John Christian Elden, a criminal defense lawyer and partner at the law firm Elden, said Norway is being practical in not stacking accumulating sentences for each killing. "A penalty beyond 21 years would neither help society nor the criminal in moving on after release," he said. "It has not been considered to have any greater deterrent effect if one threatens with 21 or 30 or 50 years in prison in preventing someone from committing a crime."

Providing a fitting companion to this report from USA Today is this new op-ed in the New York Times, which is headlined "Justice? Vengeance? You Need Both." Here is how it begins:

Norway, a nation far removed from the wickedness of the world, is now facing one of its greatest moral challenges: What to do with Anders Behring Breivik, the man who has confessed to massacring 76 people, many of them children.  Norway does not allow for capital punishment, and the longest prison sentence a killer can usually receive there is 21 years.  A country of such otherwise good fortune and peaceful intention is now unprepared — legally and morally — to deal with such a monstrous atrocity.

The United States, unfortunately, is much more familiar with this problem. Americans have spent several recent weeks in a vengeful fury over the acquittal of Casey Anthony, who partied for an entire month while her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, was supposedly missing but might have actually been murdered — by Ms. Anthony.  Many believe that Caylee was denied justice; her mother, meanwhile, has been released from prison and remains hidden in an undisclosed location, largely to protect her from vigilante justice.

The inadequacy of legal justice is one thing, its outright failure is quite another.  But in both cases the attraction of a nonlegal alternative is a powerful one.  Are these vengeful feelings morally appropriate?  The answer is yes — because the actual difference between vengeance and justice is not as great as people think.

Related recent post:

July 28, 2011 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack