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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Norway mass murderer facing no more than 21 years in (cushy?) prison
- "Norway killer could be held in 'luxury prison'"
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
"Norway killer could be held in 'luxury prison'"
The title of this post is the headline of this report from The (UK) Telegraph, which starts this way:
Anders Behring Breivik could be jailed in one of the world's most progressive prisons, where inmates enjoys cells equipped with flat screen televisions, minifridges and designer-style furniture. Halden Fengsel prison was opened last by King Harald V and is home to some of Norway's most hardened criminals, including murderers and rapists.
The jail is spread over 75 acres of woodland just outside Oslo and facilities include a sound studio, jogging trails and a two-bedroom house separate from the main facility where convicts can stay with their families during overnight visits.
Guards move around the prison unarmed and often play sports or eat meals with the men they are tasked with watching. Half of the prison staff are women, a policy based on research which shows a female presence induces a less aggressive atmosphere.
In a far cry from the brutalist set up of British or American prisons, there is even a "kitchen laboratory" where inmates can take specialist cooking courses.
Speaking at the opening of the jail last year, governor Are Hoidal said: "In the Norwegian prison system, there's a focus on human rights and respect. We want to build them up, give them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people."
There is some evidence that the Norwegian approach to prison works, with only around 20 per cent of offenders ending up back behind bars within two years of release, compared to around half of British convicts.
Related recent post:
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Norway mass murderer facing no more than 21 years in (cushy?) prison
As detailed in this press report, which is headlined "Norway killing suspect may get 21 years in jail," it appears that the maximum sentence that could be given to the terrorist who murdered nearly 100 people in Norway is only 21 years in prison:
The person suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks in Norway will be charged for terrorist activity, while the maximum prison sentence in Norway is 21 years, Norway police said Saturday.
Over ninety people have been killed in the two attacks since Friday.
Police have confirmed that arrested 32-year-old Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, was involved both in the explosion in Oslo, and in a shooting at a youth summer camp on Utoya Island. Police did not link the tragedy to any international terrorist organisations but said the suspect was connected with right-wing extremism.
As detailed in prior posts linked below, Norway crime and punishment has previously been noted on this blog because of various press reports on its relatively cushy forms of incarceration. I do not know if Anders Behring Breivik would be eligible to serve his 21 years in one of these "cushy" Norway prisons, but I do know that a significant number of American criminals involved in relatively minor crack deals and child porn downloading and corporate crimes face much longer prison terms in the US than does a mass murderer in Norway. Remarkable.
Related prior posts on Norway's prisons:
- Norway's new prison sound far more pleasant than punishing
- "Hardened Criminals Held in Freedom: Doing Time on Norway's Island Prison"
- Does Norway's success with a "cushy prison" suggest we ought to get softer on criminals?
UPDATE: Anders Behring Breivik appeared in court this morning, and the details are report in this CBS News piece headlined "Judge: Massacre suspect wanted to 'save Norway'."
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Interesting sentencing news from China
Two reports on sentencing developments in China caught my eye this weekend:
Based on these stories, it now sound like sentencing law and policy in China is now quite a lot like in the old USA.
"Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws at Home and Abroad: Is an International Megan’s Law Good Policy?"
The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Christopher King available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Comparative reviews of sex offender laws at the foreign level have been rare; discussions at the international level are nonexistent. This article seeks to address these needs in the following ways. First, federal, US sex offender laws are reviewed. Countries with sex offender registration and/or notification laws are then identified and their sex offender schemes compared (with a focus on registration, community notification, retroactive application, and/or international travel reporting). Next, the International Megan’s Law proposal that has recently been surfacing in Congress is discussed and critiqued. Finally, an alternative, more cost-effective proposal is offered.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Interesting sentencing doings and debates across the pond
As detailed in this effective piece from The Guardian, there are new and notable political and legal developments and debats concerning sentencing law and policy in England. The piece is headlined "Cameron shelves key parts of Clarke's prison sentencing reforms; Government to rethink justice secretary's plan to give offenders 50% reduction in jail terms in return for early guilty pleas." Here are excerpts:
David Cameron has ditched controversial plans to introduce a 50% sentencing discount for an early guilty plea after holding talks with the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, on Tuesday.
It has not yet been decided whether the change will apply to all cases or only the most serious. Downing Street denied Clarke had been summoned to a meeting by the prime minister or that he had in any way been ordered to carry out a U-turn.
The leak of the meeting has irritated Cameron, who is likely to be uneasy about suggestions that he is conducting a series of policy switches under pressure either from the rightwing media or his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues.
Officials stressed that the sentencing discount had only been in a discussion paper and was not firm policy. But only at the weekend, justice ministers had been defending the plan, pointing out that it would save the government substantial sums....
The prime minister's spokesman stressed that proposals to cut the prison population by reducing the numbers on drugs offences, the number of foreign prisoners and the number of reoffenders, remained.
Clarke had originally postponed an announcement on his sentencing plans until after the Whitsun break. The home secretary, Theresa May, confirmed on Wednesday that this announcement had now been postponed again, and the publication of a sentencing and legal aid bill delayed for a matter of weeks.
Downing Street is also believed to have insisted that ministers look again at a plan to restore a judge's discretion in imposing indeterminate sentences for public protection, which have been a major factor behind the increase in the prison population in England and Wales.
Cameron is due to make a major speech on crime either later this week or early next, and preparations for that speech that are believed to have prompted the meeting with Clarke.
The sentencing package as a whole would save £130m by reducing demand for prison places. Work to establish the impact of excluding more serious offences, including rape and attempted murder from the discount plans, is believed to be ongoing. The problem for Clarke is that the discount plan is a major part of his drive to stabilise the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales.
Justice ministry estimates show that 3,400 of the 6,000 fewer prison places that will be needed as a result of his sentencing package will come from the plan to increase the maximum available sentence discount from 33% to 50%. In practice, the MoJ estimates that the average actual discount in sentences for early guilty pleas would increase from 25% to 34%....
Clarke came under pressure from Downing Street last month to clarify his claims that some rapes were more "serious" than others amid Labour calls for his resignation. The justice secretary was later forced to make a public declaration that he regarded "all rape as a serious crime".... Clarke's plans have caused jitters among some Conservatives, who fear they undermine Tory claims to be the party of law and order.
Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Clarke's plans presented a "coherent blueprint for reform" and should be allowed to go ahead.
Monday, May 30, 2011
"Chinese Court Orders Death Penalty for Food Safety Crimes"
The title of this post is the headline of this international news piece, which gets started this way:
China's top court issued a notice on Friday calling for the death penalty for food safety crimes that lead to fatalities. It comes amid widespread public anger over safety scandals in recent months.
Contaminated pork, toxic milk powder, dumplings containing aluminum, watermelons sprayed with dangerous chemicals, and other tainted foods have been reported recently — highlighting the Chinese regime's difficulty managing the country's poorly regulated food industry.
Friday, May 27, 2011
"China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work"
The title of this post is the headline of this recent report from the Guardian, which starts this way:
As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.
Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for "illegally petitioning" the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.
"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu told the Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."
Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.
But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real. "If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," he said.
It is known as "gold farming", the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games' makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.
Especially because it is late Friday before a holiday weekend, readers are welcome (and even encouraged) to respond to this post with jokes about sentencing prisoners to play Angry Birds or about what kinds of required on-line activities might be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Supreme People's Court of China orders lower courts to suspend death sentences for two years
Changes in the law, policy and practice of the death penalty in China is now appearing to be even more dynamic than in the US these days. Specifically, as detailed in this new BBC piece headlined "China orders suspension of death sentences," the highest court in China is apparently ordering a big change in capital practices in lower courts. Here are the details:
China has apparently introduced new standards to reduce the number of criminals it executes. The Supreme People's Court -- the highest in China -- has told lower courts to suspend death sentences for two years. But this should only happen in cases where there is no need for "immediate execution", the court said.
China has introduced a number of measures over recent years to cut down the number of executions. This latest development appeared in the annual report of the supreme court. "Suspend the death sentence for two years for all cases that don't require immediate execution," read the report.
The court does not say why some cases might need to be carried out immediately, although in the past the government has instructed judges to be more severe in cases that involved crimes it was targeting. Those benefiting from the changes will probably never be executed. Criminals given a suspended death penalty usually have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
China does not reveal the number of executions it carries out each year, but it is thought to kill more people than any other country. Four years ago the Supreme People's Court took back the right to review every death sentence handed out by lower courts. The result has been fewer executions.
Earlier this year China reduced the number of crimes that carry the death penalty by 13 to 55. "Strictly control and unify standards relating to the death penalty, and ensure that it only applies to a very small minority of criminals committing extremely serious crimes," read one section of the supreme court's report.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Iranian judiciary postpones planned "eye for eye" punishment
As detailed in this new Time piece, the "Iran's judiciary has postponed the blinding of a man as punishment for throwing acid in the face of a young woman in 2004, after she rejected his offer of marriage." Here is more on this proposed and now postponed form of retributive justice:
The delay came in the face of mounting outcry both inside Iran and in the West over the sentencing, which is permissible under qesas, a principle of Islamic law allowing victims analogous retribution for violent crimes.
The case has stirred passionate interest in Iran since 2004, when Majid Movahedi, a university student, accosted Ameneh Bahrami on a Tehran street and tossed a red bucket of sulfuric acid in her face. Bahrami, an attractive young engineer, had repeatedly spurned Movahedi's proposals and reported his harassment to the police. She was blinded and severely disfigured in the attack, and has spent the intervening years between Iran and Spain undergoing numerous unsuccessful operations to reconstruct her face and repair her sight.
Much of the public outcry in Iranian media, news websites, and blogs, surrounds the Iranian legal system, which produces such verdicts by practising an 'eye for an eye' approach to justice based on seventh century Islamic jurisprudence. These principles effectively offer victims of violent crime two legal choices, forgiveness or qesas, analogous retribution....
Speaking on the interactive television program Saturday, Bahrami said she favored a more modern course, suing for damages. "I want him to be punished foremost. But if there are human rights considerations, then I'll accept two million Euros and his life imprisonment," she said....
Bahrami, who was scheduled to herself administer the blinding drops to an anaesthetized Movahedi, learned of the delay outside the Judiciary Hospital in Tehran. Human rights groups and Western governments pleaded with Iranian authorities last week to call off the punishment. Iran's government usually responds to such foreign pressure by lashing out rather than backing off, but Bahrami's case poses a unique dilemma: unlike many human rights cases which excite opinion primarily in the West, it has resonated deeply throughout Iranian society; the attention inside Iran raises the prospect of a public backlash at a time when the regime is deeply divided by political infighting. "There's no doubt public opinion inside Iran has been stirred up," says Amini. "There's been a huge outpouring of sympathy for both of them, and this puts pressure on the government."