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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
China's popular reality show: "Interviews Before Execution"
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
Friday, November 25, 2011
South Korea rolls out new robot prison guard
As 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.
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:
- Arizona Supreme Court upholds 200-year sentence for possessing child porn
- Florida defendant gets LWOP sentence for mere possession of (lots of) kiddie porn
- Outstanding local media coverage of the crime, prosecution and punishment of kiddle porn downloaders
- "The Efficacy of Severe Child Pornography Sentencing: Empirical Validity or Political Rhetoric?"
- Fascinating data on recent trends and circuit specifics for federal child porn sentences
- Effective local reporting on realities and debates surrounding federal sentencing guidelines for child porn
- "Most federal judges not comfortable with tough guidelines"
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.
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:
From The Telegraph, "New sentences will see hundreds fewer serious criminals go to jail; Kenneth Clarke was last night accused of putting the public at risk as it emerged his new sentence reforms will see at least 2,500 fewer dangerous criminals go to prison"
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.
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."
Monday, May 09, 2011
Does Norway's success with a "cushy prison" suggest we ought to get softer on criminals?
The question in the title of this post is inspired by this fascinating article a helpful reader sent me from the Daily Mail across the pond. The piece is titled "Norway's controversial 'cushy prison' experiment -- could it catch on in the UK?" and it carries this sub-heading: "Can a prison possibly justify treating its inmates with saunas, sunbeds and deckchairs if that prison has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe? Live reports from Norway on the penal system that runs contrary to all our instincts -- but achieves everything we could wish for." Here is one excerpt from an interesting read:
A recent opinion poll showed the British public wants harsher prison conditions; they don't agree with the Government's response to over-population and reoffending by pushing through far-reaching reforms which emphasise shorter sentences while placing prisoners in a working environment.
And yet, an extensive new study undertaken by researchers across all the Nordic countries reveals that the reoffending average across Europe is about 70-75 per cent. In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the average is 30 per cent. In Norway it is 20 per cent. Thus Bastoy, at just 16 per cent, has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe.
Of course, Norway is one of the wealthiest, most sparsely populated and most stable countries in the world, with a population of just five million, and a prison population fluctuating around 3,500 inmates, the lowest percentage in Europe apart from Iceland; surely a special case.
Even so, whatever is happening here may be condemned, but cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is being positively embraced here - Norway is planning to build more prisons like Bastoy. At the expense of our own deep-seated unease, and with the possible benefits of safer streets, dare we ever contemplate such a prison regime in the UK?
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Noting the links between DP abolition and LWOP sentences
This recent commentary from The Guardian provides an effective and troublesome reminder of the too frequent link internationally between death penalty abolition and expansion of the sentence of life without parole. The piece is headlined "Falling execution rates don't always mean a victory for human rights; In countries where capital punishment has been banned the alternative can be inhumane life imprisonment without parole." Here are excerpts:
Amnesty International's recently published death penalty statistics hailed a "decade of progress". For opponents of capital punishment, this annual tradition of significant documented falls in executions is a victory -- of sorts. As Amnesty reported, of the 67 countries that handed down death sentences in 2010, only 23 actually carried out executions. These statistics, however, do not tell us this: what happened to the prisoners who escaped state execution in the remaining 44?
Very little attention is given to the sanctions that should replace capital punishment, or to what happens after it is abolished. Consider Uganda. A landmark legal challenge in 2009 abolished mandatory death sentences for certain crimes. But the Ugandan criminal justice system was unprepared for the change. Under pressure from politicians facing a backlash from a public highly supportive of capital punishment, and in the absence of any new sentencing guidelines, judges handed down draconian prison sentences instead -- including life without parole, previously nonexistent in Uganda.
The attraction of life without parole, now the commonest alternative to capital punishment, is understandable. It allows governments to claim they are protecting the public by permanently removing serious offenders from society. It appeases public outcry at the early release of dangerous convicts on parole. And it means abolitionists can show they are not soft on crime, while at the same time eliminating the danger of executing innocent people. But life without parole trades one severe punishment for another: execution is swapped for a protracted, hopeless death in unspeakable conditions. HIV rates in Ugandan prisons are more than double the rest of the population. In Malawi, where no one has been executed since 1992, prisons are vastly overcrowded and rife with infectious disease; prisoners are denied contact with families, and sexual and psychological abuse by inmates and guards is routine.
Across the world today, those lucky souls who escape death by hanging, beheading, electrocution, lethal injection, shooting or stoning live out their lives in conditions tantamount to a breach of international prohibitions of cruel and inhuman punishment, as an emerging jurisprudence recognises. Whole life imprisonment can also be a form of legal disappearance. In 2009, after Kenya's last elections, some 4,000 prisoners had their sentences commuted to life to without parole by President Kibaki. Some of those prisoners -- living in some of the world's most crowded and worst funded prisons -- have not been heard from since, by their lawyers or families. These are hardly arguments for retaining capital punishment. But if a sentence of 75 years, with hard labour and without review or hope of release -- the current alternative in Trinidad and Tobago -- is considered a "victory", it is surely time to rethink our indices of success....
Few headlines focus on the aftermath [of a commuted death sentence], and few international advocates jet in to ensure that those released from death row are not tortured in prison, contract tuberculosis or HIV, lose contact with their families or die in appalling squalor. Indeed, litigation can often cause unintended harm. In the United States, as Peter Hodgkinson of the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies (one of few organisations raising this issue) has pointed out, a government backlash against death-penalty litigation has directly or indirectly led to an increase in the number of capital crimes, and to severe restrictions in the appeal process.
Life without parole cannot be the alternative. Both the UN and Council of Europe guidelines on managing long-term prisoners recognise that very small numbers of convicted prisoners may have to stay in prison for their natural lives -- but only with regular reviews of their risk of reoffending....
The abolitionist campaign's goal should be a humane, proportionate and human rights-compliant response to perpetrators and victims of serious crime. It might require global guidance to standardise the huge, and often grossly disproportionate range of sentencing decisions. It will certainly require building and sustaining capacity among lawyers to challenge human rights abuses in prison, and training police and prison staff to cope in effective and positive ways with serious offenders. It will also mean recognising that the high proportion of mentally ill prisoners on death row might be better dealt with in clinical rather than punitive settings....
A falling execution rate is not the only measure of rising humanity. We cannot simply declare victory when capital punishment is removed from the statute book, or when fewer prisoners are executed. Moving to a humane penal response to serious crime, in societies in which the death penalty has flourished for centuries, cannot be done at a stroke. The entire abolitionist project is undermined if wholesale infrastructural change is not addressed. Too often, current alternatives to the death penalty raise the uncomfortable question: "what would you rather?" Those that do not are not easy -- but silence does no justice to our cause.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
New report from Justice Policy Institute on comparative criminal justice strategies
As detailed here, the folks at the Justice Policy Institute have produced a really interesting new report on international criminal justice policies and practices. This new report, which is titled "Finding Direction: Expanding Criminal Justice Options by Considering Policies of Other Nations," appears expressly designed to encourage US criminal justice policy-makers to draw potential wisdom and guidance from what is being done in five particular other countries. Here is JPI's summary description of the report and its goals:
When it comes to criminal justice, there is much to be gleaned from the policies and practices in other democratic nations. Other nations protect public safety without imprisoning as large a percentage of their population, handle law-breaking behavior in ways less reliant on incarceration, and have different approaches to addressing complex social issues.
A country’s criminal justice policies and practices do not exist within a vacuum: they are a product of the larger social systems and political realities to which they are inextricably tied. For this reason, some policymakers may think other countries are too fundamentally different than the U.S. for these policies to be adopted.
This report compares and contrasts the criminal justice policies and social, economic, and governmental structures of five countries -- Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Finland and Germany -- to the United States. While each nation has a unique set of circumstances and realities, each has enough fundamental similarities to the U.S. that cross-national policy adoption could be considered. An evaluation of the various similarities and differences can broaden the existing dialogue and create more momentum for the types of systemic reforms that will reduce the burden of over-incarceration on communities, states, and the country as a whole.
The full report, an executive summary and a series of short issue-specific factsheets drawn from the report are all available at this link.
Monday, April 11, 2011
"Drug Policy in Context: Rhetoric and Practice in the United States and the United Kingdom"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper from Professot Richard Boldt now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The history of narcotics use and drug control in the U.S. before passage of the Harrison Act in 1914 is similar in important respects to that in the U.K. during the same period. Although the two countries’ paths diverged significantly over the ensuing decades, there has been a convergence of sorts in recent years. In the United States, the trend lines have moved from an active “war on drugs” in which criminal enforcement and punishment have been the primary rhetorical and practical instruments of policy to an evolving approach, at least at the federal level, characterized by a somewhat more pragmatic tone and a more balanced set of interventions that mix enforcement, treatment and prevention. From the British side, the movement has been in the opposite direction, from a longstanding public health approach to an intensifying focus on criminal offending as the primary social risk posed by the misuse of drugs. Thus, just as the criminal justice system long has been the principle front in the U.S. assault on drug abuse, the shift in British drug policy has now made the criminal system in the U.K. a central focus in its efforts to combat the problem of drugs and drug addiction.
This pattern of convergence is likely to be incomplete. Even though actors in each country have been aware of developments in the other (and have even borrowed policy prescriptions from time to time), one critical difference in their parallel histories is likely to be determinative. The American move toward pragmatism, if it is to occur, must be executed against the inertial force generated by policy commitments and social practices of more than seventy-five years standing in which the most dominant feature has been an intense moral disapproval of drugs and those who use them. The British approach to drug policy, on the other hand, does not have to contend with this moral anchor, and therefore is likely to remain more pragmatic and therapeutic in orientation into the foreseeable future.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Lots of data and a cool graphic concerning international use of the death penalty
Amnesty International recently published death penalty information for all countries in the world, and the folks at The Guardian have assembled and summarized the information effectively in this piece. The piece includes the cool graphic spotlighted here, and this text:
Despite fewer countries executing prisoners than ever before, the death penalty is still alive and well around the world. The latest statistics show that China executes thousands, said Amnesty International in its report on the death penalty worldwide. Amnesty does not provide a precise figure of executions in China as Beijing keeps such figures secret.
China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US carried out the most executions last year, the report says:
- Whilst 67 countries handed down sentences in 2010, only 23 countries actually carried out executions -- just over a third
- The number of official executions reported fell from at least 714 people in 2009 to at least 527 in 2010, excluding China.
- We have also seen fresh steps towards abolition in countries including Belarus and Mongolia...
Setting China aside, Amnesty said at least 527 executions were carried out last year. Almost half of those took place in Iran (252). North Korea executed 60, Yemen 53 and the US 46. The minimum number of executions was down from at least 714 in 2009.
Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and various kinds of shooting (by firing squad, and at close range to the heart or the head). No stonings were recorded in 2010, but stoning sentences were reported in Nigeria, Pakistan and Iran, where at least 10 women and four men remain under stoning sentences. At least 2,024 new death sentences were imposed during 2010 in 67 countries, including 365 in Pakistan alone, meaning it has some 8,000 people currently on death row.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
"Hardened Criminals Held in Freedom: Doing Time on Norway's Island Prison"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting, lengthy piece from Germany's Spiegel Online. Here is how it gets started and a few notable passages:
No bars. No walls. No armed guards. The prison island of Bastøy in Norway is filled with some of the country's most hardened criminals. Yet it emphasizes self-control instead of the strictly regulated regimens common in most prisons. For some inmates, it is more than they can handle....
There is only one pistol on Bastøy -- a bronze sculpture in the warden's office. The warden, Arne Nilsen, is a slim man in his early sixties, a man who doesn't need a uniform to convey his authority. He doesn't know where the pistol came from. It's always been there.
The warden is a man who deals in freedom. He is also a visionary. He wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other. What he doesn't want is a camera in the supermarket. He doesn't want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.
The inmates on Bastøy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime and petty theft. "We don't pick out the mild cases," says Nilsen. Some inmates serve their entire sentences on the island. Murderers can only apply to be transferred to the island once they have served two-thirds of their sentences elsewhere. Some 115 prisoners live on Bastøy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community. Anyone caught drinking alcohol or fighting is thrown out....
This paradise has been around for 20 years -- and has a warden who loves statistics. The numbers, after all, prove him right. Only 16 percent of the prisoners in this island jail become repeat offenders in the first two years after leaving Bastøy as compared with 20 percent for Norway as a whole. In Germany, where recidivism is measured after three years, the rate is 50 percent.
The warden also feels vindicated because there has never been a murder or a suicide on the island -- and because no one left Bastøy last winter even though the sea ice was frozen solid.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
"Iranian web programmer faces execution on porn charges"
The title of this post is the headline of this article from The Guardian, which provides a little comparative perspective concerning the severity of US sentences for child porn offenses. Here are the specifics:
A 35-year-old Iranian web programmer is facing imminent execution in connection with developing and promoting porn websites, charges that his family insist are trumped up.
Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada who was arrested in October 2008 after his arrival in Tehran, is convicted of designing and moderating adult content websites, acting against the national security, insulting and desecrating the principles of Islam, and agitating the public mind.
Speaking from Toronto, Malekpour's wife, Fatemeh Eftekhari, said her husband has been informed of the verdict and has been transferred to solitary confinement for the sentence to be administered if the supreme court sanctions it. She says her husband was a web programmer who had written photo uploading software that was used in a porn website without his knowledge.
Human rights groups have expressed alarm over a sharp increase in the use of capital punishment in Iran. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), 121 people have been hanged between 20 December 2010 and 31 January this year. An ICHRI report published in mid-January said that Iran has hanged an average of one person every eight hours since the beginning of the new year.
Last week prosecutor general Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told reporters in Tehran that two people had been sentenced to death for running porn websites, without naming the convicts. "Two administrators of porn sites have been sentenced to death in two different court branches and the verdicts have been sent to the supreme court for confirmation," Dolatabadi was quoted by IRNA state news agency as saying....
Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International in Canada, an organisation which has sought for Malekpour's sentence to be commuted said: "Amnesty International is very concerned that Saeed Malekpour is facing a death sentence in Iran after an unfair trial and reports that he was tortured in order to confess to his crimes."
Last month Iran executed Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian woman convicted of drug smuggling, which resulted in a freeze of the Dutch diplomatic contacts with Iran.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Can you believe prisons now have tanning beds ... in Russia?!?!?!
There is this amusing new prison story, headlined "Notorious Russian prison to get tanning beds," coming from the AP out of Moscow. Here are the details:
A centuries-old Russian prison notorious for its primitive conditions will soon offer inmates a new perk — tanning beds....
[Viktor] was quoted as saying the tanning beds are meant to compensate for inadequate sunlight in the cells. But inmates will have to pay and at 10 rubles (33 cents) a minute, that's a sizable fee in a country where the average monthly salary is well under $1,000.
The prison's dismal conditions attracted wide attention in 2009 after the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a young lawyer who died of pancreas disease there after inadequate medical care.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Real-life drama in China over crime and punishment of toll dodgers
As effectively explained in this BBC article, many fascinating aspects of China's criminal justice system is brought to light in an amazing and still developing story of massive toll evasion. Here are the details:
The younger brother of a Chinese man sentenced to life in prison for dodging road tolls has turned himself into police, state media reports. Shi Junfeng said he -- and not his elder brother - had put military number plates on the vehicles to evade tolls of 3.7m yuan (£350,000;$560,000).
The case caused an outcry in China, with many questioning the harsh sentence given to Shi Jianfeng. The court in Henan province had already ordered a retrial.
Shi Jianfeng had been found guilty last week of evading the fees over a nine-month period while delivering sand and gravel in two trucks. The court ruled he had used military number plates, meaning the vehicles could avoid paying road tolls. He was sentenced to life in prison, a fine of 2m yuan and the loss of his political rights. He also had his illegal earnings confiscated.
But last Friday, the court in Pingdingshan ordered a retrial of the case, ruling that other people may have been involved. Court official Liu Penghua said the convicted man had claimed he was "manipulated by a relative," the Xinhua news agency reported.
On Saturday night, Shi Junfeng turned himself in to police in Yuzhou City, saying his brother, a farmer, had taken the blame for him. It appears he had not thought his older brother would be sentenced so severely, telling police he had offered bribes to officials and had been assured he would be released quickly....
The case had generated a furious reaction online in China. Many argued that far more lenient sentences are usually given for more serious crimes. There were also complaints that road tolls, required on most major highways, are too high for ordinary people to be able to afford.
I find the notion that a Chinese driver could rack up over a half-million dollars in tolls over a nine-month period to be perhaps the most stunning part of this whole story. I often think tolls going from New Jersey into Manhattan are crazy high, but even the most expensive route is not more than $25 round trip. One would have to make that costly trip more than fifty times every day to have a toll bill anywhere comparable to what these Chinese brothers racked up.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Japan also struggling with aging prison population
As detailed in this new AP article, which is headlined "Japanese prisons face swelling elderly population," Japan is dealing with a prison problem that is very common in many US states. Here is how the piece starts:
Handrails run down the middle of the hallway to help prisoners make their way from one end to the other. Adult diapers are neatly stacked in a corner. When an inmate chokes on his rice and coughs, a supervisor rushes over to rub his back.
Welcome to the world of old-age prisons. Japan's population is aging faster than anywhere else, and with that has come an even sharper rise in elderly inmates.
The number of Japanese prisoners aged 60 or older has doubled over the past decade to more than 10,000. That outpaces a 30 percent increase in the general population for that age group. The elderly now represent 16 percent of the nation's inmates.
Though Japan's crime rate remains relatively low, the spike in elderly crime is another sign of the social and economic strains on the once-confident country.
Friday, November 26, 2010
China's top court reversing 10% of death sentencing in recent years
This AFP piece provides an interesting report on recent developments in China's administration of the death penalty. Here are details:
China has overturned 10 percent of death sentences handed down in the country since the top court began reviewing them in 2007 in a bid to limit use of capital punishment, an official has said.
Most of the reversals were made due to insufficient evidence, procedural flaws, or because the penalty was too harsh, Hu Yunteng, head of research for the Supreme People's Court, was quoted saying by Friday's China Daily.
China is believed by rights groups to execute more people than the rest of the world combined, and it gave the top court final review powers in 2007 amid concerns some death sentences were unwarranted.
"We must make sure the use of the death sentence is accurate and free of mistakes to respect and protect the convicts and their rights," Hu said. "The Supreme People's Court will not tolerate any mistakes regarding evidence or procedure and will thoroughly investigate questionable judgements."
Hu said the supreme court had overturned "on average" 10 percent of death sentences, according to the report, which provided no further explanation. Most executions are carried out for violent crimes such as murder and robbery, the report said, but drug trafficking and some corruption cases also are punishable by death.
Hu declined to say how many people were executed each year, the report said. The figure is treated as a state secret in China.
In other international death penalty news, this article spotlights in its headline that "Sweden enjoys 100 years without executions."
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Learning from the French approach to white-collar crime and sentencing
Forbes blogger Walter Pavl has this amusing new post titled "What Jerome Kerviel’s Sentence Could Teach Us In America." Here is how it begins:
Jerome Kerviel, formerly of Societe Generale SA, was convicted this week in France of fraud and sentenced to 3 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $7 billion. Had Kerviel been sentenced under the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines he would have received about 100 years, but the fine would have been roughly about the same. The only job that he could get to pay back that kind of money would be, well, a trader on Wall Street. So I don’t see him paying this back anytime soon.
What was interesting about this case was that Societe Generale was the victim here and had no hand in its own undoing. The sentence and the restitution fell solely on Kerviel and did not implicate the bank in any way. I pondered this and thought, “Now there’s another good idea that the French have that we need to bring here to the States…A villain.”
What we’re missing here in the U.S. is a good villain. A Jerome Kerviel for our own banking collapse. Bank of America, AIG, GMAC, Lehman Brothers, Country Wide, et al, failed because of placing poor investment trades, similar to those placed by Societe Generale, or should I say Jerome Kerviel. Each of these U.S. financial institutions needs to give up one of their young for the sake of solving the mystery of “Who done it?” None of the CEO’s of major investment banks seem to know who was responsible within their own organizations for the bad trades, they just happened. Congress could not even drag a single name of a villain out of these guys when they were being grilled on Capitol Hill.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
"Iran claims double standard in death penalty cases"The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article, which gets started this way:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has criticized Western media for having a double standard in reporting on the case of an American woman facing the death penalty, a news agency reported Tuesday.
Ahmadinejad accused the West of launching a "heavy propaganda" campaign against the case of an Iranian woman who had been sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery but failing to react with outrage over the imminent execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia, according to state-run IRNA. Iran
Lewis is a Virginia woman due to be put to death by injection on Thursday for using sex and money to persuade two men to kill her husband and her stepson to collect on life insurance policies. She would be the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly a century, and the first U.S. execution of a woman in five years.
Ahmadinejad noted that "millions of Internet pages" have been devoted to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose stoning sentence was suspended in July and her case put under review.
"Meanwhile, nobody objects to the case of an American woman who is going to be executed," he was quoted as saying during a speech Monday to Islamic clerics and other figures in New York, where the Iranian leader is attending the U.N. General Assembly. "Today Western media are propaganda agents who continuously speak about democracy and human rights though their slogans are sheer lies," he added.
Ahmadinejad's remarks were the latest in a series of statements by Iranian officials denouncing the wave of international condemnation of Ashtiani's case, which has cast a harsh light on Iran's version of Islamic justice. Press TV, the government's main English-language broadcast arm, also broadcast reports about the case with a photo of Lewis throughout the day.
In related news, I see from this Washington Post report that lawyers for Teresa Lewis sent this three-page letter dated Monday asking Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnellto reconsider his decision Friday not to intervene in the case.