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."