Why the US locks up prisoners for life


By Kate DaileyBBC News Magazine

Man behind bars

Last week, an English court handed a whole-life sentence to Dale Cregan for murdering four people, including two policewomen.

That penalty means he will never be eligible for release, and it puts him in rare company, making him one of about 50 people in the UK serving such a sentence.

Had he been in the US, he would have been less of an anomaly.

In the US, at least 40,000 people are imprisoned without hope for parole, including 2,500 under the age of 18.

That is just a fraction of those who have been given a life sentence but yet may one day win release. The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation that studies sentencing and criminal justice in America, estimated in 2009 that at least 140,000 prisoners in the US now serve a life sentence.

This does not include convicts given extremely long sentences with a fixed term, like the Alabama man sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.

Most of them will have the opportunity for parole – though Sentencing Project Director Marc Mauer says few will receive it.

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Criminals are always less popular than victims”

Franklin ZimringUniversity of California, Berkeley

David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, says several factors underlie the high number of American convicts imprisoned for life.

“In large part it reflects the overly punitive nature of the American criminal justice system,” says Mauer.

“Not only do we use life sentences much more extensively than other industrial nations, but even in the lower level of event severity, the average burglar or car thief will do more time than they will in Canada or Wales.”

The harsh sentences reveal a type of “sentencing inflation” that began in the 1980s and 1990s.

“It was almost a competition among legislatures of both parties to show how tough they could be on crime,” says Mauer.

At the same time, the sentence is thought to send a message.

“In states like Michigan where they don’t have a death penalty, this is what they have as its moral equivalent,” says Franklin Zimring, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

In states that do have the death penalty, long sentences underscore distaste for crimes that do not meet the threshold for capital punishment.

Inmates at Chino State Prison, which houses 5500 inmates, crowd around double and triple bunk beds in a gymnasium that was modified to house 213 prisonersCalifornia’s overcrowded prisons have prisoners sleeping in stacked bedding in the gymnasium

“This is a way of putting a denunciatory exclamation point in the punishment,” he says.

Politicians and other state officials are loathe to be seen as soft on crime, let alone to release an offender on parole only to have him commit another crime.

The 1993 death of Polly Klaas, a young girl killed by a recently paroled man with a long criminal history, led California to pass a “three strikes” rule mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for anyone found guilty of three felonies.

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Life in jail: Safer streets?

Does locking away criminals for life make society safer for everyone else?

“At some level the answer is obviously yes,” says Dan Bernhardt. “There’s no threat to safety if the prisoner is not at risk of re-offending, and a clear benefit if he is.”

But Bernhardt’s research shows that long prison sentences may impede rehabilitation.

“It can be grossly counterproductive,” he says. “It can discourage someone from trying to rehabilitate themselves.”

In the UK, “it is rare but not unheard of for someone on a life license to commit serious offenses,” says David Wilson, who says checks are in place to keep tabs on those who are released.

California lawmakers cite the three strikes policy as the reason for the state’s declining crime rate. But University of California, Riverside sociologist Robert Nash Parker says other factors are responsible, like the national decline in alcohol consumption.

“The drop in crime occurred all over the country, in every state. It dropped at the same time, magnitude, direction,” he says. “It can’t possibly be due to a policy in just one state.”

But now, in both the US and the UK the sentence of life without parole is coming into question.

In England, these sentences arecurrently being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, after a lawsuit brought by three men serving whole life sentences – “a double murderer, a man who wiped out his entire family to inherit money, and a serial killer,” says Wilson.

These men, at least one of whom proclaims his innocence, argue that the denial of a parole option does not allow them to claim they have changed. They further argue that the assignment of these sentences is arbitrary – some convicted killers get them, others do not.

In the US, budget cuts have forced states to reconsider whether the practice of locking criminals up for long periods of time is cost-effective.

“Lawmakers in Illinois have made the decision to shut down a few prisons and let people out early in order to save money,” says Dan Bernhardt, professor of economics at the University of Illinois.

“There’s nothing like state budget problems to get people to see what the costs are.”

In 2012, the US Supreme Court also established that for minors, a sentence of life without parole violates the Constitution’s safeguardsagainst “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The court also ruled that prison overcrowding in California – due in part to severe sentencing and the three strikes programme – violates the same safeguards. It ordered the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners.

But action after these verdicts has been slow, as state officials continue to fight in court.

In the US, once someone has been sent to prison on a life sentence, it’s hard for him or her to get out.

 

Statement- Commute DS Bhullar’s Death Sentence


Abolish Death Penalty

The Supreme Court verdict rejecting the plea for commutation of death sentence for DS Bhullar is most unfortunate. The case against DS Bhullar rested almost wholly on custodial confession. In 2002, when the majority bench of the SC upheld the death penalty for him, Justice Shah in his minority judgement had actually argued for acquittal, on the grounds that custodial confession was inadmissible as evidence. In a case where even guilt is in such doubt, there can be no justification for the death penalty.

In the past the Supreme Court has held that long delay in carrying out the sentence could be grounds for commutation of the sentence of death into life imprisonment. However, the Supreme Court this time has held otherwise. In doing so, the apex court, instead of judging the matter on the grounds of principles of justice, has instead invoked the growth of terrorism “in recent years.” How can a matter of principle be subject to change on the grounds of subjective opinions and assertions of judges?

The SC has also chosen to make comments against human rights activists, accusing them of raising “the bogey of human rights.” In the case of Bhullar, it was a judge of the Supreme Court, not a human rights activist, who had called even his conviction into doubt on the grounds of insufficient evidence! If the Supreme Court considers ‘human rights’ as a ‘bogey’, which institution is there to check the state from riding roughshod on human rights?

Last year, 14 retired judges wrote to the President of India, admitting that the Supreme Court had wrongly awarded the death sentence to 13 people. It is unacceptable in a democracy to risk such grave miscarriage of justice. Moreover, it is overwhelmingly those from marginalised sections of society who face the death penalty: offenders from privileged sections are rarely subjected to such punishment.

In the interests of justice, CPI(ML) demands that DS Bhullar’s sentence should be commuted. In the light of the inconsistency and bias in awarding of death sentence and grave errors in this regard admitted by retired judges of the Supreme Court, CPI(ML) supports the growing demand that India abolish the death penalty or at least honour the UN resolution to uphold a moratorium on death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition.  

CPI(ML) Central Committee

 

 

 

#India- Inmate serving life sentence marries girlfriend inside jail #humanrights


SNAPSHOT, Posted on Jan 25, 2013

In a unique wedding ceremony, an inmate, serving life term in a murder case, tied the knot with his girlfriend in the court premises in Jind, Haryana, after a special permission. Sanjay, a resident of Sonepat ditrict, married his girlfriend Mamta following a special three-hour permission given by court. The marriage ceremony, that took place at the park inside the court campus, was attended by family members from both sides, besides a number of lawyers and court employees. In December last year, the girl, through Sanjay’s counsel, had moved a petition before the court requesting permission for marriage.

 

 

#India -Fast-track death sentence raises brows, Specific law on ‘whole life’ term needed #Vaw #Justice


By , TNN | Jan 20, 2013, 1

Fast-track death sentence raises brows

NEW DELHI: The death penalty awarded this week by in a rape-and-murder case after a 10-day trial before a fast-track court has raised apprehensions about a possible rash of such sentences in the prevailing climate for enhanced punishment. One of the human rights concerns is whether, in the public outrage following the Nirbhaya case, the judiciary would be under pressure to award death routinely in all rape-and-murder cases, departing from the doctrine of the rarest of rare cases.

Given the dangers involved in introducing death for rape, the Verma committee would do well to consider the alternative proposed by the apex court, however tacitly, in rape-and-murder cases over the last five years. Evolved through judicial activism, it is a life sentence that is exempt from the usual stipulation of being reviewed after 14 years.

With the 2008 verdict in the Swami Shraddhananda case, the Supreme Court began the trend of awarding life sentence subject to the condition that the convict would either stay behind bars till his natural death or not be released for hitherto unheard-of terms extending up to 35 years.

This innovation of a “whole life” or “long life” sentence is contrary to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), under which the executive has the discretion to remit a sentence in the course of the incarceration. The only restriction imposed by CrPC on this executive discretion is that for a heinous offence punishable with death, the convict cannot be released before 14 years.

It is on account of this restriction introduced in 1978 in the form of section 433A CrPC that life sentence in murder cases or rape-and-murder cases has often come to mean no more than 14 years. The Supreme Court departed from this norm for the first time ever in the Shraddhanand case, which was as egregious as Nirbhaya’s. It felt that Shraddhanand deserved neither the death penalty (as his crime, in its opinion, fell short of the rarest-of-rare category) nor the life sentence (which was found to be “grossly inadequate” as it was for all practical purposes no more than 14 years).

The spate of cases that followed the Shraddhanand precedent constitute a recurring signal from the judiciary that Parliament should amend the law providing a statutory backing to the discretion assumed by judges to put the life sentence beyond the ambit of section 433A CrPC. Such a legal provision may ensure greater objectivity in determining the cases in which the life convict would enjoy the existing safeguard of section 433A and those in which he would not be released after 14 years. It would also reduce the pressure on judges to resort to the extreme option of death penalty.

The disconnect between the statute and judicial practice in this regard cannot be ignored as judges at all levels – trial court, high court and apex court – have been awarding “whole life” or “long life” sentences, without being able to trace them to any legal provision. From the viewpoint of penology (the study of punishments), it is undesirable to impose such stringent sentences without a codification of the principles involved.

 

#India-Man gets life term for rape #Vaw #Justice


TNN | Jan 4, 2013, 02.24 AM IST

RAJKOT: An additional sessions court on Thursday awarded rigorous life imprisonment to a 38-year-old man, who was found guilty of raping a 12-and-a-half-year-old minor girl in Bharana village of Khambhalia taluka of Jamnagar district in 2011.

The Khambhalia court has also imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on Ikbal Juma Chamadia, a widower and father of five children, upon his conviction.

Public prosecutor K D Vadagama said the case was registered at Vadinar marine police station on August 10, 2011, by the victim against Chamdia.

The crime came to light after the victim became six-month pregnant. The victim later gave birth to a baby. “The minor girl’s family members had gone to Bhandaria village in Bhavnagar district as some relative was ill. Ikbal knew that she was alone. He entered her house and raped the victim at knife-point,” Vadgama said.

A DNA test of the minor, her child and the accused confirmed that the baby was that of Ikbal, the public prosecutor said.

Additional sessions judge P V Shrivastav awarded rigorous life imprisonment under Section 376 of Indian Penal Code and two years’ rigorous imprisonment each for IPC Sections 341 and 506(2). The sentence would run concurrently. If the accused fails to pay the fine, he would have to serve two more years in jail. The fine amount would be given to the victim, who had to go through a traumatic experience because of the accused.

 

Open letter to CM by Sanjiv Bhatt- The full text


Dear Narendra Modi,

You must have been apprised about the punishment meted out to your loyal lieutenants Dr. Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, as well as the misguided foot-soldiers of misconceived Hindutva, who have now been condemned to spend a life in prison. Was it perchance that you smartly distanced yourself from all these unfortunate people at an opportune moment? Have you spared a thought for the innocent family members of the accused who have been sentenced to a lifetime behind bars? It is believed that you were once a married man. At some point in your life, like all normal humans, you might have been touched by the magic of love, even thought of having children starting a family, perhaps! Have you even once thought about the plight of the wives and children of your onetime adulators who have been condemned for life?

Mr. Modi, have you ever looked at your actual image, stripped of the designer dresses that you are so enamored with? Have you ever looked at the reflection of the real face behind the mask? Have you ever introspected about your true-self concealed behind the meticulous imagery created by your media managers? Have you even once thought whether it is really worth it to sustain power, even if it requires sacrificing fellow human beings at the altar of expediency? Have you ever considered, even once, whether it is alright to facilitate or connive in the killing of another human being just because he does not conform to your beliefs? Is it really worthwhile to deceive your own self…. or, is it only a small price to pay for your political ambitions?

I hope and pray to God that you get the time, wisdom and opportunity to find honest and truthful answers to some of these questions during this lifetime.

God bless!

Sanjiv Bhatt

Bangladesh, Drop Charges Against Labor Activist!


Bangladeshi clothing factories are extremely unsafe. 500 workers have died in fires, which have been attributed to basic fire safety items such as fire escapes and sprinklers being absent from the buildings, and companies padlocking the exits to stop theft. Workers are paid very little and have no rights.

Kalpona Akter, a Bangladeshi labor activist, has courageously dedicated her life to fight for workers’ rights. She has experience in the factories, sewing clothes for American brands from the time she was twelve-years-old.

Unfortunately, garment company owners have a lot of power in the government.

In 2010, Akter was put in jail and severely beaten after she led a campaign to get more protection from the fires. Although she was released, she now has seven remaining criminal charges, which can lead to strict punishment and long jail time.

Please tell the Bangladesh government to drop the charges against Kalpona Akter. No one should be punished for fighting for human rights.

No one should be punished for fighting for human rights. Please tell the Bangladeshi government to drop the charges against Kalpona Akter. »

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION AND SHARE WIDELY

 

Karnataka High Court has ruled that life sentence can be a ground to grant divorce.


Bangalore:Rejecting a Miscellaneous First Appeal by a husband serving life in a murder case, a division bench, headed by Justice K L Manjunath in its recent order said when the appellant is convicted for life, even the grounds of desertion have to be taken into account legally because the man cannot live with the wife and give her conjugal happiness.

“For the rest of her life, for no fault of hers, she cannot be made to suffer if marriage is allowed”, the court observed while rejecting the appeal of a life convict of Central Prison, Bellary.

The man had challenged the July 18 2011 order of a family court in Shimoga in allowing the petition filed by his wife, seeking divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion.

An instructor at a government college in Chitradurga, he has been married to Vijaya for the past 13 years.

After marriage, they lived in Malladihalli village for the first six months. During this period, the woman came to know her husband was facing murder and assault charges and duly informed her parents.

However, the man’s family claimed he had been falsely implicated in the case and that he should be acquitted.

Meanwhile, the couple had a child after which he allegedly started ill-treating his wife.

In November 2000 Ganesh was convicted by a sessions court in a murder case and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. On an appeal by the state, the sentence was enhanced to life imprisonment.

Vijaya moved the family court seeking divorce, which upheld her claim on the grounds of cruelty, but rejected the charge of desertion.

PTI