Why the US locks up prisoners for life


By Kate DaileyBBC News Magazine

Man behind bars
Life  prison are rare in the UK but common in the US. Why is this punishment so prevalent in the US?

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.

 

UN: a resounding call for Human Rights based governance post-2015


 

Just Governance: A critical cornerstone for an equitable and human rights-centered sustainable development agenda post-2015,  Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Development Framework, Feb 2013

 

[excerpts from the executive summary]

 

Just governance is defined by six key, mutually reinforcing dimensions, each with their associated implications for the post-2015 sustainable development framework. To be truly

just, governance at all levels must be: 1) human rights-centred, 2) participatory, 3) transparent, 4) equitable, 5) guaranteeing of access to justice, rule of law and the fight against corruption, and finally 6) accountable.

 

Just governance in this sense is not a matter of external imposition, but an indispensable precondition for ensuring that the equal rights of all people and the sustainability of the planet effectively guide all policy making.

 

Impelling decision-makers to be more responsive, providing information about their decisions and actions, and making them ultimately answerable is key.

 

Governance in practice is often coloured by unequal relations of power.

 

Human rights and environmental standards, can help balance inequities and provide a common language and standard by which to hold all actors accountable.

 

The new post-2015 framework must be universally applicable in rich and poor countries alike and must remain at the service of and owned by poor people themselves.

 

Fulfillment of all human rights is both the purpose and the ultimate litmus test of success for the post-2015 agenda.

Duties will have to be clearly attributed primarily to governments, but also to the private sector.

 

Well informed people will need to meaningfully participate in all stages of the legal reform, of budget making, of fiscal, tax and development policy cycles.

 

The ability to consistently monitor and review the conduct of development actors against established responsibilities is an essential prerequisite for just and accountable governance (i.e., monitoring of both of outcomes and of policy processes – and both of progress and of backsliding!)

 

Tax justice between and within countries will also need to be closely monitored.

 

A clear and unequivocal accord regarding who is responsible for what post-2015 commitments will be indispensable.

 

Without progress on just governance, there is a serious risk of predisposition to failure in all other areas, with a mirage of success belying the absence a truly transformative sustainable development agenda.

 

(see: http://cesr.org/downloads/Beyond%202015_Governance_position_paper.pdf )

 

 

ECHR -Judgment on teenage pregnancy due to #Rape and denial of #abortion #Vaw


European Court of Human Rights: Judgment in the case P. and S. v. Poland announced today

 

Oct 31, 2012

European Court of Human Rights announced its judgment today in the case P. and S. v. Poland. Federation for Women and Family Planning and its lawyers have been involved in the case from the very beginning.

It is a case of a teenage girl who was pregnant as a result of rape. Despite the fact that there was a relevant document issued by the prosecutor, she had been denied legal abortion in several hospitals. As a result she had to undergo the procedure in a hospital located 500 kilometers from her place of residence. Besides that, her right to confidentiality of medical information was breached, which resulted in severe harassment by pro-life and Catholic activists. The girl was also separated from her mother and placed in a juvenile shelter.

The Court determined violations of Article 8, (right to respect for private and family life) as regards the determination of access to lawful abortion in respect of both applicants (by six votes to one) and as regards the disclosure of the applicants’ personal data (unanimously);  Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) in respect of P., and a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of P.

The court held that Poland was to pay P. 30,000 euros (EUR) and S. EUR 15,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 16,000 to both applicants in respect of costs and expenses.

Read the judgment in full here: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/fra-press/pages/search.aspx?i=003-4140612-4882633

 

#UK- #David Cameron rejects votes for #prisoners #humanrights


 

channel4

David Cameron rules out giving prisoners the vote despite the advice of his chief law officer in the face of pressure from the European court of human rights.

In response to a question from Labour MP Derek Twigg, the prime minister told the House of Commons that “no one should be in any doubt, prisoners are not getting the vote under this government”.

Mr Cameron was clarifying the issue following advice from the attorney general, who had said the government, under pressure from Europe, may need to back down over the issue of prisoner votes.

The European court of human rights has ruled, in what is known as the Scopola ruling, that there should not be a blanket ban on prisoners being allowed to vote.

International obligation

Dominic Grieve QC, the attorney general, told MPs this morning that the ruling “imposes an international legal obligation on us”.

Giving evidence to the justice select committee, Mr Grieve warned that Britain was obliged to obey the judgment and could face huge damages claims from prisoners.

“The issue, it seems to me, is whether the United Kingdom wishes to be in breach of its international obligations and what that does reputationally for the United Kingdom,” he said. “This is not a matter where there’s not parliamentary sovereignty. There clearly is. Parliament gives and parliament can take away.

However, Mr Cameron said during prime minister’s questions: “The House of Commons has voted against prisoners having the vote. I don’t want prisoners to have the vote, and they should not have the vote.

“If it helps by having another vote in parliament on another resolution to make absolutely clear, to help put the legal position beyond doubt, I am very happy to do that.”

In February the House of Commons voted by a margin of 234 to 22 against removing the blanket ban.

http://www.channel4.com/news/david-cameron-rules-out-giving-prisoners-the-vote

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange loses extradition battle


By , Wednesday, May 30

LONDON — Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday denied WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s appeal against extradition to Swedento face questions about allegations of rape, sexual assault and unlawful coercion.At a short hearing in central London, the president of the Supreme Court, Nicholas Phillips, said the court dismissed the defense team’s argument that the warrant that led to Assange’s arrest was flawed.

Speaking to a packed courtroom, Phillips said the case had “not been simple to resolve,” and was decided by a vote of 5 to 2.In a surprise intervention, Assange’s legal team asked — and was granted — two weeks to consider lodging an application to reopen the case. The lawyers said that the judges decided the case based on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, but that this point had not been discussed in court.

Assange — who shot to international fame when his anti-secrecy Web site spilled official state secrets in the form of Afghanistan and Iraq military reports and a mammoth cache of diplomatic cables — did not appear in court on Wednesday. His lawyers told reporters he was stuck in traffic.

Swedish authorities want to question Assange — no charges have been laid — about separate encounters he had with two WikiLeaks volunteers. The volunteers say they had consensual sex with Assange, but at some stage, it became non-consensual. One of the women, described in the courts here as “Miss B,” accused Assange of having unwanted sex with her while she was asleep.

Although Assange insists the sex was consensual, his case before the Supreme Court hinged on a single technicality: Was the Swedish prosecutor who issued the European arrest warrant that led to his arrest in December 2010 a valid judicial authority?

Only a “competent judicial authority” can issue a European arrest warrant, a system ushered in to speed up extradition between European nations.

In a 161-page judgment, the Supreme Court haggles over what, exactly, is meant by the words “judicial authority,” ultimately rejecting Assange’s arguments that a public prosecutor cannot fall into the category.

Although the Supreme Court is Britain’s highest appellate court for civil cases, Assange has not yet exhausted all of his legal options.

Assange can still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which would decide within two weeks whether or not to take the case. If that court declined to take the case, Assange would be extradited to Sweden “as soon as arrangements can be made,” according to a statement by the Crown Prosecution Service. If the European court accepts the case, analysts say, the long-running legal battle could drag on for more weeks or months.

In February 2011, a lower court in Britain granted Sweden’s extradition request. Assange appealed the ruling and lost, but he won permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case before seven judges — two more than normal — because, the court said, of the “great public importance of the issue raised, which is whether a prosecutor is a judicial authority.”

Assange’s attorneys have argued that the allegations lodged against him are politically motivated and said they fear Swedish authorities might hand him over to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act for leaking State Department diplomatic cables.

Over the next two weeks, Assange will remain in Britain under his current bail terms, which include wearing an electronic tag around his ankle and checking in daily with local police.

Such is the worldwide interest in the case that the Supreme Court issued a statement last week encouraging visitors who were not attending the Assange judgment to “choose another day to visit the building.”


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