Tag Archives | Crime & Punishment

California Reconsiders Draconian Three-Strikes Prison Sentences

American justice: 17 years behind bars for stealing cigarettes. The Los Angeles Times writes:

A Los Angeles County judge responsible for reconsidering the life prison terms of more than 1,000 offenders sentenced under the state’s three-strikes law began the process at a hearing Monday, reducing the punishments for five inmates convicted of relatively minor crimes.

Among those given shorter sentences was a 74-year-old who has served more than 15 years for possessing $10 worth of drugs and an 81-year-old behind bars for more than 17 years for stealing dozens of packs of cigarettes.

The hearing came three months after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, which softened California’s tough three-strikes law and allowed many inmates sentenced for non-serious and nonviolent offenses to ask for shorter prison terms. In Los Angeles County, the hearings are expected to continue through at least much of this year.

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Obama’s Only Presidential Pardon This Year Was The Thanksgiving Turkey

ThinkProgress points out that Cobbler the turkey was the only recipient of a presidential mercy in 2012:

Although the Constitution confers on the president the power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States,” a recent ProPublica report found that Obama had exercised that power more rarely than any president in modern history. As law professor Mark Osler explains, the framers intended a much more robust presidential use of the pardon power:

The founding fathers did not intend for the pardon power to fall into such disuse. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 74, argued that “the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.”

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Pussy Riot Members Transferred To Russia’s Most Brutal Penal Colonies

What is the punishment for compelling performance art? Two years to be spent in cramped, dirty, cold “corrective labor” camps, with possible abuse from guards or inmates, the Guardian reports:

Two members of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot have been sent to remote prison camps to serve their sentences, the group has said. Maria Alyokhina, 24, will serve the rest of her two-year term at a women’s prison camp in Perm, a Siberian region notorious for hosting some of the Soviet Union’s harshest camps. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, has been sent to Mordovia, a region that also hosts a high number of prisons.

“These are the harshest camps of all the possible choices,” the band said via its Twitter accounty. They are expected to serve the rest of their sentences, which end in March 2014, in the camps, where conditions are reportedly dire.

Confusion reigned on Monday as relatives and lawyers tried to assess exactly where the women were sent.

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Putting Animals On Trial For Their Crimes

May we hold animals accountable for their actions in a court of law? Via Maisonneuve, Drew Nelles on the surprisingly widespread historical practice, including the lynching of an elephant, the excommunication of a swarm of locusts, and much more:

“If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten,” reads Exodus 21:28. Note that the ox is executed by stoning, much like an adulterer or Sabbath-breaker would have been.

Exodus 21:28 is a biblical law like any other, and as with similar Old Testament passages about slavery and sodomy, these few short words inspired hundreds of years of human behaviour that now appear horrifying. In Medieval Europe, they gave rise to the animal trial: the practice of dragging a creature accused of committing a crime—like killing a child or destroying a crop—before an actual court of law, and subsequently executing, exiling or absolving it.

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China’s Wealthy And Powerful Sometimes Hire Body Doubles To Serve Their Prison Sentences

In America, the power to imprison and punish convicts has been outsourced to private corporations, so perhaps the serving of jail sentences will soon be “privatized” as well. Slate writes:

The practice of hiring “body doubles” or “stand-ins” is well-documented by official Chinese media. In 2009, a hospital president who caused a deadly traffic accident hired an employee’s father to “confess” and serve as his stand-in. A company chairman is currently charged with allegedly arranging criminal substitutes for the executives of two other companies. In another case, after hitting and killing a motorcyclist, a man driving without a license hired a substitute for roughly $8,000. The owner of a demolition company that illegally demolished a home earlier this year hired a destitute man, who made his living scavenging in the rubble of razed homes, and promised him $31 for each day the “body double” spent in jail.

In China, the practice is so common that there is even a term for it: ding zui.

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The Criminalization of the Mentally Ill

David Gonzalez is the recipient of the 1999 NYAPRS Brendan Nugent Leadership Award, the first person with a mental illness to receive the National AAPD Paul G. Hearne Award for People with Disabilities, and the recipient of the New York State Department of Mental Health’s Office of Consumer Affairs 2000 Consumer Advocacy Award. He writes at The American Mental Disability Clemency Organization:

Accurately identifying the various causes behind the criminalization of the mentally ill can only be accomplished by an impartial examination of our society’s preconceived notions of the mentally ill. This can be done by examining society’s treatment of the mentally ill throughout the course of history. Stigma clearly plays a major role in the criminalization of the mentally ill because of society’s inability to accept the dualistic and sometimes vile impulses of human nature inherent in all human beings. Therefore, society seeks to explain away unjustified acts of violence and aggression as symptoms of a mental illness, in effect scapegoating the mentally ill.

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The American Geography Of Incarceration

We may peruse neighborhoods on Google Maps, read about suburban sprawl and new city developments, but millions of Americans exist in a different, ignored geography. Via the The Funambulist:

Prison Map is a project developed by Josh Begley, a graduate student at NYU. Let’s recall that 2.5 millions people are living in prison in this country. Such a project illustrates therefore a sort of hidden urbanism in which 0.8% of the American population live for a given time.

They illustrate a geography of exclusion [and] often ironically appear similar to European palaces with well-ordered classical plans.

prison

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United States Justice: 2,000 Convicted Then Exonerated Over 23 Years

JailbaitReports the AP via CBS News:

More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.

There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.

The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

They found that those 873 exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each…

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DEA Leaves Innocent Student In Cell For Five Days Without Food Or Water

Is this the new War on Drugs method for teaching college kids not to smoke pot? Californian Daniel Chong was swept up by authorities in a raid of a friend's house where 4/20 was being celebrated. His harrowing adventure began as he was then left in a DEA holding cell for five days, given no food or water, began hallucinating and lost his sanity, and shattered his glasses and slashed himself in a suicide attempt. He survived only by drinking his own urine and consuming some methamphetamine which, amazingly, he found in the cell:
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Georgia To Open Prison Just For Veterans

index.phpFrom one system of ridgidly-imposed discipline and control to another ... Russia Today reports:
Authorities in Muscogee County, Georgia say they’ve found a great way to let veterans of US wars share their experience with one another. It’ll just happen behind steel bars and under lock and key. Officials from the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office recently held a press conference to discuss once of the department’s newest endeavors and they believe that it is the first of its kind in the country. Tucked in a corner of the county jail in rural Georgia is a dormitory specifically reserved to house inmates that have fought for America. There ought to be a place in our city that provides a facility where veterans can stay for a period of time while being treated, physically and mentally," Ret. Col. Roy Plummer said, reports the local Ledger-Enquirer...
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