Where the Death Penalty Still Lives. In the U.S., 20 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment and four others have imposed a moratorium on executions. Of the 26 states that remain, only 14 handed down death sentences last year for a total of 50 across the country — less than half the number six years before. California, which issued more than one-quarter of last year’s death sentences, hasn’t actually executed anyone since 2006. A new geography of capital punishment is taking shape, with just two percent of the nation’s counties now accounting for a majority of the people sitting on death row. [more inside]
The Deadly Consequences of Solitary With a Cellmate. "The 4'8"-by-10'8" space was originally built for one, but as Menard became increasingly overcrowded and guards sent more people to solitary, the prison bolted in a second bunk. The two men would have to eat, sleep, and defecate inches from one another for nearly 24 hours a day in a space smaller than a parking spot, if a parking spot had walls made of cement and steel on all sides. With a toilet, sink, shelf, and beds, the men were left with a sliver of space about a foot-and-a-half wide to maneuver around each other. If one stood, the other had to sit."
James Myers, Jr. of Concord, NC was arrested on Tuesday after police stopped him for a broken brake light and, upon running his license, were surprised to discover an outstanding arrest warrant for him. From 2002. For failing to return a rented VHS tape (VHS was a video storage format popular in the United States at one time). That tape? Tom Green's 2001 opus, Freddy Got Fingered. (Trailer)
The Marshall Project launched Sunday to provide "high-quality journalism about the American criminal justice system" and "amplify the national conversation about criminal justice." Helmed by Bill Keller, their first investigative piece was published in August and their second in October, but today they have several new feature pieces: Obama's Prison Crisis, Waiting for Ferguson, Right and Left Unite on Drug Sentencing. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, The Men Who Should Have Been Free, Eric Holder on His Legacy, His Regrets, and His Feelings About the Death Penalty, and Dying in Attica. (Previously) [more inside]
Margaret Perry's review of Women in Pants provides an interesting overview of those women (in the Western world) who chose to wore pants in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the standard gender norm dictated dresses for girls and women. R.S. Fleming has a great collection of Victorian women-in-pants images, particularly in non-American military garb. See also: Welsh pit miners, women fighting in the US Civil War (and support-staff), this cattle thief/gunfighter, some cowgirls, and Dr. Mary Walker - here she is in more traditionally masculine dress (second picture). In France, the artist Rosa Bonheur had to get permission from the police to wear pants (picture) while sketching in public (her license), while adventurer/archaeologist Jane Dieulafoy got a lifetime exemption to wear pants from France. [more inside]
Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration? So begins a critique by Paolo Pedercini, developer of "games addressing issues of social and environmental justice," of Introversion Software's upcoming game Prison Architect, currently in still in development but available as an early access beta. Prison Architect's producer, Mark Morris, and its designer, Chris Delay, respond in a lengthy youtube video. [more inside]
Smart on Crime
I argue that (blue-collar) crime—theft and assault, in all their varieties—is still a real and major problem; that its economic and social costs are vastly under-appreciated; that its primary victims are disadvantaged minorities and poor people; that the current criminal-justice system wrongs them by under-enforcing the law against those who victimize them (who are, of course, mostly people like them in racial and class terms); that better criminal-justice policy could give us less crime and less incarceration; and that better and more equal law enforcement ought therefore to be as central a progressive political goal as better and more equal education or health care.[more inside]
On Wednesday, William Van Poyck was executed by the state of Florida for murdering a prison guard during a botched 1987 attempt to free an imprisoned friend. Poyck spent 25 years in solitary confinement on death row, during which time he wrote to his sister about his life in prison. Since 2005 she has published those letters to a blog called Death Row Diary. 'Poyck used to write about everything from the novels and history books he was reading and shows he watched on PBS to the state of the world and his own philosophy of life – punctuated by news of the deaths of those around him, from illness, suicide, and execution.' Excerpts. His final letter.
CSI: Parthenon: A questioner asks historians how a murder case would be solved and prosecuted in the era of their expertise. Answers for : Colonial Boston, Norman Ireland, 19th Century Imperial China, Ancient Athens, 14th-Century England, 13th century England, Victorian England, Rome. (Via Reddit's AskHistorians; whole thread.)
“I was a monster,” Malvo said. “If you look up the definition, that’s what a monster is. I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole people’s lives. I did someone else’s bidding just because they said so. . . . There is no rhyme or reason or sense.”
Bugs and Beasts Before the Law - "Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in Church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal – theoretical psychologist and author Nicholas Humphrey explores the strange world of medieval animal trials." More on the theme of barnyard scapegoats from the BBC podcast documentary: Animals on Trial.
Decades after school bus kidnapping, strong feelings in Chowchilla. 'Thirty-five years ago in Chowchilla, Calif., three young men from upscale families kidnapped a bus full of children and their driver and buried them in a quarry. Some of the officials who put the culprits in prison are calling for their parole — a sore point for many residents.' [more inside]
In an ideal world, you’d imagine that someone who harmed more people would deserve a harsher treatment: a new paper by Loran F. Nordgren and Mary McDonnell, The Scope-Severity Paradox, suggests people find crime with fewer victims more severe than those with more victims. [PDF link] [more inside]
Norway's penal system has gathered some attention recently, as the new Halden prison just opened. The $217 million facility will house 252 prisoners, some long-term and some short. The new prison is notable for, among other things, use of armoured glass instead of bars on windows, natural lighting and single-inmate cells with private showers, TVs and access to a gym and a sound studio. There was also an art budget, and Norwegian street artist Dolk was commisioned to decorate some of the walls. The Norwegian penal system is similar to the other Scandinavian countries', with no death penalty, and a "life" sentence of 21 years. In Norway there are no privately run incarceration facilities, and the opening of the rather plush-seeming Halden prison spurred some discussion, but garnered no big controversy. [more inside]
Andrew O’Hagan writes in the London Review of Books on the James Bulger murder. It really should be read in conjunction with his earlier piece from 1993 to fully appreciate his stance. Previously   [more inside]
The first criminal trial without a jury to take place in England and Wales in more than 400 years begins tomorrow. [more inside]
The threat of a mild punishment imposed reliably and immediately has a much greater deterrent effect than the threat of a severe punishment that is delayed and uncertain. A state trial judge in Hawaii, was frustrated with the cases on his docket. Nearly half of the people appearing before him were convicted offenders with drug problems who had been sentenced to probation rather than prison and then repeatedly violated the terms of that probation by missing appointments or testing positive for drugs. Whether out of neglect or leniency, probation officers would tend to overlook a probationer’s first 5 or 10 violations, giving the offender the impression that he could ignore the rules. But eventually, the officers would get fed up and recommend that Alm revoke probation and send the offender to jail to serve out his sentence. That struck Alm as too harsh, but the alternative — winking at probation violations — struck him as too soft. “I thought, This is crazy, this is a crazy way to change people’s behavior,” he told me recently. So Alm decided to try something different. [more inside]
"I knew I could be arrested, even die, because with these things you expect everything. But at that moment I was so desperate about the money, and to do something for my life." [more inside]
The Czech Republic offers surgical castration as a "voluntary" option to sex offenders, whose rate of recidivism in some studies then drops precipitously. Officials at the Council of Europe are outraged, calling the punishment "invasive, irreversible and mutilating." Atul Gawande noted 10 years ago that, despite his reservations, castration works - at least against a subclass of offenders: the pedophiles and sadists.
"In the US, there are 2,270 prisoners [report, news release, with testimonies] who were sentenced as children to life without parole. They will die behind bars. Ed Pilkington asks five of them - from a 21-year-old to a 70-year-old - how do they cope?" [more inside]
The public shaming of Orange County billionaire Henry Nicholas continues apace. While his financial crimes may not have drawn more than a passing reference, his drug use and other, more unsavory acts, have gotten widespread coverage -- as early as last year. Perhaps, it's because Nicholas was famously involved in supporting tough sentencing laws (his sister was murdered by her boyfriend in 1983.) However, some of the "tough on crime" policies he has backed as recently as a few months ago are said to unfairly worsen the punishment for those who commit crimes much less serious than those for which he was just indicted.
Throw Away The Key dot org seeks to lengthen the sentences of criminals on the premise of their mission statement: "Incarceration Works!" From their site: "If you believe a girl should be able to walk down the street in broad daylight without being abducted and murdered by a convicted felon, then it is time for you to get involved."
You think you've got it bad? That nice Tony Blair has set up a new UK-style FBI which will be ruthless in fighting organised crime. Saviour of freedom Blair says, "the system is struggling against a presumption that you treat these crimes like every other type of crime and that you build up cases beyond reasonable doubt".
In Australia, "Intrernet Stalking" could get you 10 years in jail, but here in the States, you'll probably get on a tv show or your own DVD.
Three Supreme Court Justices publicy oppose executing teenage criminals. In a rare move, Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens made a public statement in a delay request to state their opposition to executing someone who committed murder before the age of 18. With the Court already banning the execution of the mentally retarded this year, is this another sign of a soon-to-be next step in the abolishment of the death penalty? Or does the average American still believe that regardless of what time, when you do the crime you walk the line?
Perp Nation? By the end of 2001, according to a government report, one in every 32 adults in the United States was in jail, on probation or on parole. That works out to 470 out of every 100,000 U.S. residents behind bars, including disproportionate numbers of minorities (scroll down) and over 4.7 million adults on probation or parole. Texas leads the way.
No perp walk for Enron and Halliburton? Asked to explain why no arrests had been made for these two companies, Larry D. Thompson said, "Some cases are more complex than others." Does it matter what the penalties are for corporate crime? Seems all you need are the right political connections and an adequately complex scheme to defraud investors and employees. Is the White House protecting corporations with their interpretation of whistle blowers? Aren't preventive measures more appropriate than punishments for these crimes? Does wealth truly create a double standard for prosecution under our legal system?
Life, not Death for Ms. Yates. And, Texas doesn't have a no-parole sentence, so she'll be eligible for release. Where does she go from there?
on a budget madame, well incarceration is our cheaper plan. Yes it seeems that the economics suggest that life imprisonment is the prudent option rather than the wanton excess of execution.
Just when you thought the the world was going to hell, a story like this makes you realize that there are still things that are right in this world.
Smuggle teenage girls into U.S. for sex, go to jail. Worse than throwing a dog into traffic?
Should the killers of James Bulger be released? 8 years ago, two 10-year-old boys killed the toddler James Bulger. Now 18, having served the minimum of 8 years of their juvenile sentence, they are eligible for parole. Have they changed, as some say? Are they safe to be released back into society, albeit under new identities to protect them? Or are the protestors right that they should stay locked up for life? For those not familiar with the case, check this link.
You be the judge Mercy killing? Perhaps. You be the judge and pass sentence after reading the facts that convicted the father.
Long, closely-argued explanation of how America went back to the death penalty.