Remembering 9/11 | Human Rights Watch

By , September 11, 2009 9:46 pm
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On September 12, 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the 9/11 attacks, calling on the Bush administration to “uphold the principles that came under attack yesterday, respecting innocent life and international law.” Eight years later, we repost our original statement, because it still stands for the principles we believe should have been, but were not, followed in responding to those brutal events.

Human Rights Watch Response to Attacks on the U.S.

Civilian Life Must Be Respected

September 12, 2001

We profoundly condemn yesterday’s cruel attacks in the United States and express our condolences to the victims and their loved ones. This was an assault not merely on one nation or one people, but on principles of respect for civilian life cherished by all people.

Last night, President Bush said that the United States “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them.” Yet distinctions must be made: between the guilty and the innocent; between the perpetrators and the civilians who may surround them; between those who commit atrocities and those who may simply share their religious beliefs, ethnicity or national origin. People committed to justice and law and human rights must never descend to the level of the perpetrators of such acts. That is the most important distinction of all.

There are people and governments in the world who believe that in the struggle against terrorism, ends always justify means. But that is also the logic of terrorism. Whatever the response to this outrage, it must not validate that logic. Rather, it must uphold the principles that came under attack yesterday, respecting innocent life and international law. That is the way to deny the perpetrators of this crime their ultimate victory.

via Remembering 9/11 | Human Rights Watch.

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Opposing the death penalty is not about innocence

By , September 11, 2009 8:56 pm

Sept. 11, 2009 | In the last several weeks, two major events have reignited the controversy that engulfs capital adjudication in this country. First, the U.S. Supreme Court took a potentially significant step in expanding the role that federal courts play in superintending how states mete out the death penalty. Second, the New Yorker published a devastating article by David Grann about the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted and capitally sentenced for his children’s murder on the basis of junk science and a mentally troubled jailhouse informant. Each of these events called attention to what the public perceives as our capital punishment system’s signal failure — its inability to ensure that those who are executed are actually guilty.

As the attention paid to systemic failure grows, so too does the apparent need to posthumously exonerate a capital convict. It is now fair to say that a posthumous exoneration is the pièce de résistance of death penalty opposition. But ardent defenders of capital punishment appear comfortable to defend on this territory. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 2005 Supreme Court opinion that there is not “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.” For at least two reasons I discuss below, we must be careful not to overstate the importance of posthumous exoneration.

via Opposing the death penalty is not about innocence | Salon.

Why Does Popular Culture Treat Prison Rape As a Joke?

By , September 9, 2009 7:49 pm

This cartooning of abuse renders moot any sensitive and serious response to it. It’s also unique to abuse among male inmates; the ubiquitous caricature comes alongside a relative silence about rape in women’s prisons. There’s no soap-dropping counterpart “joke” referring to the abuse of female inmates. Ultimately, these distorted punch-line/silence memes enforce each other and perpetuate the reality of prison rape.

This isn’t news to Just Detention International, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Once known as Stop Prison Rape, the survivor-led organization has challenged the perceptions, practices, and consequences of rape in prisons for twenty-nine years.

“Humor is part of the cultural attitude that prison is the one place where rape is okay,” said Linda McFarlane, JDI’s deputy executive director. McFarlane added that, “Jokes target the pain of a particular group of people and dehumanizes them. … It layers the discourse with a veil of acceptance.”

via Why Does Popular Culture Treat Prison Rape As a Joke? | Reproductive Justice and Gender | AlterNet.

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The fiscal crisis in corrections: rethinking policies and practices | Vera Institute of Justice

By , September 8, 2009 10:01 pm
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States across the United States are facing the worst fiscal crisis in years. All but two states are dealing with budget deficits, and spending is being cut across the board. Second only to Medicaid, corrections has become the fastest growing general fund expenditure in the United States. Considered off limits for many years, corrections budgets are now subject to these same cuts. Based on a survey of enacted FY2010 state budgets and other recent sentencing and corrections legislation, this new report from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections found that at least 26 states have reversed the trend of recent decades and cut funding for corrections. This report examines the form of these cuts, including reductions in operational costs, reforms in release policy, and strategies for reducing recidivism, and it highlights some of the innovations that states are pursuing for long-term savings while also maintaining public safety.

via The fiscal crisis in corrections: rethinking policies and practices | Vera Institute of Justice.

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Op-Ed Contributor – The Recession Behind Bars –

By , September 7, 2009 3:27 pm
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Now that the economy is suffering, there is talk of reforming the prisons, of reviving the discredited concept of rehabilitation, of letting some prisoners out early. Some people have even mentioned doing away with the death penalty because of the exorbitant cost to the state of guaranteed appeals. For those of us who have endured a generation of policies intended explicitly to inflict pain, this has a surreal quality to it. After all, it was only a year ago that the state authorities were planning the next phase of prison expansion. Obviously, all the passionate arguments that have been made about the moral wrongs of mass incarceration, of disproportionately affected communities, of abysmal treatment and civil rights violations were just so much hot air. Only when society ran out of ready cash did prison reform become worthy of serious consideration. What this says about the free world is unclear to me, but it doesn’t feel like a good thing

via Op-Ed Contributor – The Recession Behind Bars –

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Pot vs. Booze Criminal Justice –

By , September 7, 2009 3:06 pm
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There are countless arguments for the legalization and regulation of marijuana, and youve heard many of them in this space before. Theres the cost – in both human lives and dollars – of incarcerating and punishing millions for a victimless crime. It follows from this argument that we can spend the money saved on court and police costs on drug treatment programs to help heavy users change their habits. There are the medicinal benefits of the plant.

And then theres the argument that marijuana can be an alternative to alcohol – and legalization would spark a reduction in alcohol abuse and therefore a reduction in death, disease and violence. Thats the thesis behind a new book: “Marijuana Is Safer, So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” Co-written by leaders at the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and SAFER, the book argues that marijuana prohibition has fueled our countrys dangerous drinking habit and that legal pot would provide a safe alternative.

via Pot vs. Booze Criminal Justice –

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SSRN-Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice by André Cummings

By , September 6, 2009 6:50 pm


I argue that hip hop music and culture profoundly influences attitudes toward and perceptions about criminal justice in the United States. At base, hip hop lyrics and their cultural accoutrements turns U.S. punishment philosophy upon its head, effectively defeating the foundational purposes of American crime and punishment. Prison and punishment philosophy in the U.S. is based on clear principles of retribution and incapacitation, where prison time for crime should serve to deter individuals from engaging in criminal behavior. In addition, the stigma that attaches to imprisonment should dissuade criminals from recidivism. Hip hop culture denounces crime and punishment in the United States in a way that essentially defies the underlying crime and punishment philosophy adopted and championed by U.S. legislators for decades. Hip hop artists, since the inception of hip hop as a musical genre, have rhymed in a narrative format that starkly informs all listeners and fans that the entire foundational regime of prison for crime in the United States is suspect, illegitimate and profane. As U.S. criminal law and punishment is profane and illegitimate to many, as hip hop artists fiercely argue, then the primary foundational underpinnings of U.S. criminal justice is lost on the hip hop generation, that of deterrence and stigma. Because, as hip hop aggressively describes, crime and punishment in the U.S. is fundamentally unfair, inequitable and biased against people of color and the poor, then punishment for committing certain crimes in America is viewed by the hip hop nation as illegitimate and imprisonment for committing suspect crimes is unaffecting. Hip hop culture has engendered in the global hip hop generation a tradition of exposing racial inequality and social injustice throughout the world, but particularly within the United States. To that end, this Essay argues that much like Critical Race Theory espouses a tradition of ‘looking to the bottom,’ that American purveyors of crime and punishment law consider the viewpoint of the hip hop nation, which espouses a better, more equitable theory of punishment and justice in the United States.

via SSRN-Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice by André Cummings.

SSRN-Law, Legal Institutions, and the Criminalization of the Underclass by David Papke

By , September 6, 2009 6:47 pm


The contemporary underclass is defined not by race but rather by its weak or nonexistent ties to the labor market. Members of the underclass are more likely to be labeled as criminals than are any other members of society. The process is not a tightly coordinated conspiracy, but in various ways police, prosecutors, and jailers routinely deem members of the underclass to be nefarious lawbreakers. While in many cases underclass men and women have committed acts that justify this perception, the criminal justice system as a whole is too eager and too hasty to attach the criminal label to members of the underclass. What’s more, law and legal institutions contribute to an even broader process of criminalization, one which assumes the entire underclass is criminal. This criminalization of the underclass dooms members of the underclass to be outsiders in American life and becomes a central and powerful premise in the general framework of sociopolitical thought.

via SSRN-Law, Legal Institutions, and the Criminalization of the Underclass by David Papke.

Societal, Internal Changes Can Help Ex-Offenders Find Forgiveness, Advocates Say –

By , September 6, 2009 6:36 pm
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Legislators at the national and local levels regularly introduce so-called second chance legislation to expunge nonviolent crimes and ensure that ex-offenders are not permanently discriminated against. But Carnegie Mellon University is scouring empirical evidence regarding ex-offenders to discover how long it takes — if it can be determined — for them to be redeemed, or deemed harmless to society. The preliminary results of the study, highlighted in the May issue of Criminology, show that a person’s criminal record, depending on the crimes, could indeed become irrelevant after a certain number of years. Led by Alfred Blumstein and doctoral student Kiminori Nakamura, the study could help employers conduct background checks on ex-offenders with a better understanding of the risk involved.

The results also support what many advocates have long believed: that every ex-offender, no matter the offense, is forgivable.

via Societal, Internal Changes Can Help Ex-Offenders Find Forgiveness, Advocates Say –

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Texas Executed An Innocent Man

By , September 4, 2009 9:55 pm

“There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again.” — Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck.

NEW YORK; August 31, 2009 — An exhaustive new investigative report shows that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004, was innocent. The report comes three years after the Innocence Project released analysis from some of the nations leading forensic experts who found that the central evidence against Willingham was not valid. The Innocence Project also obtained public records showing that Texas officials ignored this evidence in the days leading up to Willinghams execution.

Willingham was convicted of arson murder in 1992 and was executed in February 2004. His three young children died at a fire in the familys Corsicana, Texas, home. At Willinghams trial, forensic experts testified that evidence showed the fire was intentionally set. A jailhouse informant also testified against Willingham, and other circumstantial evidence was used against him.

A 16,000-word report in the September 7 issue of the New Yorker deconstructs every facet of the case, finding that none of the evidence against Willingham was valid. Prior to the New Yorkers investigative report, by David Grann, the forensic science had been debunked as completely erroneous including in a 2004 investigative report in the Chicago Tribune, but the other evidence was never examined closely.

“The New Yorkers investigation lays out this case in its totality and leads to the inescapable conclusion that Willingham was innocent. There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again.”

via Texas Executed An Innocent Man | Rights and Liberties | AlterNet.

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