Saturday, February 10, 2018

British Court: U.S. Prison System is a Human Rights Violation

British High Court building.

The United States is known among developed nations for its broken and insanely expensive health care system where millions are deprived of appropriate health care access. Now, a British court has highlighted another broken aspect of America: our broken prison and criminal justice system.  America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, with minorities disproportionately represented thanks to draconian laws, lack of first class legal representation for many defendants, and an increasingly privatized prison system where a drive for profits overshadows non-barbaric conditions for inmates.  (In Virginia, archaic marijuana laws help disenfranchise minorities of their voting rights which, unlike as is the case in most other states are not reinstated once sentences are fully served.) With Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeking to reignite the failed war on drugs and calls for stiffer sentencing - which aids Sessions' goal of disenfranchising minorities - the situation will likely worsen.  But back to the British court ruling which refused to send defendants to the United States because it found that America's penal system is a human rights violation.   A piece in the Washington Post looks at the stunning ruling.  Here are excerpts: 
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have repeatedly highlighted the importance of international cooperation in tackling international, cyber and cross-border crime. But as a decision of the United Kingdom’s High Court on Monday shows, human rights abuses in the U.S. criminal justice system are putting that cooperation at risk even with our closest allies. In the ruling, the High Court refused to order the extradition of British-Finnish activist Lauri Love to the United States, where he is wanted on hacking charges, on the grounds that sending him to an American jail would be “oppressive” due to poor conditions there. The court accordingly found that the interests of justice required the case to be prosecuted in Britain instead. This decision marks the first time a U.K. court has used the “forum bar,” a 2013 extradition reform that allows British courts to halt extraditions in situations where defendants could be prosecuted instead in the United Kingdom.  The U.K. Parliament adopted the forum bar after an outcry over a stringof cases in which the United States asserted prosecutorial jurisdiction over conduct that occurred entirely in the U.K. Although several political factors were at play, the extradition reform movement was largely fueled by public concern that defendants’ basic rights will not be respected in U.S. custody. The findings of the High Court in Love’s case paint an unembellished but unmistakably grim portrait of the reality of the American carceral state, in which harsh sentencespoor access to medical care and excessive use of solitary confinement mean that U.S. authorities cannot reliably ensure the survival of vulnerable prisoners. In finding that extradition to the United States would be “oppressive” to Love, the High Court found that conditions in American jails were “not adequate to prevent suicide.” The court found that Love, who has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from severe depression and other health problems, was likely to be held in solitary confinement as a suicide prevention measure and that he wouldn’t have adequate access to mental health treatment. The court also found that the heightened risk that Love would commit suicide was due in part to the excessive length of sentence Love anticipated in the United States, substantially longer than what he would be subject to in a prosecution for similar crimes in the U.K. In short, the court found that the U.S. prison system is a mortal threat.
All of the issues flagged by the High Court — poor treatmentfor the majority of prisoners who suffer from mental illness, sentences far longer than those in other countries, and excessive use of solitary confinement — are sadly well-documented realities for many prisoners in the United States. The High Court’s conclusion that U.S. authorities can’t reliably prevent suicide for prisoners such as Love is borne out by the fact that suicide is the third-leading cause of death in U.S. prisons and jails — and has risen sharply in recent years.
When the United States can’t assure its closest allies that their citizens will be fairly treated in criminal proceedings, our domestic human rights crises do more than ruin lives — they undermine international cooperation and public safety. Defendants such as Love, who are vulnerable to illness and violence, are prosecuted and imprisoned every single day in the United States. The fact that a British court has found that the United States can’t be entrusted to keep such people alive in custody is at once shocking and undeniable. [T]here is no indication that respect for the rights of the accused is likely to improve under Sessions’ Justice Department, despite sustained state- and national-level movements for reform. In fact, Sessions has signaled that he is doubling down on punitive prosecutorial practices that will exacerbate the human rights crises in U.S. jails and prisons. Unless it changes course, the United States will likely have to accept further blows to its ability to cooperate with its allies in its efforts to tackle international crime.

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