Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chose to spend Christmas in the Bella Yalla prison which was used by former dictator Samuel Doe to incarcerate, torture and murder political prisoners.
Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli Foreign Secretary heavily implicated in the War Crimes in Gaza had to abort her visit to London recently as a Magistrate issued an arrest warrant. Apparently this attempt to use the criminal justice system to hold someone to account for the minor matter of war crimes has provoked abject apologies from the British Government who have promised to instead focus on serious crimes like young people wearing hoodies.
A really sad story, Erin Marcove, a long time medical marijuana supporter who had used the drug for chronic back pain most of her life killed herself on 12th December. It appears that her 3 year old grandson got access to her cookies and when he couldn’t be roused the next day was taken to hospital where tests identified that he had cannabis in his blood. Prosecutors were pushing charges on the long term campaigner and she responded by killing herself. So sad and unnecessary.
I remember a visitor to my house when I was a student stupidly left his lump of dope on the floor. After a futile 30 minute search we noticed Scooby, the dog was deeply asleep with a curious grin on his face. Mystery solved!
Cannabis is a remarkably untoxic drug and unlike alcohol or paracetamol substantial overdoses have no long term effects. Scooby was back to his normal self the next day and I am glad to see Erin’s grandson has also made a full recovery.
Large Corporations have a shameful record of trying to silence critics through legal bullying. Another example this month is General Electric (GE) whose UK subsidiary GE Healthcare is suing in London a Danish radiologist, Henrik Thomsen, who raised concerns over one of their drugs. London is the favourite place for the rich to use the increased compliant courts to bully those who question them or threatened their interest. The impact of cases like this is very serious for academics. The legal costs involved in a case are normally over £1,000,000 which is highly affordable to a rich corporation but potentially financial ruin for an academic. The result is that most academics do not dare question big pharma or other corporate groups. As a result considerable harm is done by dodgy drugs or other corporate crime. However recently Jack Straw has promised to review Britain’s libel laws to stop the abuse of libel tourism.
As Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, has pointed out, “It is a scandal that a company should take action against someone acting in the interests of patients.” In this case a court approved scandal!
The malicious influence of business interests is illustrated by this report in The Herald claiming minimum alcohol prices are unlikely to reduce drinking. Their source is Tim Wilson, an Industry insider with close (and profitable) links to the alcohol industry. His evidence that minimum pricing will not work, despite considerable evidence that it does work, is based on a questionnaire. Questionnaires are always dependant on respondent’s honesty, which for questions relating to sex, smoking and drinking are notoriously unreliable, when asking for people to report past behaviour. However when asking about future behaviour they tend to reflect what people want to happen rather than what will actually occur. So any research on the impact of minimum pricing that relies on questionnaires is likely entirely unreliable! However this is even worse it claims that a significant proportion of people would respond by making a ‘simply switch to a cheaper alternative’. The point of minimum pricing is of course to remove this possibility!! Must not be too hard on Mr Wilson, his alcohol pushing clients do pay well for this rubbish.
Meanwhile it has been announced that Crimewatch’s first case has been solved 26 years later without any help from the famous programme.
A Church of England Vicar is in hot water from suggesting that shoplifting from large corporations may sometimes be OK. Not so says a moral philosopher in the Times. However I will leave the comment to George Bernard Shaw from his Introduction to the Webb’s 1922 History of the English local prison
The thief who is in prison is not necessarily more dishonest than his fellows at large, but mostly one who, through ignorance or stupidity steals in a way that is not customary. He snatches a loaf from the baker's counter and is promptly run into gaol.The Daily Mail reveals ten Met police officers have failed drug tests.
Another man snatches bread from the table of hundreds of widows and orphans and similar credulous souls who do not know the ways of company promoters; and, as likely as not, he is run into Parliament.
One of my constant interventions on discussion boards has been to stress the difference between criminals and prisoners. Common sense would suggest that they are the same but in fact many of us commit crime but only a select few are criminalised and end up in prison. Those who do end up in prison tend to be characterised by their powerless, vulnerability and social exclusion rather than their criminality. Increasingly evidence has highlighted the massive over representation of people with learning difficulties, mental health problems and the educational disadvantaged in our prisons. The Guardian has carried a story claiming that about 20% of prisoners have ADHD. I am trying to get hold of the research this article is based on.
But what about killers and rapists my reactionary friends demand when I advocate the abolition of prison - surely they are exactly who we are locking up in jail? Well no, as a recent report has highlight police investigations of rape are characterised by incompetence and a failure of duty towards victims. Likewise the killing of an employee by Daylesford organics due to their totally failure to follow basic health and safety laws has not resulted in the farms owners Sir Anthony and Lady Carole Bamford. They were fined £75,000 at the hearing which neither could be bothered to attend. Well it was only staff.
However Nick Cohen has argued in the Guardian that the low conviction rates for rape is down to juries not the police or courts.
David Archer, ‘Britain’s worst shoplifter’ has been jailed again. That should work!
An interesting account of delivering library services in a prison can be read here.
The New York Times ran an interesting article on the way the war on drugs is racist in practice. Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested is well worth reading.
Australia has a large and thriving opium industry but its poppy fields have been suffering crop circles. Are they a hoax or evidence of Aliens? Nope just some stoned wallabies.
An excellent article on the politics of crime control in Canada in the week’s Economist. Equally applicable to the UK.
A Massachusetts prisoner who showed enterprise and considerable computer skills has been sentenced to a further 18 months in prison and a ban from using computers for three years after his arrest. His offence using a computer in prison specifically designed to only allow access the prison’s legal research application to access e-mail and all the prison’s records. His talent really should have been appreciated and found a positive use.
Apparently the Italian Mafia have arrived in London. Bit slow of them, the rest of international organised crime has been using London as their favourite money laundering capital of the world. As I blogged previously it has been claimed that drugs money not Brown saved the world during the recent financial crisis.
The New York Times is supporting an attempt by Representative Robert Scott to pass legislation removing many of the hurdles placed in the way of prisoners who want to seek legal redress for illegal treatment in prison. Whilst in London the prison inspectorate has highlighted ‘high levels of force’ at Bellmarsh Prison.
Last year there were 648 murders in England and Wales, a twenty year low. However in 2008 over two and half thousand people dies on our roads. Since 1999 a total of 32,298 people have died on Britain’s roads. The BBC has just released a map of all 32.298 fatalities – it makes grim reading. [More on murder statistics in future blogs]
And lastly a blast from the past, Rosie’s Boycott’s famous editorial in the Independent on Sunday calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis – relevant because the good citizens of Breckenridge, Colorado have legalized cannabis from the 1st January 2010, but not on their ski slopes!
Well that is it for 2009. The next weekly news update will be in early January.