Saturday, 31 July 2010

Personality Disorders - The must have diagnoses for 2013

The American Psychiatric Association are busy preparing the fifth edition of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The Manual whist claiming to be scientific is in fact the result of a series of heavily lobbied meetings which have widened the remit of the definition of mental illness to the point where nearly everyone could be considered a sufferer and appropriate for the prescription of medication.

For Big Pharma the Manual is a potential goldmine.  Every new condition will require treatment, normally in the form of a pill. Nikolas Rose has written in detail on this relationship. His article Disorders Without Borders? The Expanding Scope of Psychiatric Practice is well worth a read.

From when I worked at Penrose I have been concerned at both the lack of scientific back-up to the the concept of "Personality Disorders" and the misuse of the concept in the Criminal Justice System.  I am therefore horrified that the new draft lists at the end of the new lists of so-called Personality Disorders a brand new catch all one is being considered.
Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

This category is for disorders of personality functioning that do not meet criteria for any specific Personality Disorder. An example is the presence of features of more than one specific Personality Disorder that do not meet the full criteria for any one Personality Disorder (“mixed personality”), but that together cause clinically significant distress or impairment in one or more important areas of functioning (e.g., social or occupational). This category can also be used when the clinician judges that a specific Personality Disorder that is not included in the Classification is appropriate. Examples include depressive personality disorder and passive-aggressive personality disorder (see Appendix B in DSM-IVTR for suggested research criteria
If it wasn't for the serious consequences of such a diagnoses it would be comic to invent a personality disorder for those of us that cannot quite squeeze into their other (very broad) categories.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Italy to "Register" Homeless

This story from the excellent Statewatch.
The interior ministry published a decree on 6 July 2010 to establish a nationwide "anagrafe" (residents' register) for homeless people, which had been envisaged in law 94/2009 on public security, also known as the "security package", whose art. 3 point 39 provides for "establishing a purpose-made national register for people who do not have a fixed residence". The demographic services directorate of the department for internal and territorial matters within the ministry will be responsible for running it and will have access with a search function for "maintenance and updating purposes". It will carry fields concerning the registered position of homeless people. Town councils will have to load available data into the password-protected system by 30 September 2010, including data normally included in the "anagrafe" records, such as their name, surname, tax code, date and place of birth, place where their residence was last registered. The final field in the database entries will be reserved for the homeless, and when it is ticked and the user clicks the "load" (carica) icon, an entry will automatically be loaded in the homeless people's register. Their status as homeless people may be amended once the situation changes, and the database will be searchable, by name, surname and using their tax code [which every citizen is issued at birth].
After ordering that Roma people living in makeshift camps be identified in 2008, at least in Rome, Milan and Naples, the interior ministry is now proceeding to create a register of another group of "undesirables", homeless people. Like the previous measure, it is not a measure that arose out of concerns for their needs, but rather, it became a priority after a violent ordeal involving sexual violence suffered in Rome by a Dutch woman and her partner at the hands of two homeless Romanians in the summer of 2008, leading mayor Gianni Alemanno to call for the census that was being carried out for Roma people living in illegal camps to be extended to homeless people and those who live at the margins of legality.
The measure was included in the security law that was approved in July 2009. Hence, in both cases, the measures are announced with a clear emphasis on "security". It is likely that if criticism surfaces, justifications based on the need for the people in question to be protected or assisted will be voiced (as happened in relation to Roma children when the measures on Roma people were criticised as discriminatory), although the measures are introduced by the interior ministry for "security" purposes rather than by the ministry for social affairs.
Legge 15 luglio 2009, n. 94, "Disposizioni in materia di sicurezza pubblica" [pdf]
Ministero dell'interno, Decreto 6 luglio 2010, "Modalità di funzionamento del registro delle persone senza fissa dimora"
Ministero dell'interno, Dipartimento per gli Affari Interni e Territoriali, circolare n. 22, 21.7.2010. [pdf]
Il Messaggero, 24.8.2008; Alleanza Nazionale website, "Censimento per i senza fissa dimora"

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle

Interesting report in the Nation about how BP prefers to employ prisoners to clean up their mess rather than the workers whom their polution has put out of a job.  Apparently they are cheaper and easier to manage.
Employers like them because they are guaranteed a worker who's on time, drug-free, and sober and because they do get a tax break.
More about this story on the CAPS (Campaign against Prison Slavery) website.


The recent death of Raoul Moat has highlighted the use of Tasers and in particular the new version which was used on Raul immediately prior to his death which is currently being tested by British Police.  I found this promotional film on the new Taser which was deployed against Moat.  Expect these to be used regularly in our local communities.

Update: 12.30
I have recently been accused of only publishing "bad" news.  So he is some good news - Taser International who make these weapons has just yesterday posted second quarter losses of $1.4 million.  The company has tried to reassure investors that it will turn the situation around by increasing sales by targeting private security companies and individuals - so maybe not all good news!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The relationship between crime and imprisonment.

I was going to write something about the relationship between crime and imprisonment when I came across this posting I made on the Guardian's CiF site on 9th September 2008.  It was in response to the proposal to build Titan jails.

The relationship between crime and prison is not as clear cut as both sides of this debate assume. The people we imprison are selected on the basis of their visibility, their vulnerability, their power (or lack of it) and because of their behaviour. Criminal justice agencies focus their efforts on those it is easiest to convict and often prioritise low hanging fruit (e.g. kids hanging around the streets) rather than more serious criminals who through their location, position or wealth are able to operate with impunity. Take a drug smuggler. Divide your cargo among four people who for whatever reason (but often poverty) are prepared to carry it. Three get through, one gets arrested. The smuggler makes very healthy profits, three of the mules get a few bob, and one gets a long sentence justified by a Minister who claims its shows she or he is tough on drug smuggling.

The SEU report commission by the government made clear that our prisons were full of the most socially excluded members of our society. Many of them have committed crimes, but it is the poor, the homeless, ethnic minorities, the educationally disadvantaged, victims of sexual abuse, the mentally ill and other powerless people who pay for their crimes by imprisonment. That doesn't mean that the rest of society is crime free. Of course it is not, but in general we do not pay for our crimes.

The reason why the most socially excluded tend to end up in prison is not because they commit more crime but because they are targeted by the criminal justice system.

Prisons are primarily places of punishment; of course there have been good programmes in prisons and certain prisons have for limited periods been positive places, but just because you see a flower in a desert you should not jump to the conclusion that deserts are good places to grow flowers. Prisons are bad places that, all other things being equal, damage those locked up in them, those who work in them and the families of both. We should oppose the buildings of these prisons because prisons are bad places; they are anti-social and will damage many people. But the solution does not lie in smaller prisons or any other type of prison. When a prison becomes a good place, which actual does good to those inside it, then eventually it is either closed or replaced with a punitive regime, the good place quite simply was no longer a prison, to res-establish it as such the good had to go and the pain substituted for it, it had to be re-established as punishment. We saw it with Norfolk Island in the 1840s, with Borstal after the Second World War and with Barlinnie special unit more recently.

We can't support a system that targets the vulnerable and powerless and inflicts pain on them by pretending that smaller units, NACRO running the resettlement or other recycled failed reformative bollocks with make them work. They work already, as places of pain and punishment. They have never and will never work as places of reformation. The problems which lead certain people to be selected for imprisonment are problems of social inclusion that need dealing with in the community.
The orginal article and comments can be read here. My text above is the same as I orginally posted.  However the links have been added.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Whose Power? What Influence?

Last year we all got very angry about the corrupt expense claims of our MPs. However there is an area that is much more corrupting than the expenses - the influence of lobbying.

The scandal of lobbying was highlighted by the Sunday Times sting on three Labour ex-cabinet members earlier this year. But the reality of lobbying is far more insidious.  Companies, trade associations and other interest groups have considerable influence on Government policy ensure that decisions reflect their commercial influences rather the wider public interest.

Of course you can't see exactly who is talking to who; what deals are being made and what price is being paid for influence. But it makes you think and certainly in my case possibly a little paranoid.  So when earlier this month I saw this in the Daily Mail

I wondered what deals where being done.  Later the same day in the Guardian I came across this story

As an employer McDonald's has an appalling reputation which is largely deserved. The word McJob has even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary

Both the decision to cave in on effective regulation of the fast food industry and the appointment of bad employer McDonald's to manage the Olympics volunteering programme are likely to have been influenced by lobbying.  Neither are in the interests of ordinary people.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Billy Conolly - Two little boys in blue

Old but very relevant given the recent CPS decision not to take any action over the killing of  Ian Tomlinson

Crime Statistics - Police Fiddles

Every month or so the Home Office issues a set of statistics which claims to measure the increase or decrease in crime. Politicians, Journalist & the Police all respond as if these figures had some objective reality.  But "crime" is impossible to measure for a whole range of reasons.  One of these is the capacity for police to manipulate them and I found this story from last year in the Daily Telegraph which illustrates the influence police practices can have on recorded crime.

Police force 'tricks' to 'fiddle' crime figures by David Barrett

The techniques – dubbed "gaming" – are used to create the illusion that fewer crimes are being committed and that a bigger proportion are being solved.  Rodger Patrick, a retired Detective Chief Inspector, claimed that the methods are tacitly approved of by senior officers, police watchdogs and the Home Office.

The claims will reignite the debate about the validity of crime statistics after recent figures suggested that crime fell four per cent in the second quarter of this year, and following the admission by a police watchdog that some forces are failing to record violent crime properly.

The techniques identified by Dr Patrick include:
  • "Cuffing" – in which officers make crimes disappear from official figures by either recording them as a "false report" or downgrading their seriousness. For example, a robbery in which a mobile phone is stolen with violence or threats of violence is recorded as "theft from the person", which is not classed as a violent crime.
  • "Stitching" – from "stitching up", whereby offenders are charged with a crime when there is insufficient evidence. Police know that prosecutors will never proceed with the case but the crime appears in police records to have been "solved".
  • "Skewing" – when police activity is directed at easier-to-solve crimes to boost detection rates, at the expense of more serious offences such as sex crimes or child abuse.
  • "Nodding" – where clear-up rates are boosted by persuading convicted offenders to admit to crimes they have not committed, in exchange for inducements such as a lower sentence.
Dr Patrick, who researched the subject for a PhD, said:
The academics call this 'gaming' but police officers would call it fiddling the figures, massaging the books or, the current favourite term, 'good housekeeping'. It is a bit like the police activities that we all thought stopped in the 1970s.
Serving police officers confirmed that the tricks were being used and gave examples of how they had been implemented. In one case, an offender shot at another man at close range but missed and broke a window behind his target. The offence was recorded as criminal damage rather than attempted murder. In another example, a man robbed in a city's red-light district – an area he had been innocently passing through – was told by officers they would be unable to record the crime without informing his wife he had been the area, leading to the complaint being withdrawn. One detective, who declined to be named, said: "Name any crime and I'll tell you how it can be fiddled." Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, which represents front line officers, said:
This research demonstrates that senior officers are directing and controlling widespread manipulation of crime figures. The public are misled, politicians can claim crime is falling and chief officers are rewarded with performance-related bonuses.
Last month Denis O'Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, published an official report into the way police record violent crime and admitted the figures may be skewed by "perverse incentives" around government performance targets. Dr Patrick's research highlighted figures from his own former force, West Midlands, which reveal what happened when senior officers cracked down on one of the gaming techniques.

Rank and file officers were told in 2002 that informal police warnings could no longer be counted as a detection for common assaults. Within 12 months the number of recorded common assaults dropped from 22,000 to 3,000 while thousands more crimes switched to the category "other woundings". "Such a rapid adjustment indicates the organisational nature of the phenomenon and suggests some form of co-ordination and direction by management," the research said."The scale of the 'gaming' behaviours measured in this thesis ... suggested senior officers were either directly orchestrating the behaviour or turning a blind eye to it."

Dr Patrick believes other gaming techniques are still being used in forces across the country. The report also warned that the use of "stitching" was "significant", while "cuffing" had continued after the introduction of Home Office rules which were supposed to guarantee and standardise the way crimes are recorded.
"Cuffing" can involve a situation where a victim of crime is accused of making a false crime report, and is therefore treated like a suspect rather than an injured party, Dr Patrick said. "You cannot have members of the public who have been victims of crime coming to the police for help and being treated like suspects. That is not right and it will erode confidence in the police," he said.

Dr Patrick found that watchdogs such as Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and the Police Standards Unit had a "general tendency to underplay the scale and nature" of gaming. He was scathing of HMIC's failure to tackle the problem, noting there were no examples of chief police officers being publicly criticised by inspectors for this type of crime figure manipulation. HMIC tended privately to refer examples of widespread gaming to the Home Secretary or the police authority rather than "hold the chief constable to account" because of the risk of political embarrassment, he said. Dr Patrick concluded that HMIC inspectors should be made accountable to Parliament rather than the Home Office, and suggested they should be drawn from other professions rather than solely from senior police ranks.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The real number of children, women and men locked up

David Scott in an article for criminal justice matters in 2008 calculated that there were over one hundred and eight thousand people detained in the UK.  The normally figure quoted in the number of prisoners in England and Wales but this does not include Scotland, Northern Ireland, Refugee prisons or those detained under Mental heath laws.

(Source: Scott, D. (2008) ‘Thinking about detention’, Criminal Justice Matters, Vol. 71, No. 1.)

Although CJM normally requires a subscription this article is in an edition which offers free access.

It includes an article "Prison  - more than detentiion?" written by me

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Whose Law? What Justice? No charges after killing of Ian Tomlinson

A visit to the website of the Crown Prosecution Service reveals their proud slogan "Fair, fearless, effective".  Their announcement today that there will be no charges over the killing of Ian Tomlinson makes a mockery of these pious platitudes. The assault of Ian Tomlinson has thanks to the internet been viewed by millions of us. I am sure it will be shown again today at regular intervals on all the days news programmes. As we watch it we are being asked to believe that there is no case to be answered by the thug that carried out this attack.  We are also being asked to believe that if this attack had been carried out by anyone other than a police officer the same decision would have been taken.  It is a decision which is grossly unfair, exposes the CPS's total lack of courage and displays their incompetency.  Problems which would have never been allowed to compromise any other homicide investigation have been callously used to pervert the course of justice.

Update (13.12)

I have now read the CPS Press statement. The reasons the CPS has given for their decision are:

No Manslaughter charge

Is justified because "there is a sharp disagreement between the medical experts" with the original pathologist, Dr Patel reaching different conclusions from two other pathologists who carried out subsequent postmortems. They concluded that Dr Patel's conclusions that Mr Tomlinson had died from natural causes made a prosecution impossible.  They however make no reference to  Dr Patel's current appearance before the GMC charged with conducting not one, not two, not three, but four other autopsies incompetently.

Obviously we need to await the GMC finding in this case.   However the findings are likely to be relevant to Dr Patel's credibility as a witness. 

Having waited so long to make a decision couldn't the CPS wait a few more days in the hope that the main hurdle to a successful prosecution is removed by the GMC?

No Assault Charge

Apparently you have according to CPS guidelines charge someone with assult within six months.  They are satisfied an assault took place buts opps its to late to charge the thug ... oh dear!!

Further Update (13.28)

This is from the Guardian earlier this month concerning the credibility of Dr Patel on which the CPS has made its decision today

FFS couldn't even a CPS lawyer see there may have been a way to challenge his credibility in court?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Confessions of an "independent" economist

The new liberal/conservative government soon after taking power set up an "independen" Office of Budgetary Responsibility.  Its first chairman was Alan Budd who, in a previous life, was a senior economic advisor to the 1979 Conservative government.  In this clip he looks back at that Government's economic policy and shares his "nightmare".

The nightmare for those made unemployed, homeless and denied health care was very real.

Who are the biggest killers: Police Drivers or Firearms?

In today's Guardian Simon Jenkins argues for a dramatic cut in policing budgets. Whilst there is much I don't agree with Jenkins on this one assertion caught my eye.  Jenkins claims that 'speeding police cars now kill twice as many members of the public as die from gun offences.' So I decided to check out the facts.

The recent crime figures show that 39 people were killed by shootings. Whilst the IPCC's page on Road Traffic Incidents shows that the latest full year 'civilian fatalities following police related road traffic incidents' are running at 40.

Anyone interested in police spending should read the excellent Centre for Crime and justice Studies report Police expenditure 1999-2009

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Satire brutally murdered by Dail Mail

From Jonathan Swift to Chris Morris satire has played an important part in literary and political life.  But today the Daily Mail has produced a story that is so beyond satire as to have effectively killed it

I-Dosing: How teenagers are getting 'digitally high' from music they download from internet
By Daniel Bates

Last updated at 5:57 PM on 20th July 2010

They put on their headphones, drape a hood over their head and drift off into the world of ‘digital highs’.

Videos posted on YouTube show a young girl freaking out and leaping up in fear, a teenager shaking violently and a young boy in extreme distress.

This is the world of ‘i-Dosing’, the new craze sweeping the internet in which teenagers used so-called ‘digital drugs’ to change their brains in the same way as real-life narcotics.

They believe the repetitive drone-like music will give them a ‘high’ that takes them out of reality, only legally available and downloadable on the Internet.
The craze has so far been popular among teenagers in the U.S. but given how easily available the videos are, it is just a matter of time before it catches on in Britain.
Those who come up with the ‘doses’ claim different tracks mimic different sensations you can feel by taking drugs such as Ecstasy or smoking cannabis.
The reactions have been partially sceptical but some songs have become wildly popular, receiving nearly half a million hits on YouTube.
Under one called ‘Shroom’, Berecz wrote: ‘just listened to this... at the beginning I began to see some blinking light (while eyes closed), then the pitch went up and I began to feel that Im sinking into my the pitch went down I began to feel confident, and very relaxed, and I dont want to stand up from my chair and I dont want to say any words...’
Not everyone is taking i-Dosing seriously - some YouTube videos show young adults ‘i-Dosing’ on Neil Diamond and mocking the whole phenomenon.
But there has been such alarm in the U.S. that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has issued a warning to children not to do it.
‘Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about and it can lead them to other places, spokesman Mark Woodward said. He added that parental awareness is key to preventing future problems, since I-dosing could indicate a willingness to experiment with drugs. ‘So that's why we want parents to be aware of what sites their kids are visiting and not just dismiss this as something harmless on the computer.
‘If you want to reach these kids, save these kids and keep these kids safe, parents have to be aware. They've got to take action.’ He added that another concern is that many of these I-dosing sites lure visitors to actual drug and drug paraphernalia sites.
Schools in the Mustang area recently sent out a letter warning parents about the new trend after several high school students reported having physiological effects after trying one of these digital downloads. ‘We had never come across anything like this and anything that is going to cause these physiological effects in a student, that causes us concern,’ said Shannon Rigsby, Mustang Public Schools Communication Officer.
It goes on (and on) - full story here

On a lighter note earlier this week the Poke revealed the Daily Mail's secret editorial formula.

Tasers & Typos

Tasers are both becoming widely issued to British police and widely used.  Often the use is inappropriate as a Daily Mail article last year when it highlighted police had used their new toys on
  • Stray Dogs
  • Runaway Sheep
  • An 89 year old man suffering from dementia
  • Children
  • (and accidentally) on police officers themselves
There is evidence that they are being used routinely with little regard for the safety of the public.  Today the Mail published another story highlighting how the police had "accidentally" shot a man working on a friends garden. Having read the story I "accidentally" forgot to bookmark it before I got distracted in reading another story in the mail (see my next blog!!)

So I did a quick search only to find that in the earlier today the story had been published with the authors unedited comments.  Fortunately the keen eyed reader who spotted it had taken a screen shot.

The Mail have now removed Mr Cox's "meat and two"  and instead given him genitals.

Hat tip JoJo_Wood

the short-term prison sentence (1966 Bow Group Memorandum)

New Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has been questioning the effectiveness of prisons particularly in respect of short term sentences.  One idea he is promoting to try and reduce current numbers imprisoned is to get rid of short sentences - in particular those under six months.

I have been meaning to spend some time writing a detailed analysis of the Liberal/Tory policies on punishment but other priorities have taken precedence.  I will however get around to it when time (and life) permits.

Meanwhile digging around in the Whose Crime Library I came across an old Bow Group pamphlet the short-term prison sentence written by Robert Bessell and published in 1966.

Writing at a time that the England and Wales prison population had risen to 'over 20,000' and the cost of running the prisons was over £22 million; a 'colossal expenditure of money and man-power'.  Bessell argued for the abolition of the short-term prison sentence - a policy that if implemented would have reduced the prison population to around 6,000.

Central to his analysis was a claim that
there is in prison a hard-core of men and women, probably not very large in proportion to the prison population, with very considerable problems, which there is not the faintest prospect of resolving so long as the entire prison service is overburdened.
The overburdening is blamed on excessive use of prison with 'the great mass of the prison population consists(ing) of a heterogeneous crowd of men with very short-term sentences.'

This argument, that indeed prison could work, if it was not for overcrowding, remains a popular one today, when the England & Wales official population is over 80,000. Given that 20,000 overburdened the system the scale of reduction required is substantial. Indeed when in the early 1930s the population was down to about 9,000 no evidence was produced to show that, at these levels, prison could work in the ways that reformers continue to hope.

Bessell concluded that 'sentences of less than 6 months should, without exception, be abolished.' They 'serve no purpose and meet no need.'  Whilst the argument has considerable attractions it does carry dangers.  Unable to pass sentences of under six months many Magistrates would increase the sentences on those they had previously sentenced for shorter periods. The alternatives - community sentences - would all be backed up by prison, so many would end up in prison anyway.

But far more important than a detailed examination of the strengths and weakness of this argument is to recognise that it is not new. The very case being promoted by penal reformers and Ken Clarke has been around for many years.  What is crucial is to ask why the ideas promoted by Bessell and indeed others prior to him failed to gain policy traction. Why was Bessell's case ignored and in the 44 years since have we seen the prison population continue to rise and the continued use of short sentences (as well as increase in sentence length) be central to policy?

Unless those promoting "rational" ideas in penal policy can explain why these same ideas have been repeatedly rejected they will be unable to make any more progress than Robert Bessell and his contemporaries achieved.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Foreskins and dreadlocks - Prison Security as an Excuse for Abuse

Strip searches are routine in penal institutions and are justified by arguments about prison safety. Reading prisoners accounts they perceive the process as being more about power and humiliation.  One regular requirement, particularly targeted at male children is to require the foreskin to be rolled back in front of the guards to check if anything is hidden there. For those who want to check this out I suggest you carry out a practical experiment to establish just what you can hide in a foreskin without it being visible. [Those of you who don not have a foreskin should find a friend with one to jointly conduct this experiment.] 

From my experiments I have concluded it is impossible to hide a gun or a mobile phone. It is also impossible to hide any significant amounts of drugs.  Given the humiliation experienced by those subjected to this procedure any security gain is obvioulsly insignificant. In particular its requirement for children is clearly child abuse.

A recent report by the Associated Press highlights another example of how prison security is used an excuse for abuse. They report how at least 48 prisoners in Virginia are kept in solitory confinement solely on the basis that they refuse to co-operate with security policy on hair and beard length.  The prisoners in segregation include ten Rastafarians who have been held there for over ten years. Rastafararians objection to hair cutting is not about fashion but a religious belief.  Although details of the other prisoners is not available most are likely to be from other faiths who share similiar beliefs (e.g Sikhs).  The justification is security. Long hair could be used to hide guns and other items. The impact of imposing "security" regulations that ignore prisoners faiths is that either the prisoner does something that goes against their faith or they are severely punished.  In this case ten Rastafarians have been subjected to over a decade solitary confinement for sticking to their beliefs.  All in the name of "security".

Monday, 12 July 2010

Mohammadi Ashtiani - Update and New Appeal for Support

Last Thursday I blogged about Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani's impending stoning in Iran.  Since then the Iranian Government have indicated that they no longer intend to stone her.  However they are still planning to kill her by hanging.  I have recieved this appeal from Amnesty International USA for signatories for another appeal to the Iranian authorities.  Please support it.
Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian mother of two, could be executed at any moment.

The Iranian government was until recently set to carry out the barbaric use of stoning against Mohammadi Ashtiani for allegedly conducting an "illicit relationship outside marriage," despite the lack of any corroborating evidence against her.

Iranian officials were prepared to bury Mohammadi Ashtiani up to her chest and then throw stones at her head until she died. But after a major international uproar, Iranian officials changed their minds.

Mohammadi Ashtiani is now in danger of being executed by other means.

Iran's government just doesn't get it - execution is wrong no matter which means are used.

What's worse - Mohammadi Ashtiani has already been punished for her alleged crime. In May 2006, she received 99 lashes as her sentence and has been imprisoned ever since.

But the fact that Iranian officials have already changed their minds once about Mohammadi Ashtiani's fate proves that they are listening. Iran's draconian policies are not immune to international pressure.

Let them hear how outraged you are. Tell Iran to stop the executions by signing the petition here.

Crimes and Time

It is often claimed "don't do the crime if you cant do the time".  Such a statement, as well as being morally dubious, presumes that the criminal justice system rationally allocates prison time on the basis of just deserts. In fact sentencing is both more random than that and far more bias.  More often than not it is the person rather than the crime that attracts the sentence.  This can be personal but is often a response to the lawbreakers age, class and race.

Everyday through google alerts I get a couple of hundred news stories delivered to my inbox and today I got the following two stories one after the other in an e-mail.
St. Peters secretary gets prison for stealing $573K

Teen sentenced to prison under new spitting law
The theft of $573K was deemed to require six months in prison whilst the young woman who spat at a policeman got a year in prison and two years post prison supervision. Both pleaded guilty - to do anything else is to risk far more severe penalties- so we only hear the states case.  But the idea that courts (or lawmakers) can in any meaningful way weigh up crimes and allocate, as if by science, an appropriate amount of prison time which justly correlates to the specific crime is clearly total nonsense.  So both sentencing law and practice develops its own logic and the white collar criminal who carries out a fraud in a calculating way is deemed to need six months whilst the young woman, who lip is cut in a struggle with a police officer and then spits gets a year. 

Of course the whole idea of using prison as the standard response to almost all lawbreaking is silly and pointless but the way when it is used it is used disproportionally on the young, social excluded and powerless displays the inherent injustice of the criminal justice system.

Friday, 9 July 2010

"To anyone who even cares, bye,"

Julie Bindel in yesterday's Guardian writes in detail about the tragic and unnecessary death of Andrea Adams. On the 12 June 2006 Andrea left a note on her kitchen table reading "To anyone who even cares, bye," and jumped out the window of her eighth floor flat.

The article details how a whole range of agencies charged with caring for Andrea failed her.  A difficult but important read - please spare five minutes to read it.

What led Andrea Adams to kill herself at 18?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Help Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani Live!

Please support this appeal
Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani faces a horrible punishment for an act of nature: sex.

But apparently sex outside of marriage is volatile enough that this woman deserves to be executed by stoning. At least some people in Iran think so. She will almost certainly be murdered by a corrupt "justice" system in a most excruciating way unless WE do something about it. This petition is that something.

Although stoning is sadly not terribly uncommon in some parts of the world, saving one person from this atrocity could help to build the movement against inhumane punishments and executions worldwide and promote more justice in troubled nations like Iran. YOU have power to help stop this, the choice is simply yours to do it or not. I urge you brothers and sisters, for we have no more room for hate in our world, the free MUST remember the forgotten. This is simply our duty to our fellow human, to stand up for her when she cannot. I beg you to share this with anyone who would sign it, as it will send a strong message to those capable of helping this poor woman have her right to life.
By signing this petition here

Further details here

Frightening Statistic

I was searching for something on the Prison reform trust's website and came across this frightening statistic ...

Every year more children are separated from a parent by prison than by divorce.

In hard numbers this amounts to 160,000 children.

To this number you need to add the 12,000 children locked up each year.

That is an awful lot of children who are damaged every year by imprisonment.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

8 Year-Old Transported To Mental Health Facility With Adult Prisoners (US story)

Came across this news item from the States. Increasingly the link between mental illness and the penal system is becoming stronger both in the US and the UK.  Both countries are also poor at recognising that children are children.

Read more details here

Monday, 5 July 2010

Whose Cuts? What Harms?

The need for massive cuts in public spending is the new common sense. We are told by Liberals and Tories that There is No Alternative.  But the reality is we have many possibilities. The road being followed by the coalition is only one option and it is an option that will do a great deal of damage to social equality, the poorest and weakest in our society. The rich and powerful are likely to do very well thank you.

The reality is we already live in a very unequal society. No where is this more apparent than in death rates. Last week the National Audit Office revealed that the poor are still dying 10 years earlier than the rich.  At a time when it is proposed to defer the age for State retirement benefits until 70 this is highly relevant.  Poor people will be disproportionally effected by this (rich people can chose when to retire) and although man living in Kensington & Chelsea can look forward to over 14 years life after their 70th Birthday in Blackpool men die on average until there are 73.6.  This means reducing their retirement from 8.6 years to only 3.6 years.

In fact the reality may be considerably worse.  Although the Tory led coalition are protecting NHS spending our health is determined by a far greater range of factors.  The NHS treats us when we are ill rather than stopping us getting unwell. An article in the British Medical Journal reported by BBC News has found
Generally the trends showed that when social spending - including support for families and the unemployed - was high, death rates fell, but when they were low, rates rose substantially. In fact, for every £70 drop in spending per person there was a 1.19% rise in overall deaths.
So it likely that the massive cuts in welfare spending currently being proposed will reduce average life expectancy and that this average reduction will disproportionally impact on the poorer.  Therefore places like Blackpool will see there average life expectancy reduce from the current 73.6 and move downwards towards the new retirement age of 70.

Fortunately the policies of the Tories and Liberals are not inevitable and the extent to which they will be implemented will be impacted on by the level of resistance they experience.  So get active, get campaigning and remember Arundhati Roy's brilliant quote:
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Mickey B

Earlier today I was planning ahead for the next academic year.  I am hoping to run a Prison Films series and was trying to narrow down my list to only six when a friend who attended the ICOPA conference last week phoned.  The conference, he reported, had been really good with one of the highlights being the showing of a new film Mickey B.  This is a remake of Macbeth, set in prison, starring and produced by prisoners.

I am afraid to say, I had not heard of this film, but a quick search took me to this trailer.

The film can be brought from the Educational Shakespeare Company here