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How about a Jubilee Amnesty for UK Prisoners? Or at least a fresh focus by UK and Commonwealth governments on prison reform

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2012 marks sixty years on the throne for Queen Elizabeth II. In many countries this kind of anniversary would be marked, amongst all the celebrations, by a prisoner amnesty. Whether as a gesture of benevolence or a safety valve for congested jails, amnesties are fairly widely used around the world. The King of Thailand pardoned almost 30,000 prisoners on his 80th birthday in 2007.  Morocco marks special royal occasions by prisoner releases and only last week North Korea announced pardons ...

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Tackling Prison Gangs: A Priority for 2012?

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The deaths of 31 inmates in Mexico’s Altamira prison this week once again illustrate the horrors of gang related violence in the country’s jails.  The bloodbath reportedly erupted after members of one drug gang invaded a section of the prison dominated by another. Earlier in the week two prisoners were killed in Costa Rica’s largest prison apparently as a result of gangs on the outside settling their scores on the inside.

The presence and activities of organised gangs is one of ...

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Justice and Prison Reform in Afghanistan: Where next?

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The West’s efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan have included considerable investment to strengthen the criminal justice process. Taxpayers in the USA, Canada, Australia and the EU have seen funds spent on drafting new criminal laws, training judges, constructing and renovating prisons. A bewildering range of UN and international non-governmental organisations have given increasing priority to establishing a coherent countrywide system based on rule of law.

Despite all this work, Human Rights Watch‘s assessment is that Afghanistan’s justice system remains weak and ...

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Confusion and Clarity in Kazakhstan

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Justice and Prisons were in Astana last week to contribute to a major conference on the future of the penal system in Kazakhstan. What Solzhenitsyn called the country of the camps in soviet times made remarkable progress in reforming its prisons in the first decade of this century.  A gradual process of decriminalisation and the introduction of alternatives to imprisonment led to falls in the prison population that ten years ago ranked among the very highest in the world. In ...

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A transfer of prisoners to meet Ministry of Justice targets?

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Nigeria and the United Kingdom are signatories to the Scheme for the Transfer of Convicted Offenders within the British Commonwealth. The Scheme allows for the transfer of prisoners between Nigeria and the United Kingdom where the consent of both states and the prisoner is obtained. A separate compulsory transfer agreement is under consideration which would not require the prisoner’s consent. This week’s decision by the Nigerian lower house of Parliament brings closer the prospect of some of the Nigerian citizens ...

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Rehabilitation of Life and Long Term Prisoners

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I have recently returned from a conference in Singapore called “Unlocking the Second Prison” organised by the International Corrections and Prisons Association.  Participants from 70 countries discussed how to build a culture of rehabilitation and reintegration into prison systems- the second prison refers to the barriers in the community that face prisoners , particularly long term prisoners , when they have left the first prison. The event was held to coincide with Yellow Ribbon Day an annual campaign to promote a second ...

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Clarke’s Strange Lessons from the UK Riots

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UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke promised to choose his words more carefully after his claim in June that some rapes were more serious than others. His article about the riots in the Guardian this week suggests he has not heeded his promise.  The Victorian feel of his analysis of the disturbances as an “outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes” should perhaps not surprise us when research has shown that   people in Britain last lived lives as unequal ...

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Justice and Prisons in the new Libya

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With the imminent formation of a new government in Libya, there is great concern about  whether and how Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif-al Islam and the head of military intelligence will face justice – all three having been made subject to arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court in June accused of murder and persecution.

There will be important questions too about how transitional justice will be pursued more broadly under a new regime. Will the country adopt a Truth and ...

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Justice and Prisons After the Riots in England

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The widespread looting and violence which scarred parts of English cities last week has led to a predictably harsh response from the authorities. At the time of writing about 1300 people have been charged with offences allegedly committed during the disturbances. Over half have been remanded into custody by Magistrates until sentences can be imposed by the Crown Courts. The sentences that have already been handed down appear to be well in excess of   “the going rate” for particular ...

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A worldwide perspective: how long should prisoners be held on death row before they are executed?

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Manuel Valle was sentenced to death, aged 27, on the 10th of May 1978 for murdering a police officer earlier that year. He is now aged 61 and still on death row in Florida awaiting execution after 33 years. He has been tried and sentenced to death three times, as his first two trials were found to have been unconstitutional.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, Florida’s death row cells ...

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