Category Archives: Pretrial detention

Immigration Policies Should Not be Driven By Prison Profiteering

On August 7, 2013, officials from the United States and Mexico met in Texas to discuss immigration reform. Roughly 400 thousand people, primarily from our bordering neighbor, are arrested for immigration violations each year.  The creation and enforcement of immigration laws has created a massive industry with a vested interest in continuing the expansion and enforcement of immigration crimes.

Corrections Corporations America, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation house 80% of those apprehended for immigration crimes.  Between them, they make a profit of over $5 billion per year. CCA Founder is quoted as saying selling the concept of private prisons to the government is just “like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers.”

Prisons should not be run just like any other business.  The social costs are too great to simply consider the supply and demand of inmates, and increasing supply by legislating new crimes or changing enforcement.  Clearly, these companies rely and directly stand to benefit from anti-immigration laws. The Associated Press noted that they spent $45 million on lobbying over the last decade. Since 2005, the largest growth in prison populations came from federal immigration detentions. It has been the leading cause of incarceration for the last four years.   It is the growth sector for these businesses.

Immigration reform is at the forefront of our national and foreign policy.  Decisions need to be made that make sense domestically and for our relationships with our southern neighbors.  Those decisions should also be driven by what is right, fair, and humane.  They should not be driven by the profiteering of the corrections industry.

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101

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Wrongfully Jailed Man Dies in an Argentinean Prison

Luciano Peralta was the father of three children.  He earned his living as a gardener. He had recently separated from his wife, Esther Cerrudo, but the two were on very amicable terms. On Sunday, October 27, 2013, Esther asked Luciano to watch the kids while she took care of some personal matters.

Argentinian police officers allege that a neighbor called to report a robbery at Esther’s residence. When they arrived, the officers arrested Luciano in front of his children. They proceeded to seize his motorcycle and the bicycle that belonged to Luciano’s young son.

Luciano was imprisoned in La Plata, a province in the capital city. When his ex-wife and mother arrived at the prison, Esther explained that she had asked him to be there and the children at the house were Luciano’s children.  Nonetheless, they were told he would be spending the night in jail.

The following day, a public defender assured Luciano he would be free. She noted that he seemed lost and confused. Prior to his being released, Luciano began to suffer a panic attack. He started trembling and convulsing. His mother was at the prison, but she was not allowed to see him. The officers did not call a doctor nor did they call an ambulance. Luciano received no medical attention. Ultimately, he died in his cell.

Norma Silguero and Tatiana Peralta, mother and sister of the deceased. (Photo: @martinenlared)

Norma Silguero and Tatiana Peralta, mother and sister of the deceased. (Photo: @martinenlared)

We may never know the true motivations for the arrest or what really happened to Luciano at the jail.  This case is another example of tragedies that can result from wrongful arrests and the need for reform within the Argentinian police.

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101

For more information please see:


Early DNA Testing Could Prevent Nightmare of Wrongful Charges

The Innocence Project reports that DNA has proven the innocence of nearly 300 people who spent 13 years on average in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. K’vaughn Hines, 19, is not one of them because multiple charges—including first-degree murder and rape—were dropped before trial and conviction. DNA testing eventually excluded him and Sheldon Sneed, 19, from a violent gang rape committed in a Metro station in Maryland. As reported in the Maryland here, Hines, who did not have as much as a traffic ticket prior to this charge, spent four months in jail without bond and a month on house arrest before the charges were dropped. It was a life-changing experience.

A witness at the Metro station spotted Hines and Sneed at the station and said they had committed the crimes, but they were not identified at the scene of the crime. What followed rarely makes headlines, but it was a nightmare for Hines Continue reading

Audio and Visual Recording of Interrogations by Public Prosecutors, Part II

The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office (SPPO) issued a report on audio and visual recording of interrogations last week (on July 4th, JST).

Demonstration of how the recording would take place during interrogation by prosecutor.

As I posted earlier, the SPPO started recording some interrogations on an experimental basis in 2006. Last week’s report  focused on the experimental recording in three Special Investigation Units and ten Special Crime Devision Public Prosecutor’s Office, which took place in 91 cases from March 2011 through April 2012 (note that these offices or branches in the Public Prosecutor’s Office usually involve only white collar crimes). The report revealed what the prosecutors in Japan have to say about the recording of interrogations.

Below are the points worth noting:

1)  Interrogations in 91 cases out of 98 were either partially or entirely recorded. The entire interrogation process was recorded in 39 cases.  30 of the cases concerned tax violations.

2) In seven cases, the suspects refused the recording from the beginning of interrogations. In 12 cases, the suspects refused the recording halfway through. The reasons for their refusal include: they were ashamed of being arrested and incarcerated, and they did not want to provide discussions in front of the camera.

3) Recording took place in other prosecutor’s offices in 946 cases out of 1,005 cases, where the charge was a serious offense and the case was to be disposed of by a Lay Judge trial, such as murder. In cases involving persons with intellectual disabilities, 540 cases were recorded (this was all of the cases in this category except where the accused refused). Continue reading

Africa Illegal Detention:Two Innocent Men Set Free in Kenya

After spending 75 days ‘unlawfully’ in prison, Shadrack and Joseph regained their freedom on April 18th, 2012. Thanks to the work of the International Justice Mission in Kenya, the organisation that worked tirelessly, against all odds to secure their release. This brings to the fore the notoriously sluggish machinery of justice in Africa, that an accused person can be made to suffer scorn and odium, for an offence he did not commit. As their lawyer said: ‘There is much more to be done to set the innocent prisoners free’.

One can only hope that the lawyer can go the whole hog to sue the relevant authorities for false imprisonment; deprivation of liberty; loss of income and consequently, make a claim for monetary compensation. ‘Exemplary’ and ‘aggravated’ damages might not be too far-fetched a claim to allege. As the maxim goes, for every right there is a remedy. Read  here

Prisons in Africa: An Evaluation from a Human Rights Perspective,artigo_sarkin.htm In this article, Jeremy Sarkin makes a poignant argument for prison reforms in Africa. One constant theme dominates his discourse: the debasement, abuse and violation of the individual rights of prisoners. In almost all of the countries in Africa he cited, the anecdotal evidence clearly suggest the need for a different pathway to dealing with the question of prison reform, from a human rights perspective. In Uganda, he states – ‘For instance, two-thirds of the 18,000 inmates in Uganda have yet to be tried’.  Ditto for South Africa, where as he contends; in South Africa Johannesburg prison, some inmates have not seen a judge in as many as seven years. In Nigeria, the situation is not any different, if not worse. He identifies the consequences of this parlous situation leading to – prison overcrowding; violation of pre-trial detention rights; dearth of prison resources and governance. He then concludes with solutions, which he narrows down to – alternative sentencing; the vigorous enforcement of prisoners’ rights vide the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights; and the unique role of a Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions. In conclusion, violation of prisoners’ rights is one veritable source, around which issues of wrongful convictions and the fight for the innocent, can be located, particularly in skewed systems in Africa, as highlighted by this article.

Civil commitment for unproven condition rejected

Imagine being wrongly convicted of a crime that never occurred, serving a long sentence and then, when you’re about to be released, having the government lock you up for crimes you might commit in the future.

Even worse, imagine that the reason the government wants to keep you locked up is that you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder that many psychologists don’t believe even exists.

That could happen if the federal government has its way with its attempts to civilly detain people it deems a dangerous sex offender because they have “hebephilia,” the sexual attraction to children who have reached puberty.

Fortunately, a federal judge last week rejected the government’s effort to detain a convicted sex offender based on what forensic psychologist Karen Franklin calls this “faux diagnosis.” You can read her post here.

Weighing up the Law on Presumption of Innocence

The presumption of innocence is an international protective legal norm – whether in civil or common law jurisdictions. It’s an integral part of the principle of fairness. We are increasingly witnessing a sustained assault on this time tested legal principle.

In Nigeria, in 2009, Mohammed Yusuf the acclaimed leader of the ferocious and violent Islamic sect, which goes by the name Boko Haram, was brutally ‘murdered’ by the police. He was shot with cuffs in hands by the Nigerian police. Where was the presumption of innocence? Without prejudice to the on going investigation of the tragic death of young Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman in some quarters, is already presumed guilty. Where is the presumption of innocence?  It seems there is the tendency that we confuse presumption of innocence with other concepts. For a didactic analysis of presumptions, assumptions and assertions, and how they colour our perceptions of crime, read here

Opinion piece references impact of plea bargains on wrongful conviction

Writer Michele Alexander raises the wrongful conviction issue as it relates to plea bargaining. As an example, she writes, Erma Faye Stewart, a single African-American mother of two, arrested in 2000 in a drug sweep in Hearne, TX., claimed innocence, but was very worried about her children’s care while she was in jail. Her court-appointed lawyer told her to take the prosecutor’s deal: plead guilty for probation. She pled, was sentenced to 10 years’ probation, and a $1,000 fine. But now she was a felon. Barred from food stamps, evicted from public housing and homeless, her children were taken and placed in foster care. Read the full New York Times op-ed piece here.

More than 90 percent of U.S. criminal cases are not settled in a trial or by a jury. The plea bargaining system is seemingly essential to a criminal justice system that incarcerates about one in 100 adult Americans. But how often do innocent people plead to avoid the costs—in time and resources—of pursuing a trial or to avoid the risk of conviction and incarceration?

Meet the Wits Justice Project (South Africa)

The Wits Justice Project at Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg formed in 2008,  modeled on the Innocence Projects the U.S.  The Project is based in the journalism school at Wits U., thus is similar in nature to the projects at Northwestern (Medill Innocence Project) and the Innocence Institute of Point Park University.

I visited the Wits Justice Project in 2010 and learned a lot about their set-up and the unique challenges they face in South Africa.  Their operations are impressive.   They have a larger staff, infrastructure and office space than most projects in the U.S. and U.K.  And they are aggressive and do good work, having already obtained freedom for 2 clients and held a major conference to raise awareness in South Africa.  This article, entitled Crusaders for the Innocent, gives a good overview of the program.

Me, Michele Berry-Godsey, Jeremy Gordin and other members of the Wits Justice Project

Fighting for the innocent in South Africa includes a unique facet that doesn’t exist in many other legal systems.  WJP summarizes the problem as follows:

In its 2010/2011 Annual Report3, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services gave the number of inmates in the country as 160,545. Of these, 47,880 (30%) are remand detainees and have been behind bars, some for years, waiting for their trials to begin or reach conclusion. Yet approximately 2 in 5 of these inmates will eventually be acquitted. This means that a staggering number of innocent people are being deprived of their freedom

The Wits Justice Project_2012 Annual Plan is quite ambitious, and includes production of a documentary television series to raise awareness in South Africa of wrongful conviction and lengthy pretrial detention of the innocent.

In January, famed journalist and former director Jeremy Gordin left the project and was replaced by Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi.  Before joining WJP as project coordinator, Nooshin was the humanitarian diplomacy senior officer of the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, working in the 49 sub-Saharan African countries.

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, WJP project coordinator

The rest of the WJP team, and their biographies, can be found here.


Trial by Jury: Is It About Time for Nigeria?

Nigeria’s adversarial justice system, pitches the prosecutor against the defense, in a fierce evidential ‘duel’ as to the guilt or otherwise of an accused person. That leaves a stand-alone bench to determine – on the basis of the weight of … Continue reading