Posts tagged with: Criminal law

7figuresHomicide and acts of personal violence kill more people than wars and are the third-leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44, according to a new report by the United Nations.

The Global Study on Homicide 2013 was released last week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Here are seven figures you should know from the report:
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forced laborThe American Bar Association and Arizona State University’s McCain Institute and School of Politics and Global Studies have issued the first study of its kind: examining Fortune 100 companies for policies regarding human trafficking and forced labor. The study also looked at whether or not Fortune 100 companies had policies regarding conflict minerals (what are often referred to as “blood diamonds:” gems and minerals mined by children and/or forced labor.) The study is entitled, “How Do Fortune 100 Corporations Address Potential Links To Human Rights Violations In A Globally Integrated Economy?”

According to a summary in The Wall Street Journal, the study itself had a straightforward approach:

[The policies] had to be available on the company website or by searching for them on Google. The objective was to go as far as the public would in finding the company policy, said Linda Hayman, of counsel at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP who is co-chair of the American Bar Association’s task force on human trafficking. It also didn’t judge the company’s conduct in relation to the policy, she said.

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sale of peopleRani Hong was a very young girl in rural India when her life was snatched away from her by human trafficking. In desperation, her mother allowed her to be taken away by a woman she thought she could trust, a woman who promised to care for Rami. And she did, for a while. However, the lure of money was too great and Rami was sold into human trafficking at age seven.

I was taken to an area where I did not know the language, where everyone was a stranger,” Hong recalls. “I cried for my mom to come and get me – that’s all a seven-year-old mind can understand.” Traumatized, she stopped eating and became physically and mentally ill. “My captors labeled me ‘destitute and dying,’ meaning that I had no value in the forced child labor market.” The only way the traffickers could profit from her, Hong explains, was to put her up for illegal international adoption. Trafficked into Canada, she was beaten, starved, and caged – “seasoned for submission,” in the parlance of her captors. A photo of her at age eight shows an emaciated little girl with prominent bruises on her arms and legs, whose eyes are swollen nearly shut. “I couldn’t even talk,” she says. “I had completely shut down.”

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On March 28th, the Acton Institute hosted an important event for our local community. Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan brought together representatives from Michigan’s state government and local community activists to shine a light on the very real and growing problem of human trafficking in West Michigan (and beyond). The event was organized by Acton’s own Elise Hilton (who as written extensively on the subject of human trafficking here on the PowerBog), and featured a panel consisting of Chief Deputy Attorney General Carol Isaacs, who worked with Attorney General Bill Schuette to produce Michigan’s recent report on the subject; State Senator Judy Emmons, the Michigan Legislature’s leading voice on Human Trafficking; human trafficking survivor and founder of Sacred Beginnings Leslie King; Andy Soper of the Manassah Project at Wedgewood Christian Services; and Becky McDonald of Women At Risk International. You can view a short highlight reel from the event below; the full presentation is available here.

popeandwelbyThere are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In fact, there are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in human history, with an estimated 21 million in bondage across the globe.  In an effort to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking across the world by 2020, Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby have personally given their backing to the newly-formed Global Freedom Network.  The Global Freedom Network is an open association and other faith leaders will be invited to join and support this initiative.

In their joint statement, the signatories underscored the need for urgent action:
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out of darknessThe United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has declared January 5-11, 2014 as National Migration Week, with the theme of “Out of Darkness.” The USCCB states that this “vulnerable” population needs support, protection and prayerful ministry in order to thrive.

The USCCB outlines four major groups of immigrants: migrant children, undocumented immigrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking. Each group has very different needs; the most vulnerable, the bishops say, are migrant children. (more…)

In a fine post over at the History News Network (HT: Religion in America), Jennifer Graber, assistant professor of religious studies at The College of Wooster and author of the forthcoming book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, reflects on what the Michael Vick saga (to date) shows us about American attitudes towards crime, punishment, and redemption.

Graber briefly traces the development of public policy and social attitudes towards punishment for violent and heinous crimes. She writes,

In the colonial era, government authorities issued tough criminal sanctions. They branded thieves; they put forgers in the stocks; they hanged murderers and even counterfeiters. The punishments came swiftly and were intended to hurt and to shame. They might deter future criminal activity. But no one expected them to prompt a criminal’s personal reformation.

But things began to change by the time of the American Revolution. At this time, she writes, “Americans encountered a host of new ideas about law, punishment, the body, and individual rights. Some citizens used these notions to call for a dramatic transformation of American criminal punishment.”

So there is a mixed legacy in contemporary attitudes toward punishment and imprisonment, particularly from a Christian perspective which emphasizes the personal transformation that is possible through God’s grace.

In round after round, the reformers claimed that a Christian nation necessarily supported criminal punishments designed first and foremost for reformation. Officials retorted that public safety demanded a realistic approach to corrections, one that used bodily punishments and shame to put unrepentant inmates in their proper place. This endless debate gave us the prisons we have today, institutions caught between simultaneous impulses to punish and redeem.

I survey four different Christian views on these matters in a 2008 law review essay, “To Abolish or to Reform? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice” (PDF). As I show in that piece, “it is more accurate to speak of a plurality of restorative
justice movements than of a unified and univocal restorative justice movement, particularly with respect to the variety of Christian approaches.” As Graber aptly notes, there are a variety of approaches to the relationship between punishment and restoration. Some hold that the two must go together, while other views hold they are antithetical to one another.

One lesson from the Michael Vick case, I believe, is that imprisonment can have a transformative effect, even if that transformation is note the sole, or even one intended, purpose of incarceration. Imprisonment is one way that society makes it clear to someone that particular behaviors are out of bounds and deserving of significant consequences. It puts the indelible stamp of “No!” on someone’s actions.

As for Vick, he’s recently made public his Christian commitment. Reflecting on his conviction and imprisonment at last week’s Super Bowl Prayer Breakfast, “I wanted a chance to redeem myself,” he said. “Pre-incarceration it was all about me. When I got to prison, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. The one thing I could rely on was my faith in God.”

Vick’s case is only one of the most recent of many such stories of prison redemption. It’s been said before, “Prison saved my life.”

Two of the things I’ve paid some attention to, one more recently and the other as an ongoing area of interest, came together in an Instapundit update yesterday.

Glenn Reynolds linked to a video of a NYC cop who “threatens a man taking cell phone video with arrest.” This picks up the attention given here and here to the question of law enforcement and ‘citizen photojournalism.’

But what really struck me about this story was the threat attributed to the (apparent) cop, who said, “Guys in jail are going to rape you.”

This is beyond the pale in myriad ways. Reynolds points out in an update that “when you have a badge and a gun you should behave better than the average schmuck, rather than having a license to be a jerk.” Public persons, like law enforcement officials, have a higher standard of conduct than private individuals.

But this story also gets at the necessity of prison reform, and the importance of Christian engagement of the criminal justice system.

The term dehumanization gets used often to describe what happens to a victim, particularly of a violent crime. But it’s all often what happens in the realities of the American system of criminal justice.

Simply because people commit crimes, heinous, violent, or otherwise, it does not mean that they cease to be human persons.

No matter what someone has done there are simply things that are not to be done to them, and certainly not within the context of a legally-sanctioned system of justice. This moral reality is what stands behind a good deal of the principled Christian opposition to torture, for instance. And it’s also what lies behind the proscription of “cruel and unusual punishments.” There are just some things that you don’t do to human beings in any situation or context, merely by virtue of their status as human beings.

The prevalence of prison rape in particular is something that criminals should not be subjected to. Evangelicals have been particularly active on this issue, including groups like the NAE and Justice Fellowship.

Holding criminals accountable is part of what it means to treat them as human beings, as moral agents. But the dignity of human persons, in their victimhood as well as their victimization, also means that there are limits to forms of punishment or to acceptable contexts for incarceration. It also means that imprisonment is not the final word, even in cases of life sentences. Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons.

This has important implications for what prison and imprisonment look like. For instance, in the latest issue of Corrections Today, one of the “top nine” reasons to increase correctional education programs is that “From a humanistic viewpoint, education is the right thing to do.” The brief article (PDF) cites a UN statement:

Education should be aimed at the full development of the whole person requiring prisoner access to formal and informal education, literacy programs, basic education, vocational training, creative, religious and cultural activities, physical
education and sport, social education, higher education and library facilities.

(Thanks to Dr. John Teevan, director of Grace College’s Prison Extension Program for pointing out that article).

My own view is that the broad realm of criminal justice, including various accounts of restorative justice and the relationship of Christians, both organically and institutionally, to the government system of punishment is especially ripe for fruitful engagement. And the issue of prison rape is a concrete instance of where Christian activism is of utmost importance.