Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes reports on Armenia

Press release from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe:

Strasbourg, 27.01.2015 – The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published today its reports on the last two ad hoc visits to Armenia, carried out in April 2013 and May 2014, together with the responses of the Armenian authorities.
 
During the April 2013 visit, the CPT’s delegation received a significant number of allegations from detained persons that they had been subjected to physical or psychological ill-treatment and/or excessive use of force by police officers. The alleged physical ill-treatment consisted in the main of punches, kicks, or inappropriate use of batons, at the time of apprehension or during subsequent questioning (in particular by operational police officers). 

In addition, a number of allegations were received of threats of physical ill-treatment and of repercussions for family members. In several cases, the ill-treatment alleged was of such a severity that it could be considered to amount to torture (e.g. extensive beatings; infliction of electric shocks; simulated asphyxiation with a gas mask; blows to the soles of the feet). In a number of cases, the medical examination of the persons concerned and/or the consultation of medical files by the delegation revealed injuries which were consistent with the allegations of ill-treatment made.
 
In their response, the Armenian authorities indicate that new guidelines have been issued and that the training of police officers has been enhanced to prevent instances of police ill-treatment.
 
In the report, the CPT acknowledges the efforts made by the Armenian authorities to improve the system of handling potential cases of police ill-treatment and welcomes the creation of the Special Investigation Service (SIS) as an independent investigative body. However, the examination of relevant documentation, including investigation files concerning complaints about police ill-treatment, revealed a number of flaws in the current system which clearly undermined the effectiveness of any action taken to detect and investigate such cases. The CPT makes a number of specific recommendations to improve the existing procedures for the reporting of injuries and the processing of potential cases of police ill-treatment by prosecutors.
 
The CPT’s delegation also carried out a target visit to Yerevan-Kentron Prison, in order to examine the conditions under which life-sentenced prisoners were being held in the establishment. In the report, the CPT expresses serious concern that hardly any of the specific recommendations made after previous visits have been implemented as regards the situation of two life-sentenced prisoners who had been continuously held in solitary confinement for 13 years, without being offered any out-of-cell activity other than outdoor exercise for one hour per day. The Committee emphasises that the conditions under which the two prisoners were being held could be considered as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment, bearing also in mind that neither of them was being provided with adequate psychiatric treatment, even though they both suffered from severe mental disorders. 
 
The main objective of the May 2014 visit was to review the situation of life-sentenced prisoners in the country. For this purpose, the CPT’s delegation visited Nubarashen and Kentron Prisons in Yerevan.
 
In both establishments, the delegation received hardly any allegation of physical ill-treatment from prisoners. 
 
However, the visit brought to light that many of the specific recommendations previously made by the Committee had not been (fully) implemented in practice, in particular, as regards the detention regime of life-sentenced prisoners, restrictions on prisoners’ contact with the outside world and the systematic use of handcuffs. 
 
As regards, more specifically, the situation of the two above-mentioned life-sentenced prisoners at Kentron Prison, certain improvements were observed in terms of psychiatric care. However, the situation had remained by and large unchanged since the 2013 visit with regard to their detention regime.
 
On the other hand, the CPT appreciates all the measures taken by the Armenian authorities after the 2014 visit with a view to putting an end to the solitary confinement of the two above-mentioned prisoners and providing them with adequate treatment and care. The Committee also welcomes the initiative of the Armenian authorities to amend the Penitentiary Code in order to abolish the legal obligation of segregating life-sentenced prisoners from other prisoners.
 
In their response, the Armenian authorities provide further information on the draft legislation which is intended to significantly improve the situation of life-sentenced prisoners and to facilitate the granting of conditional release for them. In addition, the authorities indicate that additional steps have been taken to provide the two above-mentioned prisoners with adequate health care and more out-of-cell activities.
 
The visit reports and related Government responses have been made public at the request of the Armenian authorities and are available on the CPT’s website: http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/states/arm.htm

Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases

The Report by Jon Gould is readable here: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/241389.pdf

From: EurekAlert

Public release date: 13-Mar-2013

Contact: J. Paul Johnson
jjohnson@american.edu
202-885-5943
American University

Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases

Why do innocent people go to jail in the United States every year for violent crimes they did not commit? It’s a serious question representing the ultimate miscarriage of justice—taking away the freedom of a factually innocent person while also allowing the guilty person to remain free. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) wanted to learn answers to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.

Jon B. Gould, J.D., Ph.D., a professor and the director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University and his team of researchers conducted a three year, first of its kind, large-scale empirical study Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice employing social scientific methods.

It was funded by NIJ, and an NIJ video features Gould discussing wrongful convictions. After identifying 460 cases employing sophisticated analytical methods matched with a qualitative review of the cases from a panel of experts, 10 statistically significant factors were identified that distinguish a wrongful conviction from a “near miss” (a case in which an innocent defendant was acquitted or had charges dismissed before trial).

 “Surprisingly unlike airplane crashes or near midair collisions where the National Transportation Safety Board moves in to investigate and reconstruct events in an effort to prevent future catastrophes, wrongful convictions have rarely been investigated beyond a specific case study,” says Gould. “This is especially troubling since our criminal legal system is predicated on finding defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before imprisoning them.”

10 Factors Identified in Wrongful Convictions

  • State death penalty culture/state punitiveness
  • Strength of prosecution’s case
  • Prosecution withheld evidence (Brady violation)
  • Forensic evidence errors
  • Strength of defendant’s case
  • Age of defendant
  • Criminal history of defendant
  • Intentional misidentification
  • Lying by non-eyewitness
  • Family witness testified on behalf of defendant

The resulting 10 factor model applied by Gould and his team can be used to accurately predict an erroneous conviction versus a “near miss” nearly 91 percent of the time and is a useful tool for jurisdictions around the country to adopt remedies to address the 10 weaknesses with little cost according to Gould. The biggest investment is time, training and the acknowledgement that there is room for improvement from police, prosecutors and defense interests. A key to the model’s development was the unprecedented cooperation of an expert panel composed of stakeholders from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Police Foundation, National Innocence Project and National District Attorneys Association.

From the quantitative and qualitative analysis, Gould and his team determined that prevention begins at the police station starting with the interrogation and investigation of alibis. This is followed by several opportunities along the way to identify the innocent before they are wrongfully convicted. For example, if forensic testing was conducted earlier and the results became available sooner to investigators innocent suspects could be freed. But faulty identifications, absence of early forensic test results, and inadequate investigation of alibis leads to what Gould characterizes as a “perfect storm” of errors made worse by collective tunnel vision. It should be noted much of this is unintentional.

The 10 factors in various combinations create this tunnel vision where a prosecutor with a weak case focuses on an accused even more intently rather than considering alternative suspects precisely because tunnel vision has set in – in other words the case seems to add up from the investigation but is sufficiently weak relying on perhaps a misidentification.

For Gould this was the most surprising result of his research because he and his team expected strong prosecutorial cases to result in wrongful convictions since the evidence was compelling for the prosecutor to seek conviction but instead the study revealed the contrary. This led the team to look at weak defense counsel, poor explanation/presentation of forensic evidence, and police practices that could trigger the course of events spiraling out of control to a wrongful conviction because the weak prosecution case in turn is not adequately challenged by the defense attorney and the prosecution for one reason or the other may fail to disclose exculpatory evidence- a Brady violation.

Finally, the wrongfully convicted skew toward young suspects as well as those who have a prior criminal record. In other words, the defendants are not in a strong position to demand more from prosecutors or even their own defense counsel because they do not have the wherewithal to challenge the charges.

The study concludes that the social science approach is valid and effective in studying miscarriages of justice and should continue. Gould especially is interested in more research on the “near miss” cases to better learn how the criminal justice system can “get it right” when confronted with an innocent defendant. In the coming weeks, Gould will present his research in Seattle, Miami, New York City, Albany, NY, and North Carolina.

###

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California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides

This comes from the LA Times:

Feb. 28th, 2013
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

The report warned that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths. Gov. Brown has said the state’s prison care crisis is over.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has pointed to reams of documents to make the case in court and on the stump that California’s prison crisis is over, and inmates are receiving good care.

But there is at least one document the administration wanted to hide.

New court filings reveal that the state suppressed a report from its own consultant warning that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths.

Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, told corrections officials in 2011 that the state’s system of holding suicidal inmates for days in dim, dirty, airless cells with unsanitized mattresses on the floor was compounding the risk that they would take their own lives.

His report described in detail inmates being divested of their clothes and possessions and robed in a “safety smock.” Hayes concluded that such conditions encouraged prisoners to declare they were no longer suicidal just to escape the holding cells. Many of them took their own lives soon after.

The state asked Hayes to create a short version of his report that omitted his damaging findings, to give to a court monitor and lawyers for prisoners, the court documents show. Hayes complied, but when inmate attorneys obtained a complete copy, the state asked a U.S. District Court to order it destroyed. The judge refused.

The report says the state’s handling of suicidal inmates is “seemingly punitive” and “anti-therapeutic.” Hayes noted that guards, not mental health workers, dictate many of the conditions of suicide watches, such as whether to allow daily showers. Hayes alleged prison workers sometimes falsified watch logs showing how frequently those inmates were checked.
Hayes found that in 25 of the cases he reviewed, seven prisoners had killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide watch. He found lapses in care — lengthy delays in checking on the prisoners, failure to attempt CPR — in 68% of the cases he studied. Hayes did give the state high marks for compiling exhaustive reports after an inmate’s death.

Contract records show that corrections officials recruited Hayes, a former consultant for inmate plaintiffs, to begin in 2010 a three-year project on suicide prevention, demonstrating the state’s resolve to improve inmate mental health care.

His first report was filed in August 2011. Hayes said in a deposition that none of the follow-up reports and consultations called for in his contract occurred.

“When your report landed, it was not roundly applauded and in fact was buried,” Robert Canning, a prison official overseeing Hayes’ work, wrote in a June 2012 email to the consultant. There were 32 prison suicides in California in 2012, above the national average.

Other new filings show that the staffing shortage at one prison psychiatric hospital is so critical the psychiatric staff has declared they have been working since Jan. 23 “under protest.”

The doctors in Salinas Valley State Prison’s psychiatric program, run by the Department of State Hospitals, say they routinely juggle caseloads of up to 60 patients a day, and in some instances have been assigned wards containing as many as 120 patients a day.

Read the rest here

Detention Watch Network Expose and Close Reports on 10 of the Worst Immigrant Prisons in the US

From: Detention Watch Network
November 2012

Detention Watch Network has coordinated the release of ten reports which detail the acute and chronic human right violations occurring in immigration detention in the United States today. 

A group of advocates, community organizers, legal service providers, faith groups and individuals personally impacted by detention, who together have deep experience and understanding of the detention and deportation system in the U.S., have identified these ten prisons and jails as facilities that are among the worst where immigrants are detained by the U.S. government.

Detention Watch Network demands that President Obama take a first step towards ending inhumane detention and close these 10 immigrant prisons cross the country as a down payment on a complete overhaul of U.S. immigration policies and practices.

On November 28, 300 national and local organizations sent a letter to the White House, calling on President Obama to close ten of the worst detention centers in the country while making immediate changes to ensure the safety, dignity and well-being of immigrants held in detention. 

Read the letter to Obama here.

For media inquires contact Silky Shah at sshah@detentionwatchnetwork.org

The Expose & Close Report on this website

Executive Summary of the Detention Watch Network Report 

Also read the article on ABC News with a Map of the prisons.

New Report Calls for End to Use of Solitary Confinement in Immigrant Detention

From: SolitaryWatch
September 28, 2012 By Beth Broyles


“Are you broken yet?” Each day Rashed spent in solitary confinement at the Tri-County Detention Center in Illinois, the warden asked him this question.

An observant Muslim, Rashed had tried to advocate on behalf of another Muslim who could not speak English well. That was the “offense” that earned him his second stint in solitary, where he remained for 30 days. The first time, Rashed had asked the guards at the Dodge County Detention Facility in Wisconsin to excuse him from meals so that he could fast for Ramadan. Instead, they placed him in solitary for the remainder of the month-long observance.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had placed Rashed in detention when he arrived in the United States from his native Yemen, seeking asylum. For three years he remained in detention, transferred among several ICE-contracted facilities, as he awaited resolution of his asylum claim.

Both times Rashed was sent to solitary, it was without any formal charges being filed, any hearing, or any opportunity for review from a higher authority. “It was crazy,” he said in a press teleconference on Tuesday. He had fled Yemen to escape persecution, only to arrive in the United States and face more persecution.
This is but one of the instances of abusive and discriminatory use of solitary confinement described in a new report produced in partnership by the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Invisible in Isolation: The Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention asserts that the use of solitary confinement for ICE detainees is unnecessary, costly and harmful to detainees’ physical and psychological health. It calls for an end to the practice of solitary confinement for immigration detainees.

In preparing the report, investigators interviewed detainees in segregation and solitary confinement at 14 of the 250 detention facilities, state and federal prisons, and county jails where the Immigrant and Customs Enforcement branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detains more than 400,000 individuals per year. Many ICE detainees are actually lawful permanent residents and asylum-seekers awaiting adjudication of their cases. Their numbers include survivors of human trafficking, LGBT individuals, the elderly, and people with mental health conditions. Many do not speak English.

Despite the fact that they have not been convicted of any crime, most detainees held in facilities that “were built, and operate, as jails and prisons to confine pretrial and sentenced felons,” according to a former Homeland Security official quoted in the report. “ICE relies primarily on correctional incarceration standards … and on correctional principles of care, custody, and control. These standards impose more restrictions and carry more costs than are necessary to effectively manage the majority of the detained [immigrant] population.” Lacking adequate guidance from ICE, the report found, the guards in these facilities tend to apply their own local correctional practices by default. In a country where 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in prisons and jails on any given day, these practices include a liberal use of solitary.

The report does not attempt to estimate how many detainees may be in isolation in total in all ICE facilities. (ICE does not maintain such figures, and after investigators submitted requests for information to all 250 facilities in the country, just seven of those facilities provided information about ICE detainees who were held in solitary confinement.) Based on their sample of facilities, however, researchers found that ICE’s failure to enforce consistent standards regarding solitary confinement has led to the arbitrary and excessive use of the practice. There is no oversight, nor is there any due process for detainees, leaving them without any recourse to seek review of facilities’ decisions to place them in solitary.

According to the report, ICE detainees are particularly prone to solitary confinement. Facilities often deem segregation of certain ICE detainees necessary for safety purposes, in particular those who are LGBT individuals or mentally ill. However, the investigators found that segregated detainees faced the same conditions as those in disciplinary solitary confinement. Many of the ICE LGBT detainees had left their homelands because they faced persecution and discrimination because of their identities, only to face more discrimination in detention. According to the report, when one individual asked a corrections officer at the Theo Lacy Facility in California why he reduced the recreation time for LGBT detainees from two hours to 45 minutes, the officer told him, “Because you need to learn not to be faggots.”

Discrimination against immigrant populations is another cause the investigators identified as a reason for the excessive use of solitary confinement. According to the Nobles County Jail (Minnesota) Facility’s inmate rules, “Failure to speak English when able, watching Spanish channel on the TV” are violations that are punishable by a sentence of solitary confinement. Other “disciplinary” infractions that led to time in isolation at various facilities included trying to translate for another detainee, complaining about the quality of the drinking water, having an extra blanket, and playing cards instead of attending church services.

Read the rest here:
http://solitarywatch.com/2012/09/28/new-report-calls-for-end-to-use-of-solitary-confinement-on-immigration-detainees/

Amnesty International report finds California SHUs illegal

From the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity website:

Amnesty International report finds California SHUs illegal
Posted on September 27, 2012

Amnesty International released a report today (Sept 27, 2012), called “The Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units”. The report slams the state of California for abusing prisoners’ rights under international law as well as for falling short on the recently implemented step-down procedures. It also includes a section about the 2011 hunger strike.

Read the full report HERE (PDF), or check the bullet points that we pulled out of the Executive Summary after the jump. Below that, we’ve copied and pasted the report’s section on the hunger strike.

Pelican Bay State Prison front view of cell D1-119

-No other US state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation.

-Many prisoners have spent decades in isolation despite reportedly being free of any serious rule violations and – if they are serving a “term to life” sentence – without any means of earning parole.

-Prisoner advocates and others have criticized the gang validation process as unreliable and lacking adequate safeguards, allowing prisoners to be consigned to indefinite isolation without evidence of any specific illegal activity, or on the basis of tenuous gang associations, on evidence often provided by anonymous informants.

-No changes to the physical conditions of confinement are proposed for the Pelican Bay SHU, where prisoners would spend at least two years in the same isolated conditions of cellular confinement as they are now.

-Amnesty International considers that the conditions of isolation and other deprivations imposed on prisoners in California’s SHU units breach international standards on humane treatment.

THE 2011 HUNGER STRIKE

“During the hunger strike he was taken to a Pelican Bay Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) with eleven other hunger strike leaders. He was in ASU with no warm clothes, bed blankets, possessions (including writing materials). The air conditioning was turned right up while he had just a t-shirt and trousers.” – Wife of gang validated SHU prisoner, one of the hunger striker leaders- this information was corroborated by one of the lead hunger strikers with whom the Amnesty International delegation spoke.

On 1 July 2011, prisoners in the SHU initiated a hunger strike to protest against their conditions of confinement, bringing the issue into the public spotlight.

The strike spread to prisons across the state, with more than 6,000 prisoners participating at one point. The hunger strikers’ demands for improved conditions in the SHUs give an indication of just how stark those conditions were: they included requests for access to personal items such as being able to purchase wall calendars, “watch caps” (outdoor headwear when exercising in bad weather), “sweat pants” (to keep warm) and at least some basic in-cell art materials. They also asked to be able to have an annual photograph taken to send to their families (a common practice allowed to most prisoners).

The strike ended on 20 July after CDCR agreed to make some modest changes immediately (allowing prisoners to have “watch caps”, wall calendars and some other personal items), and said it was undertaking a policy review to address the wider demands. One of the hunger strikers’ “core demands” was that California comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Americas Prisons 2006 recommendation to end long term solitary confinement and make segregation a last resort. The strikers also called for prisoners who had served ten or more years of indefinite SHU confinement to be released to the general prison population. Other demands included better food (following repeated complaints that the food provided to SHU prisoners was often cold and lacking nutrition) and requests that SHU inmates with chronic health problems be moved to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

Following concern among prisoners about what they perceived as a lack of progress in implementing changes, the hunger strike resumed briefly in late September 2011, but was called off after meetings between prisoner representatives and CDCR and further assurances that CDCR would institute changes. While no disciplinary action had been taken against the first hunger strikers, the second hunger strike was treated by CDCR as a major rule violation and some prisoners were punished by having their property and canteen privileges confiscated. Fifteen of the strike leaders were reportedly moved to harsh conditions in administrative segregation cells for a short period. Amnesty International wrote to CDCR at the time, urging it to take action to end to the hunger strike by providing assurances on improvements both to conditions and the procedures by which prisoners are assigned to the SHU, rather than through disciplinary action resulting in still harsher conditions.

Full Report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/california_solitary_confinement_report_final.pdf

Report: Too many juveniles go back to prison

From: NorthWest Herald
Dec 25, 2011
By SARAH SUTSCHEK

More than half of young offenders in Illinois’ youth prisons are back within three years of their release, according to a new report.

The system intended to help imprisoned juveniles get back into their communities for more rehabilitation is broken, but not beyond repair, according to the study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

During a six-month period, 54 percent of the 386 youths whose parole was revoked were sent back to prison for technicalities such as truancy and curfew violations.

Other findings include the fact that youths are systematically deprived of their constitutional rights in decisions regarding parole revocations.

The report recommends that judges preside over parole revocation hearings, rather than prisoner review boards.

Young offenders also typically stay on parole until their 21st birthdays, increasing the likelihood of returning to custody. The report recommends that the length of parole should be limited. Plus, parole officers handle both adults and youth with caseloads averaging 100, but have no special training for dealing with young people. Rarely do they refer young parolees to programs that could help them with jobs, substance abuse or mental health issues.

“You have officers who are overworked and who don’t have adequate training,” said commission chairman George Timberlake, retired chief justice of the 2nd Circuit Court. “It’s easy to say, ‘It’s a violation. I’m writing it up,’ and the kid goes back inside the prison.”

Statewide, there are more than 1,000 young people in custody in eight prisons with an additional 1,600 on parole.

Locally, between seven to 12 kids are sent to juvenile prisons from McHenry County each year, said James J. Edwards, who heads the juvenile division of Court Services. The average number of juveniles in detention centers also is low, hovering around five or six youths a day.

“When you look at a county our size, historically we have a low percentage of kids who ever end up in the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said Phil Dailing, director of Court Services. “We don’t contribute a lot to this problem.”

The burden is on county officials, when appropriate, to find alternatives rather than send young people to prison, Dailing said.

Read the rest here.

Further reading:

The Report of the IL Juvenile Justice Commission (PDF)

Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission: Broken Parole System Traps Young Offenders (Huffington Post, 14 dec 2011)