Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Slaughter of the innocents: us, them and deterrents


So runs today's Daily Express headline. At least the first part.

Let me start by offering my condolences to the family and friends of WPCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes. Although I refer to their deaths in this article, it is only on the pretext of discussing the death penalty.


Killed by Dale Cregan in what appears to have been pre-planned attack, discussion has now turned to bringing back the death penalty, presumably for pre-meditated murders, after WPC Bone's father said:

"Bring back hanging. Let policemen shoot people on sight. I am so completely shocked"...
Understandable though such calls are in the immediate emotional aftermath of such a trauma - "he is completely shocked" - headlines, such as that above, are an emotional response on a national level. 

In the video above, NATO express regret after killing Afghan civilians in an air strike just a couple of days ago. So where are the "slaughter of the innocents headlines" in this case? Is it that the lives (and deaths) of non-British, non-white citizens mean less? 


Jean Charles de Menezes.


Mark Duggan


Policeman shooting people on sight is also a "slaughter of the innocents". Nobody called for the death penalty after either of these tragedies. Why?


The state enjoys a monopoly of violence, supposedly legitimised by its creation of laws and by its management of it through institutions and personnel. As a result, it can choose how to administer justice. 


Neither of the officers who shot de Menezes and Duggan have been identified; they have not faced justice because they were acting on behalf of the state. Even that bastion of moral turpitude, The Mail on Sunday, found it difficult to believe that only 2 police marksman had been named in the deaths of 33 members of the public that the police had shot.  



Shrine to Jean Charles de Menezes, Stockwell tube station (c) Caroline Ford
If the state effectively has ultimate power to absolve their personnel of committing crimes that its members of the public would ordinarily face, how can justice ever be applied equally? 

And when we talk about capital punishment, the stakes are even higher. Would the state ever feel inclined to engage in accepting responsibility for its wrongdoings?


When the public talk about capital punishment, as is the case today it is talked of as a deterrent. It is a common-sense approach that infers that the criminal is a rational being who weighs up the risks associated with his/her crime; i.e. is what he/she gets out of committing the crime worth the sanctions he/she might face if caught?


If only everything were that simple. Humans are complex beings at play in a wider world of uncertainty. They are not always rational. If faced with the deterrent of capital punishment, does anyone think that Dale Cregan would have stopped to think about this punishment before taking the lives of the WPCs?


Nor has capital punishment worked in the U.S.A.. The Death Penalty Information Center report that between 1990 and 2010, murder rates in states that have the death penalty remained consistently higher than in states that do not use capital punishment. 


The National Research Council researched a variety of studies that inform U.S. policy and its use of the death penalty. They concluded:


All of the studies on the possible effects of capital punishment on homicide rates suffer from three fundamental flaws... 
1. The studies do not factor in the effects of non-capital punishments that may also be imposed; 
2. The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers' perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment; 
3. Estimates of the effect of capital punishment are based on statistical models that make assumptions that are not credible.

Just as with other so-called deterrents (think CCTV), there is no conclusive evidence that capital punishment works; it is also based on research that lacks credibility. 

Capital punishment is just as irrational as Dale Cregan. 


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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

BP, EDF and images of London 2012

Whilst we celebrate the talent and dedication of all the athletes at London 2012, let us not forget that there are major multinational companies profiting from their association with London 2012.

They abuse the human rights of their workers and their customers (Adidas, G4S), they pollute the local environment to the detriment of the physical and economic health of local communities (Rio Tinto, BP), and they choose not to accept responsibility for the crimes that they have committed (Dow). 




Produced by five organisations, London Late, offers a sense of dry realism beyond the corporate bluster. Grab a copy if you can, or download and read from the link above. 
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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Micro drones and a techriminal justice system




Wormwood Scrubs, Holloway and Strangeways (now Manchester). Here they go. Is it really so strange to think that these institutions may become extinct?

According to The Guardian, The US Defence Advanced Research Project Agency's 'Nano Hummingbird', as seen above, has inspired the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) “to stimulate new lines of thought”. DSTL sent out research proposals last year for micro and nano unmanned aircraft systems that “operate inside buildings and within deep urban canyons”.

Whilst the priorities still seem militaristic, almost 5 years ago, The Telegraph reported that insect sized drones had been seen at anti-war protests in Washington and New York. A similar sighting was reported in 2004. 

We know that the US Defence Department has been funding research projects to create “cyborg moths”. These moths can be controlled remotely via computer chips that were implanted into moth pupae. In 2006, Flight were given exclusive access to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where they saw a model of a drone that had been on display since 2003 in its museum. 

The UK police have been using drone technology for some time, with the first arrest using a drone reported over 2 years ago. But it is the use of micro drones and what they offer in terms of surveillance that is interesting UK police forces; freedom of information requests have recently been submitted to the police forces of Greater Manchester and West Midlands. It will be worth keeping an eye on their replies to the two requests numbered 3. 

As G4S expand their criminal justice remit from prisons to police stations, it is worth bearing in mind what impact this might have on a future UK criminal justice system. Given their financial and political muscle (and an inability to provide sufficient security staff), it may prove too attractive a proposition not to look at drones as a long-term solution for keeping an eye on suspects. They already use drone technology in Madagascar

Drone fly...or is it? (c) SidPix
If micro drones are to become a norm in the surveillance of suspects, will they also become a norm in the monitoring of detainees? And if the act of guarding a prisoner can be done remotely by a micro drones, then need this take place within what we now see as a prison setting? Will we see an expansion of house arrests and a gradual phasing out of state Victorian prisons, with private homes becoming public detention centres, ? 


Speculation on my part? In the first chapter of 1984, George Orwell wrote,

“In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and dashed away again with a curving flight”. "It was the police patrol, snooping into people's windows..." 

The technology was barely nascent at the time of his words. Right now, the technology is in place. And it will continue to improve. With public sector cuts and a rolling back of the state, the political and economic will is certainly in place. 

But perhaps most importantly for the criminal justice system, we currently associate drones with terrorism. And without wishing to sound all 'Team America', terrorists are bad people – for a wider discussion of terrorism, feel free to start here

If we accept, as we currently do, that those on the receiving end of military drones are criminals, then we are only a step away from assuming anyone in a drone's sight is a criminal. Charged, tried and sentenced by the state and its partners, this is a criminal justice system which presumes guilt over innocence. The technology may well have its benefits, but a techriminal justice system reliant on micro drones is a real concern. 

Good night. Don't let the bed bugs... 
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