“They Treat Us Like Animals” Mistreatment of Drug Users and “Undesirables” in Cambodia’s Drug Detention Centers

“The only ‘treatment’ people in Cambodia’s drug detention centers receive is being beaten, bruised, and forced to work. The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other ‘undesirables,’ often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries.”
Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.

(Bangkok) – Cambodian authorities unlawfully detain hundreds of drug users and others deemed “undesirable” in centers where they face torture, sexual violence, and forced labor, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch called for the immediate closure of the country’s eight detention centers that are supposedly for drug dependency treatment.

The 55-page report, “‘They Treat Us Like Animals’: Mistreatment of Drug Users and ‘Undesirables’ in Cambodia’s Drug Detention Centers,” documents the experiences of people recently confined in the centers, who described being thrashed with rubber water hoses and hit with sticks or branches. Some described being punished with exercises intended to cause intense physical pain and humiliation, such as crawling along stony ground or standing in septic water pits. Former female detainees described rape and other sexual abuse by male guards. Many detainees said they were forced to work unpaid in the centers – and in some cases, on construction sites – and those who refused were beaten.

“The only ‘treatment’ people in Cambodia’s drug detention centers receive is being beaten, bruised, and forced to work,” said Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other ‘undesirables,’ often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries.”

The report is based on Human Rights Watch interviews with 33 people previously held in drug detention centers in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Koh Kong, and the capital, Phnom Penh. Along with drug users, authorities also lock up homeless people in the centers, as well as beggars, street children, sex workers, and people with disabilities. The centers are run by the Cambodian military, gendarmerie, police, Social Affairs Ministry, and municipal authorities.

“The most difficult thing is the beatings,” said “Pram,” a man in his 20s who was detained in the Orgkas Khnom center just outside of Phnom Penh for more than three months in 2013. “They happen every other day.”

People interviewed said they saw unaccompanied children as young as 6 in the detention centers. The children were held in the same rooms as adults, forced to perform exhausting physical exercises and military-like drills, chained, and beaten.

“The government admits that 10 percent of those held in the centers are children under 18,” Amon said. “Children who use drugs or who live on the streets should be protected from harm, not locked up, beaten, and abused.”

The report follows a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, “Skin on the Cable” that resulted in national and international attention to the issue of compulsory drug dependency “treatment” centers in the country. Following that report, the United Nations and donor agencies condemned the lack of due process and abusive treatment in centers in Cambodia and the region, while Cambodian government officials largely sought to dismiss the report as “untrue.”

In March 2012, 12 United Nations agencies issued a joint statement on drug detention centers that called on countries with these centers “to close them without delay and to release the individuals detained.” Cambodian authorities have not publicly responded to this call, investigated reports of torture and other abuses occurring in the centers, or prosecuted anyone for alleged criminal offenses. Since 2010 three drug detention centers have closed, yet the overall number of men, women, and children detained each year, approximately 2,200, remains constant.

The Cambodian government has also announced a plan to construct a large national drug treatment center in Preah Sihanouk province and approached Vietnam to finance the construction. Vietnamese drug detention centers hold individuals for longer periods and include forced labor as an official component of drug dependency “treatment,” raising concerns about the possible expanded influence of Vietnam that could come with financial assistance for drug detention center construction in Cambodia.

The Cambodian government should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, and forced labor in its drug detention centers, Human Rights Watch said. In line with the 2012 UN agency statement, everyone detained in the centers should immediately be released and all the centers closed. The government should replace the centers with expanded access to voluntary, community-based drug treatment.

“Inside Cambodia’s drug detention centers, arbitrary detention, forced labor, and physical and sexual abuse are carried out with impunity” Amon said. “These centers are ineffective, unjust, and violate human rights. They should be immediately closed and the men, women, and children being held within them released without delay.”

December 9, 2013

Find this story at 9 December 2013

Find the report at 9 December 2013

© 2013 Human Rights Watch

Government refuses G4S’s £24.1m for ‘wrong’ tagging bills

NAO report finds G4S and rival Serco continued to charge for tagging criminals many years after removing the electronic equipment from their homes
G4S is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, alongside Serco, over claims they overcharged the Ministry of Justice for tagging offenders Photo: Alamy

The Ministry of Justice has refused an offer from security firm G4S to hand back £24.1m that it has now admitted it “wrongly” billed for tagging criminals.

G4S made the offer on the eve of Wednesday’s appearance by new chief executive Ashley Almanza before MPs on the Public Accounts Committee – and just as a report from the National Audit Office provided fresh details of the tagging scandal.

The public spending watchdog found that G4S and rival Serco had continued to charge the taxpayer for tagging criminals many years after removing the electronic equipment from their homes.

Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister, launched an investigation in July after discovering evidence that the taxpayer had been overcharged, in some cases for tagging prisoners who were dead or back in prison.

The situation has since escalated into a criminal probe after the Serious Fraud Office said earlier this month that it was examining the contracts.
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As the scandal erupted, G4S hired law firm Linklaters to carry out an independent review. On Tuesday it admitted the law firm had found circumstances in which G4S “wrongly considered itself to be contractually entitled to bill for monitoring services when equipment had not been fitted or after it had been removed”.

G4S said it had “apologised” and “issued credit notes totalling £23.3m for amounts incorrectly billed between 2005 and May 2013” and a further £800,000 covering “June 2013 to date.” The company has also incurred £2m of professional fees. All sums were provided for at the half-year results.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman stressed, however, that it would not accept any sum until it had finished its own audit of the contracts. “The money has not been accepted and we are working with both companies to find exactly how much the taxpayer has been overcharged,” the spokesman said.

Mr Almanza said: “The way in which this contract was managed was not consistent with our values or our approach to dealing with customers. Simply put, it was unacceptable and we have apologised to the Ministry of Justice.”

G4S accepted that “the company’s assessment of these matters and the credit notes may not agree with the Ministry’s audit findings”.

The full scale of the scandal was made clear in the NAO report, which for the first time showed:

• G4S billed the taxpayer £4,700 for monitoring an offender even though the equipment had been removed 935 days earlier.

• Serco had been unable to install equipment at a criminal’s address but carried on charging for almost five years, at a cost of £15,500.

• A criminal was handed four separate court orders for four offences, leading Serco to bill the taxpayer four times “rather than one charge for the subject”.

• G4S charged for 612 days’ tagging – at a cost of £3,000 – even though it had been informed the offender had been sent to prison and the company had removed the monitoring equipment from his home.

G4S insisted that, having “conducted an extensive search and review of emails and numerous interviews with relevant employees”, Linklaters had “not identified any evidence of dishonesty or criminal conduct by any employee of G4S”.

Spending on electronic tagging has run to £722m since G4S and Serco were handed the contracts in 2005.

G4S stressed there had been a wholesale shake-up of senior management in recent months, including the arrival of a new chief executive, finance director and head of the UK business, adding pointedly that: “The executive previously responsible for the UK businesses is no longer working at G4S.”

Richard Morris, its former head of UK and Irish operations, departed last month. He has been replaced by Eddie Aston, who was recruited in July.

The Cabinet Office is reviewing all other G4S and Serco contracts with central Government, effectively barring them for bidding for such work until the review is complete.

Mr Almanza will be joined by Serco chairman Alastair Lyons at Wednesday’s PAC hearing.

G4S shares rose 3.5 to 260.3p, while Serco was 16.5 higher at 440.2p.

Kean Marden, an analyst at Jefferies, said: “G4S has issued an apology, stresses that senior management has been changed, and notes the newly-created position of group head of risk and programme assurance.

“This mirrors Serco’s statement on 25 October and, in our view, reads like a checklist of actions that the government wanted G4S/Serco to take before normalising relations. We continue to believe that this issue is reaching an endgame.”

By Alistair Osborne and David Barrett
5:16PM GMT 19 Nov 2013

Find this story at 19 November 2013

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013

G4S admits overcharging MoJ £24m on electronic tagging contract

Company has apologised to Ministry of Justice and issued credit notes for £23.3m incorrectly billed between 2005 and 2013

G4S said that an external review had confirmed it had been wrong to consider it was contractually entitled to bill for monitoring offenders when tags had not been fitted or after they had been removed. Photograph: Jeff Blackler/REX

Private security company G4S has admitted it has overcharged the Ministry of Justice more than £24m on its contract for the electronic monitoring of thousands of offenders in England in a practice that was going on for years.

The admission by one of the government’s largest suppliers comes just 24 hours before G4S and other outsourcing corporate giants, Serco, Atos and Capita are due to be grilled by the powerful Commons public accounts committee on Wednesday over their failings on public sector contracts.

G4S said an external review it had commissioned by the law firm Linklaters had confirmed it had been wrong to consider it was contractually entitled to bill for monitoring offenders when tags had not been fitted or after they had been removed.

G4S said it had apologised to the MoJ and issued credit notes for £23.3m that had been incorrectly billed between 2005 and May 2013.

A further credit note for £800,000 is to be issued to cover continued overcharging that has happened since June.

The security company said the Linklaters review had not identified “any evidence of dishonesty or criminal conduct by any employee of G4S in relation to the billing arrangements under the electronic monitoring contracts.”

The G4S statement added that it had “wrongly considered itself to be contractually entitled to bill for monitoring services when equipment had not been fitted or after it had been removed”.

The admission by the company comes after the Serious Fraud Office announced earlier this month that it was launching a criminal investigation into G4S and Serco for overcharging on criminal justice contracts.

The G4S statement was timed to coincide with the publication of a National Audit Office memorandum that shows that, in some instances, both contractors were charging the justice ministry for months or years after electronic monitoring activity had stopped. The charging continued even in cases where offenders had been sent back to prison or even died.

The NAO also says the firms charged the ministry over similar timescales when electronic monitoring was never undertaken and charged multiple times for the same individual if that person was subject to more than one electronic monitoring order at the same time.

Serco has also said it will refund any amount that it agrees represents overcharging.

The justice ministry has not yet agreed to any refund offers made by either firm.

In July, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, revealed that G4S and Serco had overcharged the government by “tens of millions of pounds” on the tagging contracts. This claim was disputed at the time by G4S. Grayling also announced that accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers was carrying out a forensic audit into the contracts. A G4S whistleblower working in the call centre dealing with tagging was involved in raising initial concerns about billing practices.

The NAO gives examples of the disputed overcharging practices in its memorandum prepared for Wednesday’s showdown between MPs and the outsourced companies. They include:

• The justice ministry was charged £3,000 for 612 days monitoring of an offender who had been sent to prison for two years 20 months earlier. G4S removed the tagging equipment but kept on billing because the court had not provided the relevant paperwork.

• On 28 October 2010, G4S removed tagging equipment from the address of an offender where a number of breaches of curfew had been reported. The court failed to confirm the tag was no longer required even when chased in December 2012 so billing continued until 20 May 2013. The total bill was £4,700 for 935 days without a tag being in place.

• Serco billed £15,000 for almost five years’ monitoring in a case where it was unable to install tagging equipment in July 2008 at an address where the subject was due to be arrested. In October 2010, when Serco visited the property it was told nobody had been living there for 18 months.

Ashley Almanza, the G4S Group chief executive, said the company’s announcement was an important step in setting the matter straight and restoring trust.

“The way in which this contract was managed was not consistent with our values or our approach to dealing with customers. Simply put, it was unacceptable and we have apologised to the Ministry of Justice,” Almanza said.

“As part of a wider programme of corporate renewal, we have changed the leadership of our UK business and we are putting in place enhanced risk management and contract controls.

“We remain committed to working with the ministry and the UK government to resolve this matter and to provide enhanced oversight of service delivery and contract performance.”

The MoJ said it was not prepared to comment while a criminal investigation was under way.

The Cabinet Office is carrying out a government-wide review of G4S and Serco contracts but G4S said that no evidence had so far come to light that suggested that similar billing practices applied to other government contracts.

Both Serco and G4S withdrew from the tendering process for the next generation of electronic tagging. But both companies have been allowed to bid for £450m-worth of probation contracts but will not be awarded them unless they are given a clean bill of health over the tagging dispute.

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 11.58 GMT

Find this story at 19 November 2013

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Security firm G4S ‘charged for tagging the dead’

Cost: Scandal-hit security firm G4S facing claims it charged the Government for tagged people who were either dead or back in prison

Security firms faced a criminal probe today over claims it charged the taxpayer to tag offenders who were dead or back in prison.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling called in the Serious Fraud Office to consider investigating G4S Care and Justice Services, part of the company disgraced last year for failing to supply enough Olympic security staff.

Another firm, Serco Monitoring, was also believed to have charged wrongly. Mr Grayling told MPs that the sums involved ran to “tens of millions” of pounds.

The bombshell allegations sent the two companies’ shares on the FTSE 100 falling sharply.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Grayling said officials spotted “what appeared to be a significant anomaly in the billing practices” while preparing new contracts for electronic tagging.

“It appeared that we were being charged in ways not justified by the contracts and for people who were not in fact being monitored,” he said.

To the astonishment and fury of MPs, he added: “It included charges for people who were back in prison and had had their tags removed, people who had left the country, and those who had never been tagged in the first place.

“There are a small number of cases where charging continued for a period when the subject was known to have died.

“In some instances, charging continued for a period of many months and indeed years after active monitoring had ceased.”

Mr Grayling added: “The House will share my astonishment that two of the Government’s biggest suppliers would seek to charge in this way. The House will also be surprised and disappointed to learn that staff in the Ministry of Justice were aware of a potential problem and yet did not take adequate steps to address it.”

Serco had agreed to co-operate fully with a sweeping forensic audit, and said its senior managers were not aware. “They do not believe anything dishonest has taken place,” said Mr Grayling.

However, G4S had refused to take part in an additional forensic audit, leaving him no option but to call in the SFO.

“I should state that I have no information to confirm that dishonesty has taken place on the part of either supplier,” he added.

“But given the nature of the findings of the audit work that has taken place so far, and the very clear legal advice that I have received, I am today asking the Serious Fraud Office to consider whether an investigation is appropriate into what happened in G4S.”

But G4S sources stressed no evidence of dishonesty had been discovered by either the MoJ review or its own inquiry carried out with the assistance of external experts.

They said the firm had co-operated fully with the MoJ and was given the choice of another audit by management consultants or a referral to the SFO.

G4S had preferred calling in the SFO, they added, to investigate any claims of dishonesty.

They insisted that they had found “absolutely no indication” that it had not complied with the terms of its contract.

But shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan was stunned by the allegations.

“To the public this appears a straightforward fraud – obtaining property by deception,” he said.

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, added: “G4S should never have got another Government contract after the shambles of the Olympics.”

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced a government-wide review of contracts held by G4S and Serco.

Serco Group, which runs the Boris Bike scheme, said it would repay any amount agreed to be due and that given the investigation, it had decided to withdraw from the re-tendering process for the electronic monitoring service.

The company’s chief executive Christopher Hyman said: “We will not tolerate poor practice and behaviour and wherever it is found we will put it right.”

Joe Murphy, Political Editor
Nicholas Cecil
Published: 11 July 2013
Updated: 08:03, 12 July 2013

Find this story at 12 July 2013

© Evening Standard Limited

The ‘phantom’ electronic tags that cost us millions: Firms charged taxpayers for criminals who were dead or in jail

Taxpayers were charged tens of millions of pounds for ‘phantom’ electronic tags on criminals who were either dead, in jail or had left the country.

Two private firms, G4S and Serco, are accused of wrongly billing for tens of thousands of tags which had either been removed or simply never fitted.

Estimates suggest up to one in six of the 18,000 tags the Ministry of Justice was billed for every day were not real.

Taxpayers could have overpaid two private companies for their work tagging criminals

Last night ministers asked fraud investigators to look at G4S, after the company refused to allow forensic auditors access to its books and emails between senior executives.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling took the dramatic step after pledging to recover ‘every last penny’ owed to the public purse.

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He told MPs the scandal could date back as far as 1999, when tagging of criminals began in England and Wales. Since then the taxpayer has spent £1billion on tagging and monitoring offenders. The current contracts began in 2005.

Mr Grayling condemned the overcharging as ‘wholly indefensible and unacceptable’. In some cases, bills were paid for months or years after tags were taken off, he said.
G4S’S ROLL OF SHAME

OLYMPIC SECURITY

Just two weeks before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games, G4S admitted it was unable to supply more than 10,000 security guards it had promised.
Army and police personnel were drafted in to fill the gap (pictured above), with the company eventually picking up the £88million bill.

PROSTHETIC TAG
In 2011, two G4S workers placed an electronic tag on an offender’s false leg, meaning he could simply take it off.
Christopher Lowcock wrapped his prosthetic limb in a bandage to fool staff who set up the device in his home.

PRISONER DIES
Angolan prisoner Jimmy Mubenga died in 2010 after being restrained by G4S guards on his deportation flight. Three G4S staff were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter but charges were not brought because of a lack of evidence.

BIRMINGHAM KEYS
In 2011, a set of keys went missing at Birmingham Prison, a jail managed by G4S. Inmates were locked in their cells for an entire day, and new locks had to be fitted at a cost of £250,000.

He also launched a disciplinary investigation into former officials in the department after discovering contract managers were aware of billing issues in 2008, but ‘nothing substantive was done’.

Details of a ‘significant anomaly in billing practices’ within the deals emerged during a routine review as ministers prepared to negotiate contracts for satellite tags.

It found ‘charges for people who were back in prison and had their tags removed, people who had left the country and those who had never been tagged in the first place’, Mr Grayling said.

Charges were also made in a ‘small number of cases when the subject was known to have died’.

He added: ‘In some instances, charging continued for a period of many months and indeed years after active monitoring had ceased.’

The bill to taxpayers is put in the ‘low tens of millions’.

Tags are put on criminals after their early release from prison or as part of their community service.

Most involve a 12-hour curfew from 7pm to 7am, allowing the criminal, in theory, to work. A box in the offender’s home sounds an alert if the tag goes out of range or stops working.

Audits have also been launched into all other contracts between the Government and the two firms, both major suppliers to Whitehall. G4S received £1billion in revenue from UK Government contracts last year, while Serco made £2billion.

Serco has withdrawn its bid from the current tendering process for new satellite tags, while G4S is expected to be excluded after refusing to pull out.

Serco agreed to co-operate with a new audit but has said it does not believe ‘anything dishonest has taken place’.

G4S rejected the new audit and last night a spokesman insisted it has ‘always complied totally with the terms of the contract’.

The Serious Fraud Office will consider whether an investigation is appropriate into what happened at G4S, Mr Grayling said.

Indefensible: Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said G4S had rejected a demand for a new forensic audit

The firm’s reputation was shredded last year by its failure to fulfil the security contract for the Olympics. Thousands of armed forces and police personnel were called in to fill the gap and the company was forced to pick up the tab.

In May, G4S chief executive Nick Buckles quit with a £1.2million payoff. Several senior managers were sacked in the wake of the Olympic fiasco.

The price of shares in both firms plunged yesterday following the announcement, wiping £176.4million from G4S’s value and £269.6million from Serco.

G4S group chief executive Ashley Almanza said: ‘We place the highest premium on customer service and integrity and therefore take very seriously the concerns expressed by the Ministry of Justice.’

Serco group chief executive Christopher Hyman said: ‘Serco is a business led by our values and built on the strength of our reputation for integrity. We are deeply concerned if we fall short of the standards expected.’

By Jack Doyle and Peter Campbell
PUBLISHED: 11:52 GMT, 11 July 2013 | UPDATED: 08:19 GMT, 12 July 2013

Find this story at 11 July 2013

© Associated Newspapers Ltd

G4S and Serco face £50 million fraud inquiry

Serious Fraud Office investigates G4S claim of over-charging for government contracts

Whitehall contracts running into billions of pounds are being urgently reviewed after the Government disclosed that two major firms had charged the taxpayer to monitor non-existent electronic tags, some of which had been assigned to dead offenders.

In an announcement that throws the Coalition’s privatisation drive into disarray, the Serious Fraud Office was called in to investigate G4S, the world’s largest security company, over contracts dating back over a decade.

Serco, one of Britain’s largest companies, also faces an inquiry by auditors over its charges for operating tagging schemes.

The firms supply an array of services to the public sector from running courts, prisons and immigration removal centres to managing welfare-to-work schemes and the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Between them the two companies receive around £1.5bn a year from the taxpayer, but their contracts are worth billions of pounds because the vast majority run for several years.

They were also hoping to cash in on moves by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to hand them further large contracts to operate prisons and supervise offenders in the community.

The process of awarding all contracts was put on hold last night as the inquiries got underway.

The MoJ began investigating all its agreements with the two firms, including the running of major prisons, while the Cabinet Office started scrutinising all other Government contracts with G4S and Serco.

Shares in both companies fell sharply after the announcement by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary.

Shares in G4S – which suffered torrid publicity over its mishandling of the last year’s London Olympics security contract – finished the day 12.6p down at 213p. Serco tumbled by 54p to 626.5p.

Each of the companies relies heavily on Britain both for income and burnishing its international reputation. The move by the Government is unlikely to result in the wholesale loss of contracts, as the firms have few competitors of the same size but is a blow to their standing worldwide.

Mr Grayling’s announcement came after an audit discovered G4S and Serco had overcharged taxpayers by up to £50m, billing them for offenders who were dead, back in custody or had left the country. According to one MoJ source, the companies charged for 18,000 offenders when the actual number was around 15,000.

Mr Grayling said latest estimates suggested taxpayers had been overcharged by the companies to the tune of “low tens of millions” since the electronic monitoring contracts were signed in 2005. He also disclosed that ministry staff could have known about the practice for five years and face possible disciplinary action.

He said in a Commons statement: “The House will share my astonishment that two of the Government’s biggest suppliers would seek to charge in this way.

”The House will also be surprised and disappointed to learn that staff in the Ministry of Justice were aware of the potential problem and yet did not take adequate steps to address it.“

Mr Grayling said he was asking the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the G4S contracts as the company had refused to co-operate with a further audit to rule out wrongdoing.

An investigation by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that overcharging could have dated back as far back as 1999 when earlier contracts were signed.

Serco has agreed to withdraw from the current tender process for an electronic monitoring contract worth up to £1m, while Mr Grayling plans moves to exclude G4S as it is still attempting to bid.

Serco had also been the leading bidder for prison contracts in Yorkshire, but Mr Grayling will delay their award until the fresh audit is complete.

An urgent review of contract management across the Ministry of Justice’s major contracts has also been launched and will report by autumn, he said.

G4S and Serco were also among companies preparing to bid for a range of payment-by-results contracts to supervise low to medium-level offenders across England and Wales.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers union, said: ”We’ve long maintained that these companies are unfit for purpose when it comes to holding important public contracts. The outcome of the initial investigation into G4S and Serco suggests a good deal of malpractice has been discovered.“

Ashley Almanza, the G4S group chief executive, said: ”We place the highest premium on customer service and integrity and therefore take very seriously the concerns expressed by the Ministry of Justice. We are determined to deal with these issues in a prompt and appropriate manner.“

Serco Group’s chief executive, Christopher Hyman, said: ”Serco is a business led by our values and built on the strength of our reputation for integrity.

“These values lie at the heart of the many thousands of our people who are endeavouring to deliver the highest standard of service to our customers around the world. We are deeply concerned if we fall short of the standards expected of all of us.”

Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: “Given the scale of the allegations, the Government must immediately call in the police and the Serious Fraud Office to investigate both companies as fraud has potentially taken place.”

Security breach: Other G4S fiascos

* G4S faced fierce criticism last year following the botched handling of its Olympics security contract. It failed to deliver the numbers of security staff it had promised and the Government was forced to bring in additional armed forces personnel. The firm will take a £70m hit over the bungled contract with Games organisers, Locog.

* Earlier this week an inquest jury ruled an Angolan man who died after being restrained by three G4S guards as he was being deported from the UK was unlawfully killed. Jimmy Mubenga, 46, died on a plane bound for Angola in October 2010. The Crown Prosecution Service said it would reconsider its decision not to bring criminal charges in the wake of the verdict.

* In January, multimillion-pound plans by three police forces to outsource services to G4S collapsed. Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, David Lloyd, said the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Strategic Alliance had discontinued negotiations with the firm.

However, last month it was revealed Lincolnshire’s police force now spends the lowest amount per head of population on policing in England and Wales after it handed over the bulk of its back-office functions to G4S.

Nigel Morris
Friday 12 July 2013

Find this story at 12 July 2013

© independent.co.uk

G4S faces fraud investigation over tagging contracts

Justice secretary tells MPs he has called in Serious Fraud Office to investigate private security firm for overcharging

The overcharging included billing for tracking the movements of people who had died. Photograph: David Davies/PA

The Serious Fraud Office has been called in by the justice secretary to investigate the private security company G4S for overcharging tens of millions of pounds on electronic tagging contracts for offenders.

Chris Grayling told MPs the overcharging included billing for tracking the movements of people who had moved abroad, those who had returned to prison and had their tags removed, and even people who had died.

He said he had made the decision after G4S refused on Wednesday to co-operate with a voluntary forensic audit of its billing practices and to withdraw as a potential bidder for the next generation of tagging contracts worth up to £3bn.

“At this time I do not have evidence of dishonesty by G4S but I have invited the Serious Fraud Office to investigate that,” he said.

Whitehall sources say that a new forensic audit will look at a central allegation that the justice ministry was being billed for the tagging of 18,000 offenders a day when only 15,000 were actually being monitored – raising the prospect of being charged for 3,000 “phantom” offenders or one in six of all those on tags.

Grayling told MPs that G4S and a second major supplier, Serco, had been overcharging on the existing £700m contract, with the Ministry of Justice being billed for non-existent services that dated back to at least 2005 and possibly as long ago as 1999.

Grayling added that it included charging for monitoring people who were back in prison and had had their tags removed, people who had left the country, and those who had never been tagged in the first place.

“There are a small number of cases where charging continued for a period when the subject was known to have died,” he told the Commons.

“In some instances, charging continued for a period of many months and indeed years after active monitoring ceased. This is a wholly indefensible and unacceptable state of affairs. The house will share my astonishment that two of the government’s biggest suppliers would seek to charge in this way.”

Shares in Serco fell about 8% and for G4S almost 6% by the close on Thursday.

The decision to call in the SFO follows an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers commissioned by Grayling in May after billing discrepancies were discovered during a re-tendering process. Under the contracts the movements of more than 20,000 offenders are monitored using electronic ankle tags at any one time.

“The audit team is at present confirming its calculations but the current estimate is that the sums involved are significant, and run into the low tens of millions in total, for both companies, since the contracts commenced in 2005,” Grayling said.

Serco, which is one of the government’s biggest and most important suppliers, agreed on Wednesday to fully co-operate with a forensic audit to establish whether any dishonesty took place on its part. It has also agreed to withdraw from bidding for the £3bn next-generation tagging contract.

“They have said they take the issue extremely seriously and assure me that senior management were not aware of it. They do not believe anything dishonest has taken place, but we have agreed that if the audit does show dishonest action, we will jointly call in the authorities to address it,” Grayling said.

Serco was the leading bidder to take over the management of a prison in South Yorkshire. Grayling said that decision had now been delayed until the voluntary forensic audit was completed.

The Cabinet Office is to review all G4S and Serco contracts held across government as a result of the tagging scandal. The Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, had already started preparations for a register of companies holding public sector contracts to detail their track record in the wake of G4S’s failure last year to fulfil its contract to provide security guards for the London Olympics.

Grayling, who had the attorney general, Dominic Grieve QC, next to him when he made his Commons statement, said he had taken the decision to call in the SFO “given the nature of the findings of the audit work that had taken place so far, and the very clear legal advice that I have received”.

He said the SFO was being asked to consider whether an investigation was appropriate, and to confirm “whether any of the actions of anyone in that company represent more than a contractual breach”.

The justice secretary has started a formal process to determine whether to exclude G4S from the next 10-year tagging contract which is due to start shortly. He has also taken action within the justice ministry after disclosing that his own officials became aware in a limited way of some of the problems in 2008 but failed to take adequate steps to address them.

He said an entirely new contract management team had been put in place. “The permanent secretary is also instituting disciplinary investigations to consider whether failings on the part of individual members of staff constitute misconduct”, he said.

The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, said the disclosures were “truly shocking” and the police should be called in immediately to investigate Serco as well as G4S. “There can be no cosy relationship with either company if we are to truly get to the bottom of these very serious allegations,” he said.

G4S said the justice ministry was an important customer and it was committed to resolving its concerns. It said it was conducting its own review and would reimburse any overbilling it identified. It said it was not aware of any indications of dishonesty or misconduct.

Ashley Almanza, the G4S chief executive, said: “We are committed to having close and open relationships with our customers and we strive to work in partnership for the mutual benefit of our organisations.

“We place the highest premium on customer service and integrity and therefore take very seriously the concerns expressed by the Ministry of Justice. We are determined to deal with these issues in a prompt and appropriate manner.”

Serco Group’s chief executive, Christopher Hyman, said: “Serco is a business led by our values and built on the strength of our reputation for integrity. These values lie at the heart of the many thousands of our people who are endeavouring to deliver the highest standard of service to our customers around the world. We are deeply concerned if we fall short of the standards expected of all of us.”

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
The Guardian, Friday 12 July 2013

Find this story at 12 July 2013

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

G4S and Serco: Taxpayers overcharged by tens of millions over electronic tagging

Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has asked the Serious Fraud Office to investigate security firm G4S after a review found the Government had been overcharged by tens of millions of pounds in its electronic tagging contract.

A review has found G4S and rival security company Serco both over-billed the taxpayer for running the tagging schemes, in what the minister said was a “wholly indefensible and unacceptable state of affairs”.

It included charging the government for tagging offenders who had died, been returned to prison, left the country or who had never been put on the tagging scheme in the first place, Mr Grayling told the House of Commons.

Ministry of Justice sources said although they typically had 15,000 offenders on a tag at any one time G4S and Serco had been charging them for 18,000 – meaning one in six was spurious.

It also emerged civil servants first became aware of some of the problems in 2008 but failed to take appropriate action – and Mr Grayling said some may now face disciplinary action.

“I am angry at what has happened and am determined to put it right,” said Mr Grayling.
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“This has included instances where our suppliers were not in fact providing electronic monitoring.

“It included charges for people who were back in prison and had had their tags removed, people who had left the country, and those who had never been tagged in the first place but who had instead been returned to court.

“There are a small number of cases where charging continued for a period when the subject was known to have died.

“In some instances, charging continued for a period of many months and indeed years after active monitoring had ceased.

“The House will share my view that this is a wholly indefensible and unacceptable state of affairs.

Mr Grayling said he expected MPs would share his “astonishment” that two of the government’s two biggest contractors would behave in such a way.

He added: “The audit team is at present confirming its calculations but the current estimate is that the sums involved are significant, and run into the low tens of millions in total, for both companies, since the contracts commenced in 2005.

“It may date back as far as the previous contracts let in 1999.”

Serco has agreed with a Ministry of Justice proposal for a further investigation, and allow inspection of its internal emails.

But G4S, which was widely criticised for its failure to fulfil security requirements at last year’s Olympics, has rejected that proposal, said Mr Grayling.

“I should state that I have no information to confirm that dishonesty has taken place on the part of either supplier,” he told MPs.

“But given the nature of the findings of the audit work that has taken place so far, and the very clear legal advice that I have received, I am today asking the Serious Fraud Office to consider whether an investigation is appropriate into what happened in G4S, and to confirm to me whether any of the actions of anyone in that company represent more than a contractual breach.”

Mr Grayling first launched an investigation into G4S and Serco in May after an internal audit uncovered a “significant anomaly” in the billing process.

The Ministry of Justice brought in external auditors to find out how much the two companies have incorrectly claimed from the taxpayer, which uncovered the remarkable details announced by Mr Grayling to the Commons.

He said: “I am making changes in my department because it is quite clear that the management of these contracts has been wholly inadequate.

“Enough knowledge came into the department to find out about these issues some years ago but it was not acted upon.

“Proceedings are likely to include, or may well include, disciplinary proceedings to establish precisely what did go wrong.”

Spending on electronic tagging has run to £700 million since G4S and Serco were handed the contracts.

Mr Grayling said no-one had been put in danger and the problem was purely to do with the billing arrangements. The contracts were awarded by the Labour government in 2004 and are ministers are currently going through a process to re-allocate the work.

Serco has pulled out of the bidding process but Mr Grayling said he was “disappointed that G4S still feel it appropriate to participate”.
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
12:40PM BST 11 Jul 2013

Find this story at 11 July 2013

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013

 

Jailed for Life for Stealing a $159 Jacket? 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes

A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related convictions. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino — evidence of what the ACLU calls “extreme racial disparities.” The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check. We speak with Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher and author of the new ACLU report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses.”
Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related crimes. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino—evidence of what the ACLU calls “extreme racial disparities.” The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check.

AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-three percent of those serving life without parole for these nonviolent offenses are in federal prisons. Most were sentenced under mandatory minimum laws. The ACLU says keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars for life is costing taxpayers an additional $1.8 billion. In a minute, we’ll be joined by the author of the study. But first, this is a clip from a video that features family members of some of the more than 600 prisoners it profiles.

SARLOWER SURRY: Everything he did was to hurt himself, not others. And it went from—from one-year sentence to two-year sentence to natural life.

CASHAWNA TILMAN: My dad will never get out for something so little? Natural life.

LORETTA LUMAR: For stealing a $150 jacket. And that $150 jacket got him life in prison.

SARLOWER SURRY: Here in Louisiana, they use that habitual offender law: Three strikes, you automatically get natural life.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: It’s like giving him a death sentence, because this is no life—no life for a man with his children or his parents or anybody else, once they’re in there.

BURL CAIN: Judge should have the discretion not to give a life sentence. I mean, that’s extreme. You tell that to anybody, they’ll say, “Ah, nah-uh, that’s a little bit too much.” That almost gets to be the point that that’s not what the forefathers envisioned, even with the Constitution. That’s extreme. That’s cruel and unusual punishment, to me.

CASHAWNA TILMAN: He’s a good person, my dad. I mean, he’s always—like I said, he’s always been there for me and my sister and brother. He’s always done his best, until he started abusing the drugs.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: And a lot of times with Patrick, with the drugs, it came down to not being able to find work.

SARLOWER SURRY: Life sentence is no way to deal with a drug addiction.

EISIBE SNEED: My son wasn’t a menace to society.

DELOICE LEWIS: He would give his shirt off his back.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: And being so tenderhearted in a place like that, it just doesn’t fit. It’s changed him that way, because I notice he is getting a little colder. I find that he’s not believing and he’s not keeping his faith as much. He’s not—like, he’s like, “I’m about ready to give up on this.”

WILLIE COMBS: Oh, it’s been hard. I go down there and see him. I can’t hardly stand to leave him, but I know I have to go. It be hard. It be hard.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: To tell him what I ate for Thanksgiving, and he couldn’t eat it, you know, it’s hard. It’s little things like that.

DELOICE LEWIS: And my birthday coming up, and those are days I break.

BURL CAIN: But if this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again, these nonviolent crimes, then why are we keeping him here, spending all this money? Because maybe I’ve done my job, so he should have a parole hearing.

SARLOWER SURRY: There’s too many families that’s suffering out here.

LORETTA LUMAR: Give him a second chance. He’s 54 years old now.

WILLIE COMBS: I’m looking for things to change.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: Because these boys are just getting wasted away in these prisons for no reason.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from a video that accompanies the ACLU’s new report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses.” For more, we’re joined by its author, Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Welcome to Democracy Now! I mean, it is just astounding. A man—the story we just heard; another story, a man walks out of a store with a coat slung over his shoulder, $159, gets life in prison without parole.

JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. These sentences are grotesquely out of proportion of the crimes that they’re seeking to punish. And we found that 3,278 people are serving life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes, but these numbers actually underrepresent the true state of extreme sentencing in this country. Those numbers don’t account for those who will die in prison because of sentences such as 350 years for a drug sale. It also doesn’t account for the many millions of lives ruined by excessive sentencing in this country, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And especially the impact of federal mandatory minimum sentencings, could you talk about that and the efforts to try to roll back some of those—some of those laws?

JENNIFER TURNER: Yeah, what we found was that over 80 percent of these sentences were mandatory, both in the federal system and in the states. They’re the direct consequence of laws passed over the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies that included mandatory minimum sentencing laws, habitual offender laws in the states.

And they tie judges’ hands. And in case after case after case that I reviewed, the judge said from the bench—outraged, would say, “I oppose this sentence as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a judge. I disagree with the sentence in this case, but my hands are tied.” And one judge said, when sentencing one man to life without parole for selling tiny quantities of crack over a period of just a couple of weeks, he said, “This is a travesty. It’s just silly. But I have no choice.”

AMY GOODMAN: What if a judge said no?

JENNIFER TURNER: The judges can’t say no. In fact, I looked at cases where the judges tried to say no, where the judge tried to find a legal loophole, where prosecutors appealed, repeatedly. One man was sentenced to zero time in prison by a Louisiana judge for threatening a cop while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. He was drunk, threatened him, was sentenced initially to no time. The prosecutor appealed; the sentence increased to 10 years. Prosecutor appealed again. On the third appeal, it was increased to life without parole as a mandatory sentence because of his priors dating back as much as 20 years earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another case. Another person profiled in your report, in the ACLU report, is Sharanda Jones. She was sentenced to life for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine when she was a 32-year-old mother, with a nine-year-old daughter—no prior arrests. No drugs were found on her, but her supposed co-conspirators testified against her in exchange for reduced sentences. In this clip from the film, The War on Drugs, she talks about being separated from her daughter.

SHARANDA JONES: My sister bring her to visit. And every time she come, it’s hard. I see her like once a month. And to see her grow from a little bitty baby to almost a grown woman now, it’s just like, God, my dream is to just show up at her school. I mean, I know they gave me life, but I can’t imagine not being at her graduation, her high school graduation. I just can’t imagine me not being there.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharanda Jones. Jennifer, tell us more about her case.

JENNIFER TURNER: Well, Sharanda was caught up in a massive drug sweep in a majority white town in Texas. Over a hundred people were arrested, all of whom were black. Chuck Norris participated in some of the arrests. Sharanda had no information to trade for a lenient—a more lenient sentence. And the judge was required to sentence her to life without parole, objected to the sentence, but he had not choice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they had nothing on her, but—

JENNIFER TURNER: They had nothing but one wiretap. What happened was, a couple had been arrested on drug charges and began cooperating with the feds as confidential informants and, from there, started implicating others in the community. They called Sharanda and said, “Hey, do you know where we can get some drugs?” The wiretap caught Sharanda saying, “Let me see what I can do.” That was the extent of the evidence against her, with the exception of testimony from these confidential informants and other co-conspirators. They never found any drugs on her. There were no even video surveillance of her with drugs. But she was sentenced to life without parole.

A single mother. Her daughter Clenesha has been separated her for many, many, many years. And Sharanda maintains a very close relationship with her daughter. She carefully apportions the 300 minutes she’s allowed to use per month for non-legal calls to call her daughter 10 minutes each day. When I talk to Sharanda on the phone, she’s like, “I’ve got to go! I can’t use up my minutes; I need to speak with my daughter.”

And Sharanda, unfortunately, has no relief available. Her sentence is final, like those of everyone else we were profiling. They have really no chance of relief unless President Obama, in Sharanda’s case, because it’s a federal case, or, in the states, where the governors use their executive clemency powers to reduce their sentence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about the racial disparities that your report highlights? They’re really amazing. I mean, everyone knows that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated, but in terms of these life-without-parole sentences, the amazing percentage of African Americans, specifically, in states like Louisiana, 91 percent are African-American.

JENNIFER TURNER: The racial disparities are staggering. Obviously, as you said, that blacks are treated disparately throughout the criminal justice system, but what we found was that in life-without-parole sentencing for nonviolent crimes, those disparities are even more marked. Nationwide, 65 percent of people serving these sentences for nonviolent crimes are black; 18 percent are white. In the federal system, blacks are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crime. In some states it’s even higher. In Louisiana, where 91 percent of the people serving these sentences are black, they’re 23 times more likely. In the federal system, Latinos are five times more likely to be sentenced to life for nonviolent crime than whites.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the avenue for this to be changed is legislation?

JENNIFER TURNER: There are very clear avenues for change. These sentences are really symptomatic of the larger problem of excessive sentencing in this country. Many, many, many more thousands of people are serving excessive sentences that are disproportionate to their crimes. And they’re all the result of the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies, such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws. We simply need to repeal the laws that led to these sentences. And with growing national consensus across both sides of the political aisle that mandatory minimum sentences, for instance, are a travesty of justice, this is quite possible. There have been two bipartisan bills introduced in Congress that would somewhat reduce the reach of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

But also, as I mentioned before, the—President Obama, who has the worst pardon record of any modern president—he has pardoned five turkeys and commuted the sentence of only one prisoner—he does have the power and authority to review the sentences of the over 2,000 people like Sharanda serving life without parole for a nonviolent crime, and he can reduce their sentence. Same with state governors.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And as you note, even if there were changes in the law, these more than 3,000 people that have already been sentenced would not necessarily be affected. It would have to take some executive action by governors or by the president to get some of them—to assure they don’t die in prison, essentially.

JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. Some sentencing reforms have been retroactive, and certainly future sentencing reforms could be retroactive, and that’s what we’re calling for. But for many of these people, their only chance at release is some form of clemency. And we have a petition online on our website where you can all take action to call on President Obama to review these sentences and impose a fairer and smarter sentence for these prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, just to shift gears a bit, about a year ago you came out with a report, “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force.” Explain what’s happening now.

JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. In Puerto Rico, I looked at Puerto Rico Police Department because it’s the second largest in the country, second only to NYPD, and because its policing practices are really off the map. We found that the police force uses lethal force at a rate much higher than other police departments—three times the per capita rate of police shootings by the NYPD, for instance; uses excessive force against protesters; brutal beatings of low-income and black Puerto Ricans and Dominican immigrants.

And we sued the police department, called on the Department of Justice to investigate the police department. And just in August, the department was entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department. And two weeks ago, a monitor was appointed to oversee the reform effort and to ensure that the police department actually institutes the reforms that they’ve promised to institute. One week ago, a top New York Police Department officer was appointed superintendent of the police force to start this reform process.

So it’s really the very beginning stages, and we will be watching closely to make sure the police department does follow through on its promise for reforms, which are truly an overhaul of the police force, which is required. The police force is so dysfunctional that it needs to be overhauled at all levels, from basic policies put in place to holding cops accountable when they kill or hurt people, as well as changing the reporting mechanisms. Really, everything has to be reformed in that police department.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Turner, we want to thank you very much for being with us, human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote the ACLU’s new report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” also authored the report, “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force.” We’ll link to both of them at democracynow.org. When we come back, Calle 13 joins us here in studio. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Find this story at 15 November 2013

A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses

Life in prison without a chance of parole is, short of execution, the harshest imaginable punishment.1 Life without parole (LWOP) is permanent removal from society with no chance of reentry, no hope of freedom. One should expect the American criminal justice system to condemn someone to die in prison only for the most serious offenses.

Yet across the country, thousands of people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes as petty as siphoning gasoline from an 18-wheeler, shoplifting three belts, breaking into a parked car and stealing a woman’s bagged lunch, or possessing a bottle cap smeared with heroin residue. In their cruelty and harshness, these sentences defy common sense. They are grotesquely out of
proportion to the conduct they seek to punish. They offend the principle that all people have the right to be treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity.

This report documents the thousands of lives ruined and families destroyed by sentencing people to die behind bars for nonviolent offenses, and includes detailed case studies of 110 such people. It also includes a detailed fiscal analysis tallying the $1.784 billion cost to taxpayers to keep the 3,278
prisoners currently serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses incarcerated for the rest of their lives.
Our findings are based on extensive documentation of the cases of 646 prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses in the federal system and nine states. The data in this report is from the United States Sentencing Commission, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state Departments of Corrections, obtained pursuant to Freedom of Information Act and open records requests filed by the ACLU. Our research is also
based on telephone interviews conducted by the ACLU with prisoners, their lawyers, and family members; correspondence with prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses; a survey of 355 prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses; and media and court records searches.

Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for Nonviolent Crimes

Using data obtained from the Bureau of Prisons and state Departments of Corrections, the ACLU calculates that as of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent drug and property crimes in the federal system and in nine states that provided such statistics (there may well be more such prisoners in other states). About 79 percent of these 3,278 prisoners are serving LWOP for nonviolent drug crimes. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses nationwide are in the federal system; of these, 96 percent are serving LWOP for drug crimes. More than 18 percent of federal prisoners surveyed by the ACLU are serving LWOP for their first offenses. Of the states that sentence nonviolent offenders to LWOP, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Oklahoma have the highest numbers of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent crimes, largely due to three-strikes and other kinds of habitual offender laws that mandate an LWOP sentence for the commission of a nonviolent crime.

The overwhelming majority (83.4 percent) of the LWOP sentences for nonviolent crimes surveyed by the ACLU
were mandatory. In these cases, the sentencing judges had no choice in sentencing due to laws requiring mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment, habitual offender laws, statutory penalty enhancements, or other sentencing rules that mandated LWOP. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have immense power over defendants’ fates: whether or not to charge a defendant with a sentencing enhancement triggering an LWOP sentence is within their discretion. In case after case reviewed by the ACLU, the sentencing judge said on
the record that he or she opposed the mandatory LWOP sentence as too severe but had no discretion to take individual circumstances into account or override the prosecutor’s charging decision.

As striking as they are, the numbers documented in this report underrepresent the true number of people who will die in prison after being convicted of a nonviolent crime in this country. The thousands of people noted above do not include the substantial number of prisoners who will die behind bars
after being convicted of a crime classified as “violent” (such as a conviction for assault after a bar fight), nor do the numbers include “de facto” LWOP sentences that exceed the convicted person’s natural lifespan, such as a sentence of 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Although less-violent and
de facto LWOP cases fall outside of the scope of this report, they remain a troubling manifestation of extreme sentencing policies in this country.

Nonviolent Crimes that Result in Life-without-Parole Sentences

We documented scores of cases in which people were sentenced to LWOP for nonviolent drug crimes of possession, sale, or distribution of marijuana, methamphetamine, crack and powder cocaine, heroin, or other drugs, including the following:
• possession of a crack pipe
• possession of a bottle cap containing a trace, unweighable amount of heroin
• having a trace amount of cocaine in clothes pockets that was so minute it was invisible to
the naked eye and detected only in lab tests
• having a single, small crack rock at home
• possession of 32 grams of marijuana with intent to distribute
• acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer
• selling a single crack rock
• verbally negotiating another man’s sale of two small pieces of fake crack to an undercover officer
• serving as a middleman in the sale of $20 of crack to an undercover officer
• sharing several grams of LSD with Grateful Dead concertgoers
• having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills that could be manufactured into methamphetamine

In cases documented by the ACLU, the nonviolent property crimes that resulted in life-without-parole sentences include the following:
• attempting to cash a stolen check
• a junk-dealer’s possession of stolen junk metal (10 valves and one elbow pipe)
• possession of stolen wrenches
• siphoning gasoline from a truck
• stealing tools from a tool shed and a welding machine from a yard
• shoplifting three belts from a department store
• shoplifting several digital cameras
• shoplifting two jerseys from an athletic store
• taking a television, circular saw, and a power converter from a vacant house
• breaking into a closed liquor store in the middle of the night

Other nonviolent crimes that resulted in life-without-parole sentences include the following:
• making a drunken threat to a police officer while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car
• possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
• taking an abusive stepfather’s gun from their shared home

These cases are not outliers or flukes. Sentencing nonviolent offenders to die in prison is the direct outcome of harsh sentencing laws. This is the end result of policies put in place in the 1980s and 1990s: mothers and fathers separated from their children forever, toddlers and teens left parentless for a lifetime, aging and infirm parents left without family, first-time nonviolent offenders permanently denied a second chance, and young Black and low-income men and women locked up for the rest of their lives at as young as 18 years old.

Who is Serving Life without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes?

In the cases we documented, the prisoners serving LWOP are generally first-time drug offenders or nonviolent repeat offenders. These nonviolent lifers include drug couriers; drug addicts who sold small amounts of drugs in order to support their addictions; petty thieves; and girlfriends or wives who were caught up in the mass arrests of members of drug conspiracies and, because they knew little about their partners’ or ex-partners’ drug activities, were unable to trade information for more lenient sentences. Some did distribute large quantities of drugs but have been incarcerated for decades and have demonstrated both remorse and rehabilitation. Others were sentenced to LWOP for crimes they committed as teenagers, in some cases for their minor roles in drug conspiracies starting when they were as young as 15 years old. Several are Vietnam War veterans who were introduced to drugs during their military service and battled
addiction after leaving the military. The vast majority come from poor families and did not graduate from high school.

Most are Black, and in some cases the circumstances of their stop, search, and subsequent arrests appear to have involved racial profiling. Some are mentally ill and imprisoned for behavior directly related to their mental illnesses. Others spiraled into drug addiction when they could not find work, and some began selling drugs to pay the bills after they lost their jobs or to pay off medical debts incurred when they
were uninsured. Most of the nonviolent crimes for which these prisoners are serving life without parole would be more appropriately addressed outside of the criminal justice system altogether, some by significantly shorter incarceration, and some with more readily available drug treatment and mental health
resources. In many of the cases documented by the ACLU, offenders committed their crimes because of drug addictions and had never been offered state-sponsored drug treatment, even during previous brief stints in jail and despite their willingness to enter treatment. Many of these addicts told the ACLU they asked for treatment after previous drug arrests but were denied. When they reoffended, they were locked up
for the rest of their lives.

Racial Disparity in Life-without- Parole Sentencing

There is a staggering racial disparity in life-withoutparole sentencing for nonviolent offenses. Blacks are disproportionately represented in the nationwide prison and jail population, but the disparities are even worse among the nationwide LWOP population and worse still among the nonviolent LWOP population. Based on data provided by the United States Sentencing Commission and state Departments of Corrections, the ACLU estimates that nationwide, 65.4 percent of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses are Black, 17.8 percent are white, and 15.7 percent are Latino.

In the 646 cases examined for this report, the ACLU found that 72.9 percent of these documented prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses are Black, 19.8 percent are white, and 6.9 percent are Latino.
According to data collected and analyzed by the ACLU, Black prisoners comprise 91.4 percent of the nonviolent LWOP prison population in Louisiana, 78.5 percent in Mississippi, 70 percent in Illinois, 68.2 percent in South Carolina, 60.4 percent in Florida, 57.1 percent in Oklahoma, and 60 percent in the federal system. In the federal system, Blacks were sentenced to LWOP for nonviolent crimes at 20 times the
rate of whites. In Louisiana, the ACLU’s survey found that Blacks were 23 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to LWOP for a nonviolent crime. The racial disparities range from 33-to-1 in Illinois to 18-to-1 in Oklahoma, 8-to-1 in Florida, and 6-to-1 in Mississippi.

The rate of Latinos serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses ranges from a high of 12.7 per 1,000,000 residents in Louisiana to 9 in Oklahoma, 7.32 in Florida, 1.25 in Illinois, 11.24 in the federal system, and 0 in South Carolina and Mississippi. Latinos are serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes
at a rate that is almost 8 times the rate of whites in Illinois and almost twice the rate of whites in Louisiana. Blacks are sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent offenses at rates that suggest unequal treatment and that cannot be explained by white and Black defendants’ differential involvement in crime alone.

Find the report at

Over 3,000 US prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent crimes

ACLU report chronicles thousands of lives ruined by life sentences for crimes such as shoplifting or possession of a crack pipe

65% of the prisoners identified nationwide by the ACLU are African American. In Louisiana, that proportion rises to 91%. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

At about 12.40pm on 2 January 1996, Timothy Jackson took a jacket from the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans, draped it over his arm, and walked out of the store without paying for it. When he was accosted by a security guard, Jackson said: “I just needed another jacket, man.”

A few months later Jackson was convicted of shoplifting and sent to Angola prison in Louisiana. That was 16 years ago. Today he is still incarcerated in Angola, and will stay there for the rest of his natural life having been condemned to die in jail. All for the theft of a jacket, worth $159.

Jackson, 53, is one of 3,281 prisoners in America serving life sentences with no chance of parole for non-violent crimes. Some, like him, were given the most extreme punishment short of execution for shoplifting; one was condemned to die in prison for siphoning petrol from a truck; another for stealing tools from a tool shed; yet another for attempting to cash a stolen cheque.

“It has been very hard for me,” Jackson wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as part of its new report on life without parole for non-violent offenders. “I know that for my crime I had to do some time, but a life sentence for a jacket value at $159. I have met people here whose crimes are a lot badder with way less time.”

Senior officials at Angola prison refused to allow the Guardian to speak to Jackson, on grounds that it might upset his victims – even though his crime was victim-less. But his sister Loretta Lumar did speak to the Guardian. She said that the last time she talked by phone with her brother he had expressed despair. “He told me, ‘Sister, this has really broke my back. I’m ready to come out.’”

Lumar said that she found her brother’s sentence incomprehensible. “This doesn’t make sense to me. I know people who have killed people, and they get a lesser sentence. That doesn’t make sense to me right there. You can take a life and get 15 or 16 years. He takes a jacket worth $159 and will stay in jail forever. He didn’t kill the jacket!”

The ACLU’s report, A Living Death, chronicles the thousands of lives ruined and families destroyed by the modern phenomenon of sentencing people to die behind bars for non-violent offences. It notes that contrary to the expectation that such a harsh penalty would be meted out only to the most serious offenders, people have been caught in this brutal trap for sometimes the most petty causes.

Ronald Washington, 48, is also serving life without parole in Angola, in his case for shoplifting two Michael Jordan jerseys from a Foot Action sportswear store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2004. Washington insisted at trial that the jerseys were reduced in a sale to $45 each – which meant that their combined value was below the $100 needed to classify the theft as a felony; the prosecution disagreed, claiming they were on sale for $60 each, thus surpassing the $100 felony minimum and opening him up to a sentence of life without parole.

“I felt as though somebody had just taken the life out of my body,” Washington wrote to the ACLU about the moment he learnt his fate. “I seriously felt rejected, neglected, stabbed right through my heart.”

He added: “It’s a very lonely world, seems that nobody cares. You’re never ever returning back into society. And whatever you had or established, its now useless, because you’re being buried alive at slow pace.”

Louisiana, where both Washington and Jackson are held, is one of nine states where prisoners are serving life without parole sentences for non-violent offences (other states with high numbers are Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina). An overwhelming proportion of those sentences – as many as 98% in Louisiana – were mandatory: in other words judges had no discretion but to impose the swingeing penalties.

The warden of Angola prison, Burl Cain, has spoken out in forthright terms against a system that mandates punishment without any chance of rehabilitation. He told the ACLU: “It’s ridiculous, because the name of our business is ‘corrections’ – to correct deviant behaviour. If I’m a successful warden and I do my job and we correct the deviant behaviour, then we should have a parole hearing. I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men.”

The toll is not confined to the state level: most of those non-violent inmates held on life without parole sentences were given their punishments by the federal government. More than 2,000 of the 3,281 individuals tracked down on these sentences by the ACLU are being held in the federal system. Overall, the ACLU has calculated that taxpayers pay an additional $1.8bn to keep the prisoners locked up for the rest of their lives.
Timothy Jackson, in an old license photograph. Photograph: Jackson family
‘It doesn’t have to be this way’

Until the early 1970s, life without parole sentences were virtually unknown. But they exploded as part of what the ACLU calls America’s “late-twentieth-century obsession with mass incarceration and extreme, inhumane penalties.”

The report’s author Jennifer Turner states that today, the US is “virtually alone in its willingness to sentence non-violent offenders to die behind bars.” Life without parole for non-violent sentences has been ruled a violation of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights. The UK is one of only two countries in Europe that still metes out the penalty at all, and even then only in 49 cases of murder.

Even within America’s starkly racially-charged penal system, the disparities in non-violent life without parole are stunning. About 65% of the prisoners identified nationwide by the ACLU are African American. In Louisiana, that proportion rises to 91%, including Jackson and Washington who are both black.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2.3 million people now in custody, with the war on drugs acting as the overriding push-factor. Of the prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent offences nationwide, the ACLU estimates that almost 80% were for drug-related crimes.

Again, the offences involved can be startlingly petty. Drug cases itemised in the report include a man sentenced to die in prison for having been found in possession of a crack pipe; an offender with a bottle cap that contained a trace of heroin that was too small to measure; a prisoner arrested with a trace amount of cocaine in their pocket too tiny to see with the naked eye; a man who acted as a go-between in a sale to an undercover police officer of marijuana – street value $10.

Drugs are present in the background of Timothy Jackson’s case too. He was high when he went to the Maison Blanche store, and he says that as a result he shoplifted “without thinking”. Paradoxically, like many of the other prisoners on similar penalties, the first time he was offered drug treatment was after he had already been condemned to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The theft of the $159 jacket, taken in isolation, carries today a six-month jail term. It was combined at Jackson’s sentencing hearing with his previous convictions – all for non-violent crimes including a robbery in which he took $216 – that brought him under Louisiana’s brutal “four-strikes” law by which it became mandatory for him to be locked up and the key thrown away.

The ACLU concludes that it does not have to be this way – suitable alternatives are readily at hand, including shorter prison terms and the provision of drug treatment and mental health services. The organisation calls on Congress, the Obama administration and state legislatures to end the imposition of mandatory life without parole for non-violent offenders and to require re-sentencing hearings for all those already caught in this judicial black hole.

A few months after Timothy Jackson was put away for life, a Louisiana appeals court reviewed the case and found it “excessive”, “inappropriate” and “a prime example of an unjust result”. Describing Jackson as a “petty thief”, the court threw out the sentence.

The following year, in 1998, the state’s supreme court gave a final ruling. “This sentence is constitutionally excessive in that it is grossly out of proportion to the seriousness of the offence,” concluded Judge Bernette Johnson. However, she found that the state’s four strikes law that mandates life without parole could only be overturned in rare instances, and as a result she reinstated the sentence – putting Jackson back inside his cell until the day he dies.

“I am much older and I have learned a lot about myself,” Jackson wrote to the ACLU from that cell. “I am sorry for the crime that I did, and I am a changed man.”

Jackson expressed a hope that he would be granted his freedom when he was still young enough to make something of his life and “help others”. But, barring a reform of the law, the day of his release will never come.

Ed Pilkington in New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 13 November 2013 05.00 GMT

Find this story at 13 November 2013

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