Stumbling blindly…

May 17, 2020

CBC News – Kathleen Harris
Halt drug possession charges during pandemic to stem spike in overdose deaths, advocates say

Advocates for harm reduction are suggesting that the anxiety around Covid-19 and the attendant limitations on life is increasingly a concern among the drug users and to cope with the anxiety, addicts are into more frequent use.  Heightened policing drives the use into private space away from public health services and arrests for possession are simply filling the jails since many are remanded in custody.  “Not surprisingly, some cities are already seeing reports of increasing overdose deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic… Between January 2016 and September 2019, there were about 14,700 opioid-related deaths across the country.”

 Death Penalty Information Center (US)
Texas Appeals Court Declines to Apply Junk-Science Law to Review Death Sentence Based Upon Hypnotically Assisted Identification Testimony

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeal has refused to intervene in a death penalty case in which the sole connection to the defendant Charles Flores is a testimony based on hypnosis.  Illegal in most states, testimony acquired under hypnosis of the witness changed the accused physical description from a thin white man to a heavy set Latino but remained sufficient in a death penalty case.  There are currently four on death row in Texas convicted with the aid of hypnosis and eleven who have been executed on such evidence, often termed “junk science forensics.” To make matters worse, prosecutors recognize that Flores was not the actual killer but an accomplice.

CBC News – Tony Keene
Why Canada should ban the sale, ownership of handguns

While there remains some controversy around long guns and assault rifles, the issue of handguns remains without much attention.  Keene is offering a rationale for banning handguns, the certain major factor in much of the violence in our lives.  “There is no conceivable reason why an ordinary person needs to own a handgun. No reason whatsoever,” says Keene, himself trained in handguns by the military, not as he says, by some week-end gun club.  He offers a four point plan to eliminate them from casual ownership.

Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (UK) – Rona Epstein
Why are pregnant women in prison?

An estimated 600 pregnant women are in prison in the UK presently.  The death of a baby born in prison to one of them – she was on remand – has advocates asking some pointed questions, beyond the series of responses by prison authorities.  Laura Abbott, a researcher, suggests that besides the negligence on the human rights of the child, there are two additional elements: “She summarises her findings as revealing: (a) ‘institutional thoughtlessness’, whereby prison life continues with little thought for those with unique physical needs, such as pregnant women; and (b) ‘institutional ignominy’ where the women experience ‘shaming’ as a result of institutional practices which entail their being displayed in public and characterised with institutional symbols of imprisonment.”  There is also considerable criticism of the UK criminal legal system for the practice of sentencing women to short sentences that simply disrupts the child care status of mothers without any demonstrable rehabilitation return.   Related article: The Marshall Project – Cary Aspinwall, Keri Blakinger and Joseph Neff – What Women Dying In Prison From COVID-19 Tell Us About Female Incarceration – Fatal victims illuminate women’s unique problems in prison, and the all-too-common ways they get there in the first place.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Thia James
Two inquests into deaths of federal inmates in Sask. postponed due to pandemic

The headline ignores another issue around the death of prisoners in Canada.  Both inquests date from deaths in 2017.  Why does an inquest take so long at all?  Otto Edner Hansen, 46, died in custody at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in October 2017.  Daniel James Tokarchuk, 44, died in June 2017 while in custody at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.  Related article: – Jeff Shantz  COVID-19 highlights the inhumanity of Canada’s prisons   Related article: APTN National News – Brett Forrester   Ottawa facing mounting pressure to protect inmates in minister’s absence – Over 30 per cent of tests administered in federal prisons have come back positive.   Related article:  The Marshall Project (US) A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons – The Marshall Project is collecting data on COVID-19 infections in state and federal prisons. See how the virus has affected correctional facilities where you live.   Related article: Prison Policy Initiative (US) – Emily Widra and Peter Wagner   While jails drastically cut populations, state prisons have released almost no one – Our updated analysis finds that jails are responding to the unprecedented public health crisis by rapidly dropping their populations. In contrast, state prisons have barely budged.   Related article: The Intercept (US) – Alice Speri    As Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars, Prisons Release Very Few People

Christian Today – Martin Saunders
Bryan Stevenson: Four steps to really change the world

Stevenson is the American lawyer whose struggle with the American legal system was first publicized by a book called Equal Justice, which later became both a website and now a movie by the same name.  Stevenson has had an extraordinary influence on reform of the US justice system.  Stevenson was invited to speak by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace on the topic: How do you change the world?  His audience was made up of high ranking officials in the British justice system.  Stevenson offers four steps to this giant task and in the course of his speech, “he convinced a room full of people to re-embrace their idealism again.”   (Ted Talk at the link also worthwhile.)

Government of New Zealand
Budget 2020: Rebuilding Together

Our days are now pre-occupied with the increasing social gaps to be found in a society based on inequity.  The next issue will have to be the decisions over which of these gaps will we fill permanently with a new vision around who essential workers are and how they should be paid.  This budget, in summary form, from New Zealand is getting rave reviews for its foresightedness and the attempt to speak to equity.   Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan has a running commentary on Twitter on the strengths of this budget and the possible lessons for Canada as we choose our future.   Related article: Institute of Economic Affairs (UK) – Ben Ramanauskas and Stephen Davies    Debate: Should we support a Universal Basic Income?   (Ramnauskas takes the yes, Davies the no)

Humour overheard: A sign of the times when marijuana is legal and haircuts are not.  The hippies of old have prevailed.