Sense of Balance – Astounding criminal justice inconsistencies

I love Eddie Izzard. Do you?

Eddie Izzard, on The Myndset Brand StrategyIn one of his absolutely best skits, dressed in his executive transvestite garb, in Dressed to Kill, Izzard says that we all know how to name and punish someone who murders one or several people.  We have monikers such as a serial killer and mass murderer.  However, Izzard points out that we come up blank when it comes to labelling individuals who murder over a hundred thousand people (read: Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot…).

Murder and the penal system is a tricky and sensitive topic. Not an easy dinner table conversation, by any standard. It is not a topic that leaves one neutral.  Perhaps because of the level of sensitivity, it seems that the world has no sense of balance or center of gravity in the affair.

Around the world, it is astounding to see the range of standards for dealing with criminals. There is the autocratic, unmerciful, unsupervised version in certain radical states (China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen are purportedly the top 4 in meting out the death penalty, followed unceremoniously by the US)*.  As of May 2012, the death penalty is legal in 33 states in the US. Then, according to various laws, some countries will hand out sentences of “life imprisonment” - with life being some fanciful number, well below 100 years.

It seems curious when you can have, in the “developed” world, such discrepancies in sentences.  Murder can be far less punishable than financial embezzlement.  Here are a sampling of different cases:

  • The 74-year-old Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years (and $17B in forfeiture) after his titanic Ponzi scheme came apart. [USA]
  • The 31-year-old Jerome Kerviel was sentenced to pay $6.7B in fines and 5 years in prison (plus 2 years suspended) for his derivatives trading errors at Société Générale, despite the fact that the gains were not his personally to realize. [France]
  • A death sentence (that was successful only on the second electrocution attempt) for the apparently falsely accused 18-year-old Willie Francis (see my friend, Gilbert King’s book, The Execution of Willie Francis).  [USA]  Of course, there are many more such cases around the world – see Wikipedia’s entry for wrongful executions.
  • An elaborate 11-year stalemate in Guantánamo for the 5 masterminds of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Only recently, the Pentagon has declared that the charges “could carry the death penalty.”  [USA]
  • In the UK, this week, an armed robber, Yohan Clarke, 33, was jailed for 22 years for shooting, but not killing, someone in the stomach.  Source: Evening Standard.  [UK]
  • And now, there is a pending punishment for Anders Breivik in Norway, for killing 77 people in two separate attacks: 21 years in prison with possible five-year extensions for as long as he is considered a danger to society.  21 years, really? That is, basically, 4 months per victim.  Source: Telegraph [Norway]
Eddie Izzard Executive Transvestite, The Myndset Brand Strategy

Dressed To Kill

Of course, as Izzard points out, there was house arrest for Pol Pot (aged 72), responsible for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia, during a 3-year stint.

What is a life worth?  What is life imprisonment, if it is not until the end of your life?

I am beginning to doubt that their system is any less crazy than any Western so-called civilized system?  Who has it right?

It is all rather confusing, if not demoralizing, when you start to see such discrepancies in terms of punishment.  You almost think there must be some form of arbitrage going on among criminal circles.  Better to kill in certain countries and not get caught doing financial misdeeds in others.  What are your thoughts?  Please drop in your opinion!

*The list’s top 10 is rounded out by Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria and Somalia — not very good company, eh?

Thriller Dance at Cebu Prison on the Road?

Thriller Dance YouTube Cebu PrisonThe now celebrated Cebu Prison (Philippines) Thriller Dance video, first uploaded on YouTube just last July, has now been viewed nearly 11 million times. Wow. According to the this Jan 15 Herald Tribune article, the beat goes on (thanks for the heads up Peter)! Some eight other prisons in the Philippines have taken inspiration from the Cebu initiative. The IHT article talks about the architect (consultant Byron Garcia) behind the initiative and the attempts to have the show go on the road — but security concerns have remained an impediment. Certainly is out of the “box” thinking.

I registered my initial post on the topic in July… it’s been a long and strange trip ever since for the prisoners of Cebu.

Others blogging on this topic:
Maruja in the Philippines
Lazy Monkey
Right Celebrity
The Long Tough Blog

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog - The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).

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* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.

Quebec paves way in managing delinquency

Le Monde published an article in October (6th), entitled, ” Le Quebec en exemple,” in which it wrote about the Quebec [role] model for handling criminality. The article, subtitled “the challenge of prevention,” focuses on their efforts with regard to juvenile delinquency, sexual offenders and repeat criminals. And the results are evidently powerful. While I can’t find the article on line, I will share with you what I found stirring in this article. And the Quebecquers sure do know how to take a modern, original angle on topics like this.

There are several prongs to their strategy to manage delinquency. The first and foremost is in the realm of prevention (also under way in France, see photo to the left). The police force has a mandate to get into the social fabric of the community. Eliminate the “them” vs “us” mentality. Mine your information and sources. Secondly, what ever form of incarceration takes place, the focus is on re-integration including training, partial leave, residences in normal residential areas.

Other techniques cited include having a criminal finishing out his/her service by doing social services, including singing at a retirement home (music is a great soother, as we saw in the Philippines Prison Thriller set up in Cebu). Prison is considered as therapy and inmates are greatly encouraged to work, to learn, all in a goal to be re-insertable into society when their time is up.

The results show that the rate of criminality in Montreal has dropped by 13% since 2000 and by 38% since 19991.

Of couse, it’s not like shooting has disappeared. A naysayer might evoke the Freakonomics type argument that it was statistically probable (just like for NYC’s Giuliani) that crime was going to come down naturally.

And there are clearly people not happy about the “royal” treatment these convicted criminals are receiving. I would have to say that, if I were ever in such a horrid situation to be put away in prison, I would prefer the Quebec approach. Makes sense. It seems human, decent and, more importantly, effective in reducing the recidivist tendencies. Yet, of course, no program of this sort is without its risks (corruption, carelessness, connivery…)

But another sign of “modernity” in their program is their approach of workshopping topics such as Control of Anger, Emotional Management, Sense of the Other, Empathy, Acquiring interpersonal skills, etc., which are more accessible means of helping the criminally convicted to accept the therapy and get the benefits — as opposed to being set up for “psychiatric treatment.”

And for those of you scared to have a penitentiary house as your neighbour, less than 1% of the men who have lived in that “transitional” house has gone on to do further violent crimes.
Montreal, Quebec, had 43 homicides in 2006, 10x less than in a comparably sized city in the US, such as Philadelphia. For Quebec, it’s the lowest level of criminality since the 1960s. And Canada as a whole has seen global delinquency drop by a 1/3 since 1991. All seems to be very encouraging. Nothing’s perfect, but this approach does seem to speak to me. The article avoids the difficult task of proving reduced tax payer dollars (or even pretending that it is the ultimate goal), but lower criminality is the right objective and surely that has more than monetary value! Peace of Mind. Yet another reason why I loved living in Montreal.

And the part I liked best: “It all begins in the recreation yard…” with 11-year old students, where the policemen and women intermingle with generosity and humour.

Priceless. For everthing else, it’s MASTERFUL.

Norway – Greening of the prison

Following my last post, (How Green Are You?), on the topic of being green, going to have to give a plug for our Norwegian friends, whose government have decided to render Bastoey, one of its low security prisons, “ecologically friendly.” The 115 inmates get an education on values such as respect of one another and the environment. Inmates play a role in the daily operations; the prison produces most of its own food, recycles, etc. Got to love it.

Others writing on the topic:

Thriller in Prison

Hats off (if not off with the cuffs). This is, if it is to be believed (and it’s amateur enough to be believable), a great demonstration of how to work a crowd of rowdy male inmates [at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) in the Philippines].

What’s great about this? Music, choreography, teamwork, creativity. And, there’s even a woman as a protagonist, so it must have helped motivate the thousand or so inmates. I can only start to imagine the decision making process and the arguments that accompanied putting this together. Kudos to the prison director. It’s a lesson in management. Lots of time on their hands. Lots of egos to bend. Lots of steps to lock. And a great result.

Furthermore, in that I have actually visited the inside of a prison (Bilibid) in Manila, Philippines, I can, with complete conviction, say that this Cebu prison is a fantastic performance. Bilibid prison (relatively recent photo right) was shocking for many reasons. The distance in the photo right masks the internal situation. First, it is a prison for people waiting for court proceedings — therefore, not convicted. Some of the men, it was said, had been in Bilibid for more than a year, merely waiting for a court date. Second, the presence of gangs made for a very violent setting. As the head of the prison — who proudly gave us a private tour — told us, it was probably more dangerous on the inside than the outside. Third, the prison’s sick ward, which we also visited first hand, was infested with prisoners ill with many infectious diseases, including typhus, AIDS. Finally, and not least, the conditions were totally squalid — as one might have imagined a prison 100 years ago in a third world country. There was substantial overcrowding in both the women’s section as the men’s. In short, a breeding ground for disease and violence. No surprise that there have been many riots — and it’s worth noting that at the New Bilibid Prison, in Muntinlupa City, holding nearly 20,000 convicted criminals was the scene of substantial violence in 2006.

You might ask what I was doing visiting the prison? It was in the context of a visit, along with my father, brother-in-law and half-brother, to visit where my grandfather spent the last two and a half years of his life as a POW of Japanese in the WWII. My grandfather was captured at Corregidor in May 1942 and spent some time in Bilibid right after his capture as well as the last few days before boarding the hellship, the Oryoku Maru, on which he died. I attach a photo of Bilibid in 1942 as well as a photo of the star shape overall design which still exists today (different gangs occupy different arms). I haven’t been able to verify if the Old Bilibid Prison is still being used. To be followed.

Luxury prisons – rent your cell

I was quite titillated by an IHT article last week (April 30) entitled “For $82 a day, a cozier way to do hard time.” This article opened my eyes to the concept of how wealthier prisoners in certain California prisons (ex Santa Ana) are able and allowed to pay a daily fee to have an upgraded cell (double occupancy). The charges apparently range from $75 up to $127/day. While I truly applaud the notion that prisoners who–otherwise live their life behind bars paid for by the taxpayer–are paying their own rent, it does seem difficult to gauge how many privileges one should allow. For example, why not allow single occupancy room, with internet and cell phone for $300/day… or more? Where does it stop and at what price?

The wild world of the web

As many of you know, I have been researching and writing a book about my grandfather, Lt. Minter Dial, after whom I was named. In the continuing pursuit of information, the internet seems to provides endless new sources. Since my grandfather died in December 1944 as a prisoner of the Japanese, it seems so unimaginable to think that we can come up now with more sources on his life, especially about his two and half years in prison camp. The latest piece of information we have come across–thanks to the work of my good friend Gilbert King, with whom the project is moving into another phase–is a 50 minute interview, recorded in 2002, of Capt. Robert Granston, a survivor of the POW experience. In this interview, Granston discusses about some of his close friends, notably Ens. Peronneau Wingo, the XO of the boat my father‘s father skippered (the USS Napa), as well as Lt. Warwick Scott, my mother’s uncle’s brother*. This all occured in 1942-44, twenty years before my father met my mother. Now ain’t that a small world?

*thanks to Ginger for the correction