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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Indonesia: Ruthless fight against drugs

Bali's Kerobokan prison
Bali's Kerobokan prison
One of the latest drug convicts is a man from West Kalimantan who grew cannabis to ease the pains of his wife, who suffered from a rare spinal disease. Yenni Riawati eventually died, and her husband Fidelis Arie Sudewarto was sentenced Wednesday to eight months in jail for violating the Narcotics Law. The prosecutor had demanded five months in jail and a fine of Rp 800 million, but the judges at the Sanggau District Court ordered Fidelis to pay Rp 1 billion apart from imprisonment.

Like in most countries, marijuana is illegal here even for medicinal use; Australia just legalized cannabis for medication in February for chronically sick and severely ill people. Fidelis’ motive of reducing his wife’s pain with cannabis oil was the basis of the lighter sentence demanded by prosecutors.

What is even more worrying about the Fidelis case, beyond the lack of options for those living with unbearable pain, is the attitude of law enforcers, who may increasingly march lockstep in the war on drugs under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. The chiefs of the police and the narcotics agency have expressed support for Jokowi’s cry to shoot “drug pushers” at sight if necessary, regardless, it seems, of whether they are suspects who should be first arrested and tried in court.

Despite international outcry over the execution of drug convicts, Jokowi and his trigger-happy aides have apparently become even more convinced of harsh drug policies following the controversial measures of President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippine leader has defended himself against allegations of scores of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects. Indonesian Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian has told police officers “not to hesitate to shoot drug dealers who resist arrest.”

That judges gave Fidelis a harsher sentence than prosecutors had demanded is the latest sign of law enforcers enthusiastically taking up Jokowi’s tough policies.

The enthusiasm is unlikely to wane, despite the state’s own warnings of caution. Last week, the Indonesian Ombudsman confirmed allegations of wrong decisions concerning the execution of drug convicts. The Ombudsman concluded “maladministration” in last year’s execution of Nigerian Humphrey Jefferson Ejike Eleweke, as he was still seeking presidential clemency.

Jokowi often calls the state of drug abuse an “emergency,” winning wide support from people deeply nervous over the exposure of the young to drug addiction. This includes reports of sinister marketing methods of drug pushers in the form of colorful candy.

Handing drug barons a life sentence only shifts their operations to behind bars in the corrupt prison system, advocates of the death penalty for drug abusers say.

Indonesians generally remain unconvinced by evidence in several countries where the death penalty has not deterred crime; hence the support for both the death sentence and swift “justice” for alleged drug abusers.

Authorities cite porous borders and poor law enforcement as factors encouraging drug trafficking. However, killing the wrong people through legal shortcuts is both an ineffective and reckless way to address drug crime, compared to eradicating corruption in the judiciary and other efforts to prevent drug abuse.

Source: Jakarta Post, Editorial, August 4, 2017


Facing 'narcotics emergency', Indonesia ramps up war on drugs


Presidente Rodrigo Duterte (left) and President Joko Widodo
Birds of a feather: Presidente Rodrigo Duterte (left) and President Joko Widodo
Jakarta: Within days of Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordering police to shoot drug dealers who resist arrest, the government last week announced a radical shake-up of the nation's narcotics-riddled prisons.

Amid revelations that prisoners continue to operate drug syndicates behind bars, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights has come up with an ambitious plan to consolidate drug felons in four jails across the nation.

According to Corrections data the level of drug activity behind bars in Indonesia is extraordinary: of the nation's 225,000 prisoners there are 54,000 dealers and 32,000 users.

The head of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Budi Waseso - who advocates imprisoning drug offenders on a remote island guarded by crocodiles - goes so far as to say 50 per cent of drug circulation is controlled from prisons.

facing a narcotics "emergency", with the BNN pointing to five million drug users, 27 per cent of whom are "active users".

The last time Jokowi invoked this war rhetoric was in 2015, when he used a national drugs emergency to justify the executions of drug felons including Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

The latest crackdown has alarmed human rights activists who point to "sinister echoes" of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs", which has seen more than 7000 drug dealers and users killed.

"From practice in the field, we see that when we shoot at drug dealers they go away," the National Police Chief, General Tito Karnavian was quoted saying in The Jakarta Post, in an apparent reference to the Philippines.

General Tito vowed police would be particularly firm on foreign drug traffickers, whom Indonesians largely blame for the scourge of drugs.

Shortly after Jokowi's edict, police showered an alleged crystal methamphetamine dealer, who they said resisted arrest, with seven bullets in Pekanbaru on the island of Sumatra on July 29.

However some question whether the tough stance on drugs is more about political populism than a spiralling drug emergency.

"According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, general population prevalence rates of most illegal and illicit drugs in Indonesia largely remained stable since the early 2000s," Claudia Stoicescu, a doctoral researcher at University of Oxford's Centre for Evidence Based Intervention, writes in Al Jazeera.

"Far from constituting an outlier, Indonesia's annual rates of drug consumption are similar to rates in other South-East Asian countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar and much lower than rates in the United States and much of Europe."

The Indonesian Drug Users Network (PKNI), an NGO established to fight the stigma and discrimination faced by drug users, believes Jokowi's order to shoot drug dealers who resisted arrest was made in haste.

His comments - in a speech to a political party meeting - came after four Taiwanese men were arrested and another shot dead for allegedly distributing one tonne of crystal meth in Jakarta.

Meth bust, Indonesia
"Shooting at drug dealers is a violation of human rights," PKNI project manager Arif Iryawan told Fairfax Media.

"Besides, by shooting them to death the police cannot uncover their network properly. So I think killing them should be the last resort."

But GERAM - the People's Movement Against Drugs - said when the police shot dead drug dealers in the 90s the business was drastically reduced.

"Whenever the government wants to uphold the law human rights stand in the way," GERAM founder Sofyan Ali told Fairfax Media.

He said Jokowi was a good president, who unlike previous presidents, "knows what he does because he goes down to the field".

"Other countries like the Philippines or the US take action whenever they see a situation that threatens their people. They forget human rights because the situation is causing a real problem," Sofyan said.

"But it doesn't happen here. We fight against our own people on human rights so we may achieve nothing."

Meanwhile the plan to contain drug offenders in four prisons in West Java, North Sumatra, Central Java and Central Kalimantan was hatched after a prisoner named Aseng on Nusakambangan - Indonesia's equivalent of Alcatraz - was linked to 1.2 million ecstasy pills seized by police.

The four jails would have heightened security, including weapons and x-ray machines. Prison officers, who are often involved in jail-run drug syndicates, would be strictly vetted.

"The biggest problem right now is drug dealers [inside jails] and our officers are overwhelmed," the Security Director from Corrections, Sutrisman, told reporters.

He said the ratio of officers to prisoners was one to 62, when the recommended ratio was one to 20.

"So we must take extraordinary steps by strengthening the officers, by collaborating with BNN [the national narcotics agency] and the police."

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, Jewel Topsfield, August 6, 2017

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