FEATURED POST

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…

‘It’s Very Easy to Die There’: How Prisoners Fare in Vietnam

Court hearing, Vietnam
Vietnam has been slowly updating its criminal justice system for years, under pressure from Western governments, and additional changes approved by the National Assembly in June are scheduled to take effect in January. But diplomats and rights groups have long suspected, based on interviews with former inmates and reports in Vietnam’s state-run news media, that prisons in the country have high rates of executions, forced labor and deaths in custody.

A recent government report on Vietnam’s prison system — which was posted on an official website a few months ago, possibly by accident, according to rights activists — appears to confirm many of the activists’ worst fears.

In one section, the report said 429 prisoners had been executed from August 2013 to June 2016, a rare admission from a one-party government that has long kept its execution process opaque. According to Amnesty International, that means Vietnam had the world’s third-highest execution rate over that period, after China and Iran.

Another section, referring to the period from 2011 to 2016, said 261,840 inmates had received vocational training, a term that rights activists say essentially means forced labor. In addition, the report said, the remains or ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members, suggesting a high rate of deaths in custody for a prison population that the government says numbers less than 150,000.

The statistics “give us reason to doubt that governance is becoming less authoritarian and violent as Vietnam transitions to a market economy,” said Benjamin Swanton, a longtime social justice advocate and development consultant in Vietnam.

Many officials in Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party support changes to the criminal justice system, said Pip Nicholson, a professor at Melbourne Law School in Australia who specializes in Vietnamese law. But party officials who advocate for Western-style rules, such as truly independent courts or the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, she added, are in the minority.

The result, policy experts and rights advocates say, is a court system where arrests almost always lead to convictions and a prison system where human rights are an afterthought. Corruption, impunity and violence in prisons are mostly tolerated, these advocates say, because the system serves the party’s interests by silencing dissidents and enriching prison guards.

“It’s very easy to die there,” said Doan Trang, an independent journalist in Hanoi who has written extensively about state-led repression in the country.

The recent government report presented prison statistics as part of a long-term process of changes in line with global trends. It noted, for example, that the number of crimes punishable by death in Vietnam had fallen to 22 in 2009 from 45 in 1993.

The report also said, however, that the number of people on death row in Vietnam had climbed to 681 last year from 336 in 2011, and that the government planned to build five new execution centers to accommodate demand.


Source: The New York Times, Mike Ives, August 12, 2017

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