Discriminatory policing

swipe it forward

Last Tuesday, I took part in the second Swipe It Forward protest action, organized by Bob Gangi and others of PROP (Police Reform Organizing Project), together with fellow activists, to protest harmful and discriminatory policing.

In 2015, the NYPD made 29,198 arrest – 92 percent involving people of colour – for ‘theft of services’ or ‘farebeating’. In simple words: people did not pay for a ticket to use the subway but jumped the turnstile instead or asked fellow passengers for a swipe (‘begging’). People also get fined or arrested for ‘obstructing the entrance’ while asking for a swipe.

“Isn’t that against the rules, to jump the turnstile?”, a woman asked me, while I was handing out fliers with information about the protest at the Crown Heights-Utica Avenue station in Brooklyn. Well, yes, in principle everybody should pay for a ride. But should people get arrested for not paying 2.75 dollar, and spend a day in jail and miss work or school? And if people cannot afford to pay for transport, how will they be able to pay the fine (100 dollar or more) and fees?

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Anger and affluenza

justice (flickr hope4happines)

It seems that many feel Ethan Couch – the teen who killed four people while drunk driving – will finally get what he deserves, after he recently violated the terms of his probation and fled to Mexico. Justice, finally! But can we really speak of justice, when young people, even if they do commit a horrendous crime, are locked up for a decade?

It is absolutely clear that Couch cannot get away with what he did. But is 10 years of probation and mandatory treatment for alcohol and drug abuse – his sentence in 2014 – equal to ‘getting away’ with a crime? Are we willing to imagine that being under supervision until one is 26 years old, with the threat of imprisonment hanging above one’s head, will actually inflict pain and thus be experienced as a severe punishment, especially for a teen or young adult? Are we willing to take a step back and think about what would be an sensible approach to the crime committed by Couch?


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Are algorithms class-blind?

Toledo 65 algorithm (jmjesus Flickr)

In an earlier post I wrote about a supposedly new solution to the injustice of the American bail system: risk assessment. To briefly summarize: many people in the US are in jail because they can’t afford to post bail, and risk assessment would avoid class bias because such assessment would be based on factors that are known to predict re-offending and not appearing in court. I criticized this idea, because risk assessment introduces a new class bias when factors include employment, housing, community support, and owning a car and a cell phone. Replacing judges’ biased discretion with a biased risk assessment tool does not solve the problem.

A recent article in the New York Times pointed out this problem, discussing how bail decisions use ‘little science’ and that ‘hidden biases against the poor and minorities can easily creep into the decision-making.’ For this and other reasons ‘many law enforcement groups and defense lawyers have supported the use of scientifically validated’ risk assessment tools. The news: ‘Now comes help in a distinctly modern form: an algorithm.’


There is new risk assessment tool based on an algorithm. Interestingly, this new tool, already tested and rolled out in 21 jurisdictions, challenges the widespread belief that class and criminal behaviour are tightly related:

The Arnold assessment has been met with some skepticism because it does not take into account characteristics that judges and prosecutors normally consider relevant: the defendant’s employment status, community ties or history of drug and alcohol abuse.

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Dubbele ongelijkheid door eigen bijdrage detentie

coins (flickr final gather)

[This blog post appeared in English on Leiden Law Blog: Letting offenders pay]

In de discussie over de eigen bijdrage voor gedetineerden zijn al verschillende argumenten genoemd die pleiten tegen invoering van de maatregel. Een van de bezwaren is dat het leidt tot rechtsongelijkheid: 16 euro per dag in detentie raakt gedetineerden met een zwakke financiële positie harder dan meer welvarende gedetineerden.


De regering erkent in de Memorie van Toelichting dat een groot deel van de gedetineerden een zwakke financiële positie heeft: cijfers van het WODC laten zien dat ongeveer 70 procent van de gedetineerden bij aanvang van detentie al (forse) schulden heeft. De regering zegt rekening te houden met de inkomenspositie van ex-gedetineerden door de mogelijkheid van een betalingsregeling dan wel uitstel van betaling te bieden. Maar uitgangspunt is dat iedere gedetineerde betaalt – de verjaringstermijn voor inning kan zelfs worden verlengd – en dus dat de eigenbijdrageregeling tot rechtsongelijkheid leidt, zoals ook Reclassering Nederland vaststelt.

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‘Will the real fraud please stand up?’

gADO (14)

Cartoon by GADO

A collection of responses to the news that HSBC helped clients avoid tax:

The Guardian: The tax-doging father, the benefits cheat – and how they are treated so differently

‘She was a poor Scottish cleaner who confessed to benefits fraud of £25,000 and got seven months in jail. He is a wealthy property dealer whose father hid a six-figure sum from the taxman … and paid a small penalty.’

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