Following a 2011 federal appellate court ruling, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) initially tried to delay the release of federal prisoners who were wrongly convicted in North Carolina. The government later announced that it would halt such tactics, but has continued to oppose challenges filed by some offenders who are legally innocent. The DOJ’s…

Read More

By Charlotte Mackenzie

In the last year or so, Malawi’s justice system has had more than its fair share of VIPs coming through its doors. In October 2012, several high-level officials linked to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were arrested in connection with the death of student activist Robert Chasowa, who was murdered in 2011 when the DPP was in office. And in light of the recent government corruption scandal – dubbed Cashgate in reference to the wads of cash found in suspects’ homes and cars – more high-ranking figures, including former justice minister Ralph Kasambara, have been taken into custody.

For once, these individuals are seeing their country’s justice system from the inside. But in Malawi, justice, like so many other things, seems to be a privilege rather than a universal right. And the experience of Malawi’s VIPs is likely to be a universe away from that of the 12,000 ordinary citizens detained in prisons across the country.

A tale of two justice systems

Robert Chasowa, a student activist and critic of the late Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika, died in September 2011. Against much outcry and suspicion, his death was originally classified as a suicide. After Mutharika passed away and Joyce Banda took over the presidency in April 2012, however, she reopened the case. A few months later, in October 2012, several figures – many members of the DPP – were arrested in connection with Chasowa’s death, now being treated as the result of murder, and transferred to Chichiri prison in Blantyre, the largest in the Southern region.

Read More

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

“Courtney called out, ‘Mom, you promised you weren’t going to leave us no more,’ ” Ms. George recalled, her eyes glistening. “I still hear that voice to this day, and he’s a grown man.”

Stephanie George, serving a life sentence without parole in Louisiana for a minor drug infraction still recalls the heartbreaking pleas from her eldest of 3 sons, Courtney, then 8, in 1997.

Ms. George is one of a half a million people in the U.S. locked away in prison for non-violent drug crimes.   

When Ms. George was sentenced 15 years ago, her children were 5, 6 and 9. They have been raised by her sister, Wendy Evil, who says it was agonizing to take the children to see their mother in prison. They would fight over who gets to sit on their mother’s lap.

A lockbox, containing a half-kilogram of cocaine seized by police in Ms. George’s attic was sufficient evidence for Judge Vinson to be convinced of a crime severe enough for Ms. George to be separated from her children for the rest of her life. 

Judge Vinson, whose reputation is anything but libertarian, defends that a formula dictated by the amount of cocaine in the lockbox and her previous criminal record was what determined Ms. George’s sentence.

Ms. George and Judge Vinson had conflicting views about the cocaine filled lockbox stashed away in Ms. George’s home. Ms. George claimed the cocaine was hidden in the attic and she was not aware it was hidden in her house. She insisted her drug dealing boyfriend placed the cocaine in the lockbox and hid it in the attic. 

Originally, Ms. George and Judge Vinson did agree on the fairness of the sentence imposed by federal court because Ms. George was a known drug dealer and the cocaine was found in her house, even though her boyfriend was responsible for putting it there. The punishment for drug possession does not entail a life sentence.

Read More

The State of Georgia, led by Republican Governor Nathan Deal, has for the past several years demonstrated understanding and progress when it comes to criminal justice reform. With Georgia being the 10th largest state population-wise, but ranked fourth in the size of its prison population, it’s about time someone stepped up to the plate and…

Read More