Against indefinite imprisonment

One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s worse ideas is the retention de securite, a change to the law that would allow for prisoners who complete their sentences to not be released if the government thought they were of “particular dangerousness” – this being an executive decision and hence very likely to be taken for reasons of low politics. There is a campaign about it that’s made a film, part of which is below:

More film is here. And there’s a petition to sign here.

12 thoughts on “Against indefinite imprisonment

  1. Pingback: By The Fault » Blog Archive » Linking Up with the World

  2. Clemency is already an executive decision. So what’s the difference to real life imprisonment?

  3. Once a person is officially granted clemency what will be the name for the additional imprisonment and what will be the terms by which the prisoner can eventually make the case for release?
    If the person is being imprisoned for the original crime and the original sentence has been served, what is the additional punishment (perpetual imprisonment) for? Are they being punished for having being punished? It is an endless quagmire, and a horrible blow to human rights.

  4. All true and could be avoided by sentencing to life in the first place and not granting clemency. But nevertheless the effect is the same. So what is supposed to make this idea especially bad and worth a special campaign?

  5. What makes it worth a campaign is the fact that people are basically being detained for nothing. If prisoners can continue to be detained after they have served their time because they pose a threat, then it sets a dangerous precedent. This means that the government has the right to detain anyone that it deems “particularly dangerous” and could certainly extend to a sytem of “preemptive” detention.

  6. I’ve looked this up, and it’s more than an “idea”, the law was actually passed two months ago. I’m amazed it was accepted as constitutional, but I’ve tried reading the decision and I haven’t been able to make head or tail of it.

    Camille : If the person is being imprisoned for the original crime and the original sentence has been served, what is the additional punishment (perpetual imprisonment) for? Are they being punished for having being punished? It is an endless quagmire, and a horrible blow to human rights.

    The purpose of this law seems to be keeping “dangerous” people behind bars instead of letting them out to potentially commit more crimes. Hence the appropriateness of the “Minority Report” parallel.
    The main target seems to be pedophiles, but the law itself applies this to anyone who got a 15-year or more prison sentence for murder, torture, rape or kidnapping.

    Reading the law it doesn’t seem to me like it’s an executive decision, but that may come from my ignorance of French institutions.

    Also, it seems this applies only in cases where the original condemnation specifically allowed for such revision.

    Those last two points make it less bad in my opinion, but I still don’t see much point in the law. Much better to give perpetuity where the person can be released after a time if he or she is certified “non-dangerous” : it’s exactly the same thing, and the bait-and-switch isn’t as cruel.

    Oliver :
    Clemency is already an executive decision. So what’s the difference to real life imprisonment?

    The concept of clemency as an executive decision is in itself debatable in my opinion, but the reason this is worse is the difference between being released from prison when you thought you’d stay, and being kept in it when you were supposed to leave.
    It’s like the scene in Schindler’s List where Schindler tells the sadistic Nazi that he can exercise his power by not killing Jews. Both may be equivalent on a legal (or in the example, power-mongering) standpoint, but the consequences are completely opposite.

    All true and could be avoided by sentencing to life in the first place and not granting clemency. But nevertheless the effect is the same.

    I don’t know, there’s something that really feels wrong to me about worsening a sentence mid-stream when no additional crime was committed. If that person was so dangerous why didn’t they condemn them appropriately in the first place ? And why didn’t they use those 15 years or more to make them less dangerous ?

    Oh wait, surely you* aren’t suggesting your prison system is completely fucked-up, focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation, or is a breeding ground for criminals ? Yeah, in that case sending people to a “socio-medico-judicial security center” once they leave prison is surely going to solve everything.

    *that “you” is rhetorical and addressed to the legislator, not Oliver.

    So what is supposed to make this idea especially bad and worth a special campaign?

    If the additional sentencing is done by the courts, I think it’s bad but there are a lot of worse things going on you could campaign about. If this is an executive decision then it’s a fatal breach of the separation of powers, and waaaay to much power to give anyone.
    Also, if clemency is going to be used as an argument for it, then all the more reason to get rid of clemency. Talk about a slippery slope. (academic question : if clemency justifies the executive keeping people in prison when they should leave, does keeping people in prison when they should leave justify the executive putting people in prison in the first place ? Wouldn’t that be nice)

    Pretty long for a first comment, sorry about that. I love your blog ^^

  7. Oliver: “All true and could be avoided by sentencing to life in the first place and not granting clemency”

    Completely different. The difference is that sentencing is called by judges and not by the executive government; this law takes the procedural rights granted to the juridical system/judges from them. Certainly, there are minimum sentences in French law but there’s no “minimum sentence of life without possible release.” It’s true that if they started passing those types of laws it would amount to the same thing but they obviously couldn’t pass a law like that because for most crimes other than the most heinous, it would be considered very excessive to give a life sentence with no chance of release automatically, and thus illegitimate. They are getting around that by skirting the juridical system with this “retention de surete.” That’s why the JUDGE in the film is upset about it.

  8. >It’s true that if they started passing those types of >laws it would amount to the same thing but they >obviously couldn’t pass a law like that because for >most crimes other than the most heinous, it would be >considered very excessive to give a life sentence >with no chance of release automatically, and thus >illegitimate.

    Do you have any evidence for that claim?

  9. Oliver: In terms of the argument at hand, it doesn’t matter if I do or not (in terms of evidence, it depends on the context but in general life sentences are only given to those who commit violent crimes over and over again or premeditated murder; other than that there is the fact that no industrialized nations try to pass such laws). But that doesn’t matter, the point is that if they DID it would be just as outrageous: replacing procedural justice with executive order. Minimum sentencing in general has also merited “special campaigns” for this reason. My point is that what you bring up is not mere trivia but unjust treatment that takes discretion from judges.

  10. Some states in the United States are trying something similar for sex offenders. When the offenders complete their sentences, the states try to have them declared mentally incompetent and sent to mental hospitals for indefinite periods.

  11. There’s no widespread distrust of judges considered too soft on criminals in France?

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