Late final 12 months, a Scottish court docket quietly refused what appeared like a routine extradition. It wasn’t that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose drawn-out efforts to keep away from the American jail system have grabbed international headlines for years. As a substitute, it was that of a comparatively unknown Scottish man, Daniel Magee, who’d allegedly shot a safety guard in Austin, Texas, in 2016 earlier than fleeing to his native nation.
The refusal to ship a prisoner again just isn’t unprecedented — however what has raised eyebrows within the authorized group is the rationale: An Edinburgh choose determined that poor situations in Texas prisons may represent a world human rights violation.
“That is the primary case I do know of the place this particular argument about jail situations has succeeded — usually, the courts are very sympathetic to deporting individuals,” stated College of Nottingham criminologist Dirk van Zyl Smit. “It’s a vote of no confidence in a rustic should you gained’t ship somebody again.”
The case is predicted to have a restricted impression — partly as a result of the choose didn’t write a proper authorized opinion with the ultimate ruling, so attorneys in different instances are much less probably to concentrate on the choice and don’t have something to cite in future briefs. Nonetheless, specialists say the ruling ought to ship a robust message to Individuals about how different international locations view our justice system.
After I did time in New York a decade in the past, we recurrently encountered issues that felt like human rights violations, from solitary confinement to intercourse abuse to guards who turned off the water as punishment. Generally, we grumbled about how appalled individuals could be in the event that they actually knew what went on behind bars — and different instances, we mused about whether or not they would truly care.
After I acquired out and have become a reporter masking prisons, I found that the situations in Southern lockups have been far worse than any I would seen in New York. Determined prisoners complained of bad medical care, unidentifiable food, contaminated water, guards who planted contraband and cells so scorching that people baked to death. From the letters they despatched me, I knew that a few of them have been questioning the identical factor I’d puzzled a decade earlier: Does the skin world care? When courts many times rule in opposition to prisoners in search of essentially the most fundamental of issues — hand sanitizer, dentures, human contact — typically plainly the reply is not any, not less than not on this nation.
Greater than three many years in the past, the European Court docket of Human Rights issued a landmark determination within the case of Jens Soering, a German man preventing extradition from England to Virginia. As a result of he confronted the demise penalty on a cost of murdering his girlfriend’s dad and mom, the European court docket stated he couldn’t be extradited. However the challenge wasn’t the demise penalty itself — it was the truth that he’d probably spend years in “excessive situations” on demise row, “with the ever-present and mounting anguish of awaiting execution.” That, the court said, could be a violation of Article 3 of the European Conference on Human Rights, which bans torture and degrading punishment.
In the long run, British officers despatched Soering again to the U.S. after officers right here supplied an “assurance,” a promise to not search the demise penalty. After a 1990 trial, he acquired two life sentences and was released on parole in 2019.
Over time, his case got here to signify a world stand in opposition to capital punishment as a result of the court docket’s ruling made it harder to extradite to demise penalty states. However it did give American officers a means ahead: In the event that they needed their prisoners again, they may supply assurances. The case additionally hinted at a bigger question: If demise row situations have been deemed inhumane, may American jail situations outdoors of demise row additionally run afoul of human rights requirements?
Within the years since, defendants have routinely cited issues about degrading jail situations of their arguments in opposition to extradition. However when the courts sided with them, it was normally over different points — such because the inherent cruelty of life with out parole, or issues in regards to the adequacy of psychological therapy for suicidal prisoners.
Usually, in accordance with Scottish lawyer and extradition skilled Niall McCluskey, unhealthy jail situations alone — with out some extra extenuating circumstance — are usually not sufficient to keep away from an extradition.
“It’s fairly uncommon for this to occur with a Western nation,” he stated. “And it’s fairly uncommon for non-Western international locations as nicely.”
One essential exception was a case involving Russia. In 2012, the European Court docket deemed the nation’s prisons so inhumane they violated worldwide human rights conventions — partly as a result of the cells have been too small. That call, in Ananyev v. Russia, established a normal for cell dimension: 3 sq. meters of free house per particular person, or about 32 sq. ft.
Final 12 months, that grew to become an element within the Magee case.
Magee was arrested in Texas in 2016, after he admitted to taking pictures a safety guard within the foot at an off-campus College of Texas frat get together. He may have confronted as much as 99 years in jail for aggravated assault — however after he was launched on bail, he fled to Scotland. When authorities arrested him there as a fugitive in 2019, he started a two-year struggle to keep away from extradition.
After listening to expert testimony about Texas jail situations, in June 2021 an Edinburgh choose, Nigel Ross, raised issues about persistent understaffing, compelled unpaid labor, overreliance on solitary confinement, insufficient meals, sweltering temperatures and an absence of impartial oversight.
Scottish prosecutors declined to remark, and a consultant for Ross declined to remark. Paul Dunne, the Edinburgh-based lawyer representing Magee, stated that lots of the situations and procedures within the American authorized system appeared merciless by European requirements.
“Each different nation within the developed world and even some dictatorships enable worldwide inspectors into their jail techniques to watch them for situations,” Dunne stated. “That could be a fully alien idea in America.”
Dunne added that some Texas jail cells supply as little as 1.86 square meters of free house per particular person (about 20 sq. ft) — nicely beneath the usual set within the Ananyev case.In response to questions from the Edinburgh court docket, Texas prisons officers despatched three detailed letters explaining jail procedures and asserting that the company works to forestall degrading therapy. However the state didn’t supply any assurances about how Magee could be handled and whether or not he’d be housed in a large enough cell — so the Scottish court docket refused to extradite him.
A Texas jail spokesman defined that the company “couldn’t assure particular mattress placement” as a result of the method for assigning prisoners to a unit is “depending on quite a few elements equivalent to safety degree, medical wants, and house availability.”
In late fall, Ross dominated in Magee’s favor, and he was freed.
“This case needs to be a wake-up name for officers — not simply in Texas however all around the U.S. — to appreciate that many routine situations of confinement in our nation’s prisons don’t measure as much as worldwide human rights requirements,” stated Michele Deitch, a College of Texas at Austin senior lecturer who served as an skilled witness within the case. “A few of these situations are actually out of step with what are thought of acceptable practices in different Western nations.”