A global criminal justice watchdog has highlighted the global trend towards ‘over-incarceration’ and the use of criminal proceedings as a punitive measure of first resort. Fair Trials argues, in a new strategy paper, that countries around the world, in particular in the light of Covid-19 lockdowns, are using criminal powers to deal with social and healthcare issues that could be better addressed in other ways. The organisation highlights that this increase in the scope, breadth, and intrusiveness of many criminal justice systems ‘poses a grave threat to justice, fairness and equality across the globe’.
The group calls on states to reverse the criminalisation of behaviour that would be better addressed through investment in poverty alleviation, education, housing and healthcare, in particular through support around mental health needs and neurodivergent conditions.The strategy also addresses the disproportionate negative impact of punitive criminal justice systems on racial and ethnic minorities, as well as other poor or marginalised groups.
Global CEO of Fair Trials, Norman L. Reimer, said: ‘While protection of the right to a fair trial is essential to prevent injustice, our work increasingly recognizes that governments are routinely over-policing, over-prosecuting, and over-punishing. And they are doing so in ways that systematically discriminate against marginalised communities, including racial and ethnic minorities.’
In the new strategy the organisation has also opposed any privatisation of criminal justice processes and the use of technology and digitised processes that ‘erode individualised justice and perpetuate pre-existing systemic flaws.’ The report singles out the use of ‘abusive surveillance’, ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘big data’, which they describe as symptomatic of ‘overly expansive’ policing.
Reimer said in a statement this week: ‘Criminal justice reform requires that we tackle inequities at every phase of the process, including overly intrusive policing practices that target minorities and the poor through the abuse of surveillance technologies and artificial intelligence, and the use of expedited procedures that systematically coerce waivers of basic rights.’
‘Given the abject failure over decades to remedy fundamental societal inequity, it is simply no longer acceptable to employ the hammer of criminal prosecution in the misguided belief that if governments just focus on policing, prosecuting, and punishing, the criminal law will one day deliver the answer to fundamental social problems that we know are more effectively and justly addressed through improved access to education, health care, and economic opportunity.’