From Andrew Geddis:
National plan to legislate to permit the ongoing “civil detention” of offenders deemed at high risk of future sexual or violent offending even after their jail sentence [is] complete. Civil detention[,] now apparently called “Public Protection Orders”… would thus be a retrospective restriction applied to some prisoners on top of the original sentence that they received for their crimes, based purely on the prediction that they inevitably will commit further offences when and if released.
the proposed Public Protection Orders differ from preventive detention in that they are imposed not because of a crime already committed, but rather purely because of predictions of a crime to come.
That’s a difference that has been held important by the European Court of Human Rights (see here), as well as the United Nations Human Rights Commission (see here and here). Both of these bodies have said it is OK for a country to sentence someone to an indefinate period of detention for something they have done (combined with a justified fear of what this shows they may do when released). However, altering a person’s prison sentence once this has been imposed purely because of fears the person may do bad things in the future is a no-no from a human rights perspective.
As I understand it (not being a lawyer) there will now be two ways to spend an indefinite period of time in jail: either you committed a crime, posed a risk to the community at the time of sentencing and still pose a risk to the community, or you committed a crime and pose a risk to the community at the time of release. Apparently the latter is more problematic for lawyers because the ‘indefinite’ bit happens after sentencing. From the perspective of an economist I find that a bit perplexing.
First of all, let’s suppose that we think putting people who pose a risk to the community in jail indefinitely is a good thing. Presumably the motivation for doing it is to protect the community from harm; any other motivation seems hard to justify. So, at what point following the conviction for a crime would we be concerned about harm to the community? Certainly not when the person is incarcerated, and probably not when they’re in custody awaiting sentencing. Surely the time at which we might be concerned is when we have to make a decision about releasing them. Does it matter when, between conviction and potential release, they were adjudged to be a risk to the community? Well, certainly not from the perspective of the potential victims. So why would there be some fundamental difference between preventive detention and an equivalent test incorporated in a Public Protection Order (PPO)? To go a bit further, if it’s a good idea to keep people who are a risk to the community in jail, surely we want the option to keep them there up until they are released. Anything else risks being unable to react appropriately if the convict develops risky behaviours while in jail.
Now I can understand that people might be concerned about abuse of power and the unethical use of PPOs, but there seem to be similar problems with preventive detention. The best one can argue is that the PPO gives more time for the justice system to abuse its power, but I can’t see why judicial checks on that would be any less effective than judicial discretion over preventive detention.
I’d very much welcome any lawyers to clear it up for me, because I may very well be entirely confused here!