The number of prisoners in the United States continues to fall

According to the latest report published in August 2020 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the correctional population in the United States declined by 12.3% between 2008 and 2018.

During 2018, 6,410,000 adults were held under a correctional regime in the United States. This correctional population peaked at 7,339,600 in 2007 and declined every year until 2018. Between 2017 and 2018, the correctional population declined by 2.1%.

By the end of 2018, about 1 in 40 adult US residents were under correctional supervision, down from 1 in 32 a decade earlier.

Between 2008 and 2018, the imprisonment rate dropped 28% among black residents, 21% among Hispanic residents, and 13% among white residents. Notably, in 2018, the imprisonment rate of black residents was the lowest since 1989.

According to the data in the report, in 2018, 2,510 out of every 100,000 adult US residents were under the supervision of the North American correctional system. This marked a 26-year low in the adult correctional-supervision rate. For example, in 2008, 3,160 adults per 100,000 US residents were under supervision.

Also notable is the fact that, in 2008, there were 2,200 adults per 100,000 US residents under community supervision. By 2018, this figure had reduced to 1,730. With regard to the prison population, while in 2008 there were 1,000 adults in prison or local jails per 100,000 US residents, ten years later this figure had fallen to 830.

The adult correctional-supervision population fell from 4,508,900 in 2017 to 4,399,000 in 2018. The incarcerated population also decreased from 2,153,600 in 2017 to 2,123,100 in 2018.

In 2018, there were a total of 6,410,000 persons under correctional supervision in the United States. In 2008, that figure was 7,312,600. According to the latest statistics, in 2018 there were 4,399,000 adults under supervision in the community, 1,465,200 in prison and 738,400 in local jails.

Given the differences in data, in 2018, the authorities supervised 902,700 fewer adults than in 2008; 731,300 under community supervision and 143,100 in prison. The remaining cases are accounted for the reduced number of adults held in local jails.


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14 misunderstandings with regard to biometric identification and authentication

367.- baixaA few weeks ago, the European Data Protection Supervisor –EDPS–, and the Spanish Data Protection Agency – AEPD–, published a joint technical paper detailing 14 misunderstandings relating to the use of biometrics and on how these misconceptions can affect data protection.

The report, aimed at data protection controllers and managers, seeks to shed light on some of the most common misconceptions and inaccuracies associated with the use of the technology.

Identification is the process of identifying an individual among a group, and authentication is the process of proving the identity claimed by an individual. The increased use of biometric data (e.g. fingerprints or facial measurements) for identification and authentication purposes has led to a series of widespread misconceptions. Some of the most common misconceptions are listed below:

  • “Biometric information is stored in an algorithm”. An algorithm is a method, an ordered set of operations or a recipe and not a means to store biometric data.
  • “The use of biometric data is as intrusive as any other identification/authentication system”. Biometric data reveals more information about the subject. For example, it can include data on race, gender, emotional state, diseases and disabilities, etc.
  • “Biometric identification is accurate”. Biometric identification relies on probability. There is a certain rate of false positives (accepting an impersonator) and false negatives (rejecting an authorised individual).
  • “Biometric identification/authentication is precise enough to always differentiate between two people”. Certain situations, such as the identification of twin siblings or the environmental conditions in uncontrolled settings, can lead to an increase in the error rate and therefore, to confusion.
  • “Biometric identification/authentication is suitable for all people”. Some people cannot use biometrics because of their physical characteristics, injuries, accidents, etc. This factor can lead to social exclusion.
  • “The biometric identification/authentication process cannot be circumvented”. Techniques that allow you to “fool” biometric authentication systems and assume the identity of another person do exist.
  • “Biometric information is not exposed”. A person’s biometric characteristics are exposed and can be captured at a distance.
  • “Any biometric processing involves identification/authentication”. Not necessarily. There is a risk that security failures, regulatory changes, etc. can lead to the information being processed beyond the original purpose.
  • “Biometric identification/authentication systems are safer for users”. They are also susceptible to security breaches.
  • “Biometric authentication is strong“. The truth of this statement depends on the technology used and the circumstances, perception and culture of each user.
  • “Biometric authentication is more user-friendly”. This depends on the technology used.
  • “Biometric information converted to a hash is not recoverable”. It may be possible to retrieve the original biometric pattern.
  • “Stored biometric information does not allow the original biometric information from which it was extracted to be reconstructed”. A partial reconstruction sometimes has sufficient accuracy for another biometric system to recognise it as the original one.
  • “Biometric information is not interoperable”. On the contrary, biometric information systems are developed according to standards that ensure their interoperability.


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Human traffickers more ruthless than ever due to COVID-19

365.- baixaThe COVID-19 health crisis has led many countries around the world to close their external borders. In these circumstances, criminals are finding new ways to abuse the vulnerability of irregular migrants wishing to enter Europe and those victimised in labour or sexual exploitation schemes.

A few weeks ago, the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) published a report that looks back at the operations supported in 2019, and the intelligence gathered to study the possible evolution of these crime areas in the upcoming months.

Enhanced border control measures and travel restrictions put in place throughout the EU have led to a shift in the smuggling activities from air to land and sea routes. Small boats are increasingly being used to cross river borders, for example, and there has been a rise in the use of freight vehicles and cargo trains to move people.

The travel restrictions may complicate the employment of seasonal labour in the agricultural sector, and the closing of establishments offering sexual services may increase sexual exploitation.

Some of the main threats identified by the EMSC include:

  • Attempts by the Turkish authorities to facilitate large groups of migrants towards and across the Turkish-Greek land border.
  • The transportation of migrants in life-threatening conditions hidden in concealed compartments of vehicles mostly in the Western Balkans region.
  • An increased use of fraudulently obtained visas and document fraud in general.
  • The increased vulnerability to abuse and violence of unaccompanied migrants along migration routes towards the EU.
  • The potential vulnerability to exploitation by traffickers of irregular migrants in remote locations.
  • Increased migrant transit within the EU.

Sexual exploitation is the most reported purpose for human traffickers in the EU, mainly with victims from Eastern and Central Europe and Nigeria. Nigerian criminal networks exploit their own nationals, recruited locally and indoctrinated through voodoo beliefs and rituals.

Highlights of the EMSC’s work in 2019 include:

  • 5,853 cases of human trafficking detected.
  • 19,211 suspects identified.
  • Nine far-reaching investigations.
  • Seven EMPACT Joint Action Days with 26 EU Member States.
  • 71 on-the-spot action days with Europol experts.
  • Development of five strategic intelligence reports.


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Report on the EU terrorism situation in 2019

363.- baixaEuropol recently published a report on the state of terrorism in the European Union. The report outlines trends and includes data on the attempts, attacks and arrests of alleged terrorists during 2019 in the EU.

As a consequence of these terrorist activities:

  • A total of 119 attacks, both foiled and completed, were reported by 13 EU Member States.
  • 1,004 individuals were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in 19 EU Member States.
  • The countries with the highest numbers of arrests were Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the UK.
  • Ten people died, and 27 were injured as a result of terrorist attacks in the EU in 2019. Almost all were victims of jihadist attacks, although this type of terrorism continues its downward trend.
  • The situation in conflict areas outside Europe continued to impact the jihadist terrorism situation in Europe.

In 2019, several incidences of funding the return of foreign terrorist fighters were observed, although funding for terrorist groups outside Europe decreased in comparison to previous years.

The report focuses on right-wing extremist terrorist attacks, which increased last year, rising from one in 2018 to six in 2019. It highlights the fact that the attacks in Christchurch (New Zealand), Poway (USA), El Paso (USA), Baerum (Norway) and Halle (Germany) were part of a wave of violent incidents around the world, the perpetrators of which were part of similar transnational online communities and took inspiration from one another.

It goes on to explain that violent far-right extremists maintain international links through a range of events, such as concerts for example.

Left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks reached the level of 2016 and 2017 after a decrease in 2018. All the attacks took place in Greece, Italy or Spain. Arrests for alleged extreme left-wing terrorist activity increased significantly; in 2018 there were 34 while in 2019 they tripled to 111, mainly due to arrests in Italy. These groups used readily available materials to make explosives.

The use of firearms and explosives remained prevalent in separatist terrorist attacks and violent attacks inspired by far-right ideologies.

Measures adopted by social media platforms to combat the spread of terrorist propaganda led some groups to return to traditional online communication methods. Suspects detained for terrorist propaganda in Europe sometimes had a long history of involvement in jihadist activities.

There is little evidence to suggest the existence of a formal, systematic link between organised crime and terrorism in the EU. Despite this, there are indications of certain transactions between low-level criminals and extremists, who often overlap socially in marginalised areas.


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The impact of COVID-19 on European drug markets

360.- baixaThe European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol published an analysis of EU drug markets towards the end of 2019.

At that time, no one could have predicted the dramatic changes that COVID-19 would bring, nor the extent to which it has affected our daily lives. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on drug markets. There is a critical need to understand the extent and nature of this impact to identify any areas that might require further investigation.

The objective of this analysis of EU drug markets is to increase understanding of ongoing developments and their impact on the internal security and public health of the EU in order to inform European institutions and partners in the EU Member States. This is of vital importance for formulating effective responses.

Global restrictions on travel and other measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a temporary disruptive impact on the drug market, leading to shortages of and higher prices for some drugs. Other consequences include:

  • The disruption to the supply chain and logistics of drug trafficking in Europe is most evident at the distribution level, because of social distancing measures.
  • The movement of bulk quantities of drugs between EU Member States has continued despite the introduction of border controls due to the continued commercial transportation of goods throughout the EU.
  • In relation to cocaine, in particular, there is little evidence of disruption to activity at the wholesale importation level; however, experts in some countries report increasing prices and decreasing purity at the consumer level, indicative of localised supply shortages.
  • Organised crime groups remain resilient and are adapting their modi operandi to the current situation, further exploiting secure communication channels and adapting transportation models, trafficking routes and concealment methods.
  • The current instability has led to an increasingly volatile environment for criminal businesses along the supply chain in Europe and appears to have resulted in increased levels of violence among mid-level distributors.
  • Home deliveries, less face-to-face dealing and less reliance on cash as a form of payment seem to be increasing for individual transactions.
  • Shortages of cannabis resin have led to inflated retail prices.
  • Heroin trafficking continues to exist on many of the known routes. The availability of heroin has decreased in some areas, but this varies depending on national confinement rules and restrictions on movement, with higher prices also reported in some places.
  • Cocaine trafficking using maritime shipping containers has continued at levels comparable to or even possibly higher than those seen in 2019.

Synthetic drug production continues in the main European producing zones in the Netherlands and Belgium, as evidenced by the number of illicit laboratories dismantled. However, in Europe and globally, the demand for synthetic drugs used in recreational settings, in particular MDMA, seems to have diminished in the short term due to the closure of venues and cancellation of festivals.


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The number of prisoners in the United States decreased in 2018

359.- imagesDuring 2018, the total prison population in the USA declined from 1,489,200 to 1,465,200, a decrease of 24,000 prisoners, accounting for a 1.6% reduction. The number of male prisoners fell by 1.7%, to 1,354,313, while the number of female prisoners fell by 0.5%, to 110,845.

In 2018, the combined state and federal imprisonment rate was 431 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 US residents. This was the lowest ratio since 1996, which recorded 427 prisoners per 100,000 resident citizens.

During the last decade, the ratio has decreased by 15%, from 506 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 US residents in 2008 to 431 per 100,000 in 2018.

With regard to the imprisonment data for different ethnic groups, from 2008 to 2018, the imprisonment rate fell by 28% among black residents, 21% among Hispanics and 13% among whites. In 2018, the imprisonment rate of black residents was the lowest since 1989. It’s important to note that, in 2018, the imprisonment rate of black males was 5.8 times that of white males, while the imprisonment rate of black females was 1.8 times the rate of white females.

At year-end 2018, a total of 22 states had imprisonment rates that were higher than the nationwide average. The state with the highest rate was Louisiana, with 695 per 100,000 state residents, followed by Oklahoma, with 693 per 100,000, and Mississippi, with 626 per 100,000 inhabitants. On the other hand, states such as Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont had less than 200 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents.

Among the total number of prisoners held in the US in 2018, 7.7% of them were non-US citizens, a similar figure to the 6.9% of non-US citizens present in the country according to the US Census Bureau. With regard to age, more than 3% of prisoners were over 64 years old.

It’s worth noting that among the military prisoners who had served in the US Air force or the US Navy, almost 75% were in prison for a sexual offence. And 45% of those were serving time for a violent sexual offence.

In relation to reasons for imprisonment and ethnicity, 61% of the black and Hispanic prison communities and 48% of the white prison community were serving time for a violent offence. Concurrently, 23% of sentenced white prisoners are serving time for crimes against property, while among Hispanic and black inmates, the figure is 13%. Around 15% of prisoners are serving time for public health disorders –4% for possession–, with percentages ranging from 13% of black prisoners to 16% of whites.

Lastly, 67% of prison admissions in 2018 came from new court commitments, while 30% were due to post-custody supervision violations. The remaining 3% can be attributed to other causes, such as readmissions.


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A complex situation in Argentine prisons

356.- baixaTo talk about the Argentine penitentiary system is to enter into an incredibly complex universe, but the latest official statistics for January 2019 reveal a grim reality: 103,000 inmates held in 308 prisons.

 Overcrowding is the crucial trait and the foremost cause for concern in Argentine prisons. The upward trend has been particularly steep since 2007, far-exceeding the crime rate. The crime rate currently stands at one-third of the incarceration rate.

The growth in the prison population can be attributed to multiple factors: a tightening of criminal law, the repressive narrative of official speeches, social injustices, the influence of the media, etc.

Furthermore, almost half of the 103,000 inmates are being held on remand, without a trial to determine their guilt. Another determining factor is the indiscriminate imprisonment decreed on a daily basis by judges, and a failure to release people who would be eligible for a regime other than the penitentiary system.

Overpopulated prisons lead to overcrowding, outbreaks of violence among prisoners and between prisoners and prison officials, wear and tear on facilities as a result of intensive use, and increasing difficulties in accessing basic and essential rights – food, healthcare, education, etc. It goes without saying that the more inmates there are, the more difficult it becomes to access the system’s scarce resources.

However, there are also significant signs of change on the horizon. First and foremost, openness and transparency. Twenty years ago, prisons were completely closed off from the rest of the world. Nowadays their hallways are frequently inhabited by people from the free world and all kinds of organisations who visit the establishments to offer multiple services: cultural, educational, employment, religious, sports, etc. Both good and bad aspects of prison life waste no time in reaching public opinion.

With regards to employment, slowly, some self-management entrepreneurship is beginning to emerge, where people deprived of their liberty have started to market their products outside of the prison walls.

But it’s tough to access these rights in the context of confinement, and these tentative initiatives do not make up for the harsh reality of life in the Argentine penitentiary system. That said, they’re also hard to access outside of prison.

The role of prison officers also deserves a mention. A job founded on a tragic history of abuse and violence is currently experiencing a generational shift among officers, and the progressive incorporation of women in a historically male-dominated environment.


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The number of drug users in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by nearly 150%

355.- baixaThe new research from ENACT [1] is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the illicit African drug trade, consumption patterns and African drug policy.

According to ENACT’s studies on transnational organised crime, ineffective drug policy, fuelled by corruption and organised crime, are exacerbating an expanding drug crisis in Africa.

African consumption of illegal drugs, including non-medical use of prescription opioids, threatens national development and is projected to become a public health emergency.

Sub-Saharan Africa will see the world’s biggest surge in illicit drug users in the next 30 years, with its share of global drug consumption projected to double.

Prisons are overcrowded, and generations of young people are disenfranchised by criminal convictions for low-level drug crimes. Continental drug markets continue to expand even as illicit crops are destroyed, drug labs dismantled, and drug shipments seized.

Drugs have become a revenue source for terrorist organisations and crime syndicates, but African law enforcement bodies lack the institutional, technological and financial capacities to have a significant impact on drug trafficking markets.

Researchers estimate that the number of drug users in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by nearly 150% in the next three decades. They forecast that by 2050 there will be an additional 14 million Africans using illegal drugs, with a total of 23 million users in sub-Saharan Africa.

West Africa’s role has expanded as a global trafficking hub for illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, and an illegal economy has developed around the production and distribution of methamphetamines.

Africa’s dangerous drugs phenomenon contributes to the growing global production of cocaine and heroin, which, according to the 2018 World Drug Report, are at the highest levels ever recorded. Other stimulants of the surging trade and consumption of drugs include urbanisation, development of infrastructure and transport routes, a fast-growing youth population, and challenging social and economic circumstances for millions of people.

The researchers made a number of recommendations to African Union policymakers. Effective pan-African responses to the crisis must include efforts to reduce production and trafficking of drugs, coupled with demand reduction and expanded healthcare for the treatment and care of drug users.

All regions should bolster their cross-border law enforcement responses to curb the supply and production of illicit drugs, targeting traffickers rather than users. The diversion of pharmaceutical opioids from legal channels also needs to be curbed.

[1] ENACT is funded by the European Union. The project builds knowledge and skills to enhance Africa’s response to transnational organised crime. It analyses how organised crime affects stability, governance, the rule of law and development in Africa, and works to mitigate its impact. ENACT is implemented by the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL, in affiliation with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.


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Fifty-nine per cent of worldwide arms production takes place in the USA

ARMES PRODUCCIOSales of arms by the sector’s largest 100 companies (excluding those in China) rose to US$420 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 4.6% compared with the previous year. This is according to new data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The SIPRI data shows that arms sales by the Top 100 companies have increased by 47% since 2002. It should be noted that the database excludes Chinese companies due to a lack of data making it difficult to arrive at a reliable estimation.

For the first time since 2002, the top five armament companies have their headquarters in the USA. And the total arms sales by US companies rose to US$246 billion, equivalent to 59% of all arms sales by the Top 100 in the ranking. This figure represents an increase of 7.2% compared with 2017.

For their part, Russian arms sales remain stable. The combined sales of the ten leading Russian companies to appear in the 2018 ranking were US$36.2 billion. A slight decrease of 0.4% compared with 2017.

SIPRI confirmed an increase in arms sales for French companies but a decrease for British and German companies. The combined arms sales of the 27 European companies in the Top 100 increased marginally in 2018, to US$102 billion. Arms sales by companies based in the UK fell by 4.8%, to US$35.1 billion, but remained amongst the highest in Europe.

The combined arms sales of the French companies in the Top 100 were the second-highest in Europe, at US$23.2 billion. Total combined sales for the four German arms-producing companies in the ranking fell by 3.8%.

Eighty of the Top 100 arms producers in 2018 were based in the USA, Europe and Russia. Of the remaining 20, 6 were based in Japan; 3 in Israel, India and South Korea; 2 in Turkey, and 1 in Australia, Canada and Singapore.

The combined sales of the six Japanese companies remained relatively stable in 2018. At US$9.9 billion, they accounted for 2.4% of the total for the Top 100 companies.

The SIPRI Arms Industry Database was created in 1989. At that time, it didn’t include data for Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union. The current version contains data from 2002 onwards, including that of Russian companies. Chinese companies are not included because of a lack of available data on which to make a reasonable or consistent estimate of arms sales dating back to 2002.

It should be clarified that arms sales’ are defined as sales of military goods and services to military customers domestically and abroad.


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Racial and ethnic disparities in the American justice system decline


The study, headed by William J. Sabol, ex-director of the United States’ Bureau of Justice Statistics, and criminologist from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University stops short of analysing the motives for the decline in racial disparities.

The Council on Criminal Justice commissioned the study which found that between the years 2000 and 2016, the most recent year for which combined federal and state data was available, ethnic and racial disparities across the prison and probation population of the United States declined.

Although African Americans still account for the largest ethnic group in the United States justice system, the black-white disparity has significantly decreased in the last two decades.

The decline is evident across all major crime categories, with the most significant decrease observed in drug offences, where the imprisonment rate for African Americans has reduced from 15 times the rate of whites to just under five times the rate of whites in the last decade and a half.

Hispanic-white disparities followed a similar trend, with the most significant reduction occurring among the conditional-release population, which fell from 3.3 times the rate of whites in 2000 to 1.4 times the rate in 2014.

The pattern was especially evident in the number of African Americans arrested for drug crimes, which fell from a peak of 2,177 per 100,000 inhabitants in the year 2000 to 1,274 per 100,000 in 2016, a decrease of some 41%. It’s important to note that some states began making fewer arrests for marijuana possession in response to the growing pro-legalisation movement.

Racial disparity continues to be a pressing problem for the system, but the latest figures are a sign of significant progress in addressing the issue. In the last 40 years, black imprisonment rates have ranged from about six to eight times those of the white population.

Decreasing racial disparity was particularly notable among those held in prison. The number of incarcerated black adults fell by 10% between 2000 and 2016, dropping from 589,499 to 527,675. During this period, black-white disparity in prisons fell by 42%.

During the same period, the number of whites in state prisons increased by 18.6%, rising from 452,232 to 536,183.

The authors of the study found a similar decline, although to a lesser extent, in disparities among the federal penitentiary population. The black-white disparity fell from 8.4 to 1, to seven-to-one between 2001 and 2017. In the same period, the rate for the Hispanic population fell from 7.3 inmates for every white inmate, to 4.6 inmates for every white inmate.

The decline in the racial disparity between black and white women was even more pronounced than for the men. In the year 2000, there were six African American women for every white woman in the North American justice system. By 2016, the figure had reduced to just two African American women for every white woman behind bars.

In the same period, the number of black women in state prisons fell by half, while the number of white women increased from 25,000 to 60,000.

According to the study, the considerable decline in the black-white disparity among women results from a significant drop in the number of black women in prison for drug crimes, in conjunction with an increase in the number of white women imprisoned for drug-related and violent crimes.


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