The lack of standardized sentencing norms is a weak link in Macedonia’s criminal judicial system. The arbitrary outcomes of criminal sentencing undermine the trust that Macedonians and the international community hold in the country’s judicial system.
Recognizing that corrective measures need to be adopted, Macedonian justice sector leaders reached out to other countries to share best practices. The INL Section at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje seized the opportunity to partner with the Macedonian Judicial Academy and enlist American legal experts to support this reform initiative. With support from INL’s Office of Criminal Justice Assistance and Partnership (INL/CAP) in Washington, two outstanding practitioners were recruited from INL’s network of state and local partners: Judge Arthur Hunter, a New Orleans trial court judge, and Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, a federal judge from Texas.
The judges participated in a May 2014 conference on sentencing reform that engaged both Macedonian and American legal professionals. The conference aimed to strengthen transparency and fairness, which are fundamental aspects of a fully functioning criminal justice system.
Judge Hunter’s experience was particularly relevant because the Louisiana judiciary maintains a civil law tradition from French colonial times, paralleling the Macedonian model. Moreover, Louisiana has one of the largest prison populations in the United States and is reviewing its sentencing policies in order to reduce prison overcrowding. The judge brought extensive expertise to the discussion since he presides over a very large criminal docket, and he was able to provide insights on efforts to reduce recidivism. In New Orleans, Judge Hunter spearheaded a program that tracks prisoners upon their release and uses the authority of the court to promote offender accountability.
Judge Hinojosa, who manages one of the largest federal court dockets in the United States, could readily relate to the caseload burdens of Macedonian judges. He was able to effectively convey U.S. practices of mandatory and advisory sentencing guidelines. Moreover, as Vice Chair and former Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Hinojosa explained how a sentencing commission operates and could be beneficial to Macedonia’s reform objectives. As a result of Judge Hinojosa’s advice, the conference explicitly recommended creating such a commission to develop standardized sentencing procedures.
In June 2014, a delegation from Macedonia plans to visit California and Nevada to continue the discussion on sentencing reform. INL/CAP has set up meetings with state and local agencies as well as non-governmental organizations.
In the dead of night sirens begin to wail as a tag team of two maximum-security convicts attack a guard, remove his electronic key pass, and manage their way block by block to the detention center’s outside perimeter. Along the path, other inmates join the commotion and the night-shift guard force is quickly overwhelmed. The breakout takes only a few minutes and additional security units from the prison’s main building mobilize quickly. Following well-rehearsed procedures, they are able to restore order and the flash riot is quelled without further incident.
Fortunately, the entire event was carefully staged as part of the 17th Mock Prison Riot (MPR) annual exercise supported by INL under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and a separate bilateral assistance program in Haiti. Hosted by the West Virginia Corrections Training Foundation (WVCTF) and the West Virginia Division of Corrections (WVDOC) on May 4-8, the MPR was conducted in a decommissioned State Prison in Moundsville, West Virginia, and included over 50 correctional officers from 11 Caribbean countries and 33 law enforcement teams from federal, state and local U.S agencies. The four-day, comprehensive corrections tactical program has proven to be a practical and rewarding way for INL’s international corrections partners to experience the complexities of managing prison emergencies effectively, safely, and humanely.
The training included workshops and individual and team role playing with personnel from the WVDOC and local colleges. The actual prison environment gave participants a real-world feel to learn about and deploy different strategies to control prison unrest, including the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the guard force and prisoners. Several of the trainees became certified as train-the-trainers on self-protection methods, which they can now share with their counterparts back home to help increase the capabilities of prison officers to protect themselves while managing difficult situations.
This is the first time INL has worked with the WVDOC on mock-riot and other simulations; this is also the first time that most of the Caribbean participants have taken part in this training and the synergy among them and with their American counterparts was extremely positive. Acknowledging that prison overcrowding is often the spark that leads to inmates’ unrest, a Caribbean corrections officer found the workshop dealing with this issue especially useful. “Each country’s prison environment is unique,” he said, “but strategies to defuse a potentially dangerous situation share common features.” These points of commonality were reinforced throughout the four days and hopefully will generate more information exchange in the future, thus providing applicable solutions to regional security issues and strengthening the ties that bind CBSI member states.
Over May 12-16, INL Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Robinson led an interagency delegation to participate in the 23rd Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, the Commission brings together over 100 countries dedicated to responding to global crime trends.
In support of President Obama’s commitment to combat environmental crime, the U.S. delegation succeeded in securing adoption of a resolution, jointly sponsored with Norway and 10 other states, on trafficking in forest products including timber. The resolution encourages member states to make illicit trafficking in forest products a "serious crime" pursuant to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC). With this classification, states that have ratified or acceded to the UNTOC can use its provisions to jointly investigate trafficking in timber products, extradite suspected traffickers, and share evidence allowing states to prosecute offenders and better protect their natural resources.
The INL-led delegation also hosted a side event featuring an expert panel discussion on “International Cooperation to Combat Criminal Elements in Timber Trafficking.” DAS Robinson used his presentation to raise awareness on the forms and significance of timber trafficking and its interconnection with more widely recognized transnational organized crime, including money laundering. He also encouraged states to adopt measures to improve cross-border cooperation and strengthen assistance in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking in forest products.
The Commission adopted a total of 12 resolutions, including five co-sponsored by the United States on smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal, international cooperation in criminal matters, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and the adoption of UN Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Children. These resolutions include practical tools and directives for states but also provide guidance for the UNODC, particularly for the development of its technical assistance and capacity building efforts.
On May 16, U.S., Colombian and Mexican forces came together at the Puebla National Police Academy in Mexico to formally conclude a First Line Supervision course coordinated by the INL Section at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City (INL Mexico City) and the Colombian National Police. The supervisory-level training session ran over a three-month period and was taught by nine active-duty Colombian police officers, who were divided into three teams, with the aim of equipping their Mexican counterparts with the necessary skills to improve professional performance and adhere to high ethical standards while achieving the goals of their police force. This was the last segment of a series of INL-supported training courses under the Merida Initiative for Mexico’s police forces that began in Monterey in October 2013 and continued in the cities of Chihuahua and Hermosillo before ending in Puebla. A total of 212 state and local Mexican police officers from 30 Mexican states were trained.
As INL Assistant Secretary William Brownfield often says, an important dividend of U.S. investments in long-term law enforcement partnerships is the force multiplier effect: working with our partners to promote smarter law enforcement practices in third countries. This is the case with Colombia. Previously trained through INL programs in their own country, Colombian officers are now imparting their knowledge and skill sets to Mexican police with the ultimate goal of attaining higher professional standards and sustaining rule-of-law principles.
As transnational criminal organizations build global networks to elude the reach of local law enforcement units, the sharing and partnering among police forces across borders has become an essential countermeasure. At the First Line Supervision graduation ceremony, one of the program’s key benefits was underscored by the Colombian lead instructor, Lieutenant Jair Rivera, who said, “Colombia will continue working with Mexico, sharing experiences and knowledge in a commitment to international security against organized crime in order to build a better world.”
For INL Mexico City, the opportunity to work closely with the Colombian Embassy was an extra bonus. Seven months of planning preceded the instructors’ arrival and orientation to ensure effective delivery of the course. In addition to the U.S. and Colombian Embassies in Mexico City, INL experts in Washington, DC and Bogotá, as well as the National Security Commission of Mexico (CNS), all played critical roles in launching this first-time initiative for the Mexican National Police Training Program.