Privatisation and Criminal Justice: Dominique Strauss-Kahn

     |    Saturday, der 21. May 2011

One detail of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case (see alsoearlier blog post) that is reported matter-of-factly actually sounded quite unusual and disturbing to me. As now commonly known, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was released from custody in the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York on bail of $ 1,000,000 (plus $ 5,000,000 in insurance guarantees) and is under house arrest in a Manhattan apartment. So far, so standard procedure. Now awaiting prosecution for attempted rape and six other counts, he may not leave New York and is being guarded 24/7 by a private security company. That’s right, a private security company. And this private security company is not being paid by the city of New York, but by Strauss-Kahn himself. Strauss-Kahn is wearing an ankle monitor, is under video surveillance and is being watched by an armed guard. Nevertheless, I wonder if it’s the norm that accused lawbreakers awaiting trial are in a monetary relationship with those supposed to guard them, as much of a relief it may be for New York City to not have to foot the monthly surveillance bill of $ 200,000. Furthermore, some might think that Strauss-Kahn is getting his just desserts, already now. But innocence until guilt is proven is still the guiding maxim of the U.S. justice system – so should the accused, even if rich and exploitative, pay for their own surveillance? There’s the other side, too: How does the private security company answer to the law? Is there some instance within the New York City legal system that is monitoring its work? What are the criteria that companies who get these contracts have to fulfill? Could the fact that Strauss-Kahn is paying for this compromise the surveillance in any way? Some online research yielded this interesting paper by then Yale law student Jonathan Zweig. Using the specific example of New York based white-collar criminals Bernard Madoff and Marc Dreier, who each swindled away millions of dollars from clients, Zweig discusses ‘Extraordinary Conditions of Release Under the Bail Reform Act’ (the paper’s title). Yes, it is allowed that the accused pay for their own security in lieu of pretrial detention under the Bail Reform Act – if a judge so decides. Zweig goes on to criticise that the Bail Reform Act creates “two categories of defendents based on wealth” (pg. 578), as obviously, low income accused can’t shell out $ 200,000 a month. So it will be interesting to follow the Strauss-Kahn case not so much for the unsavoury aspects related to his person, but also in terms of accountability of private contractors within the U.S. justice system and equal justice for all, regardless of monetary situation. Film on about the penal system in the U.S.: INJUSTICE SYSTEM OF AMERICA