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UK Court: Sending Defendants To US Prisons Is A Human Rights Violation

Lauri Love is wanted in the U.S. on hacking charges. British courts declined to extradite him on the grounds that U.S. prisons pose a 'mortal threat' to inmates.Screengrab/Guardian News/YouTube

The British high court found that the U.S. prison system is “a mortal threat” to its prisoners.

In 2013, the U.K. implemented extradition reform that allows its court to refuse extradition under certain circumstances in response to the U.S. claiming jurisdiction in several cases where the crimes were committed on British soil. Public outcry over the U.S. prison system played a part in the U.K.'s decision.

Last week, British courts exercised this new ability to deny extradition in the case of Lauri Love, who was wanted in the U.S. on hacking charges, marking the first time the law was used.

The High Court said that sending Love to prison in America would be "oppressive" due to poor conditions.

This decision marks the first time a U.K. court has used the “forum bar,” a 2013 extradition reform that allows British courts to halt extraditions in situations where defendants could be prosecuted instead in the United Kingdom. (Specifically, the wanted person must have strong ties to the U.K., the alleged conduct must have occurred mainly on British soil, and a reasonable argument can be made that the interests of justice would be better served by prosecution there.)

The U.K. Parliament adopted the forum bar after an outcry over a string of cases in which the United States asserted prosecutorial jurisdiction over conduct that occurred entirely in the U.K. Although several political factors were at play, the extradition reform movement was largely fueled by public concern that defendants’ basic rights will not be respected in U.S. custody.

The ruling pointed to numerous factors describing how inadequate the U.S. prison system is when it comes to ensuring the wellbeing of vulnerable inmates:

In finding that extradition to the United States would be “oppressive” to Love, the High Court found that conditions in American jails were “not adequate to prevent suicide.” The court found that Love, who has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from severe depression and other health problems, was likely to be held in solitary confinement as a suicide prevention measure and that he wouldn’t have adequate access to mental health treatment. The court also found that the heightened risk that Love would commit suicide was due in part to the excessive length of sentence Love anticipated in the United States, substantially longer than what he would be subject to in a prosecution for similar crimes in the U.K. In short, the court found that the U.S. prison system is a mortal threat.

Though the issue of other other countries hedging at sending their citizens to the U.S. for prosecution is not new, it certainly does not look to improve under the Trump administration.

Sessions has signaled that he is doubling down on punitive prosecutorial practices that will exacerbate the human rights crises in U.S. jails and prisons.

The state of the U.S. criminal justice system continues to provide reason for American allies to think twice about sending their criminals for prosecution, which could hamper the United States' ability to cooperate internationally when it comes to cross-border crime.