Capital punishment: A thin line between life and death

Anthony Ray Hinton and his best friend Lester Bailey, with his wife. (Ruth Hopkins)

The deadly margin of error in death penalty cases should come as a salutary warning to those wanting to reinstate capital punishment in South Africa. Consider the case of Anthony Ray Hinton from Alabama, US. For 28 years, Anthony Ray Hinton woke up every day in a 5ft by 7 ft death cell. From that cramped space, he saw 54 men being led to the execution chamber, where electrocution put an end to their lives. The next day the air would … Read more

The lesser of two evils: cruelty or indifference?


Gregory Bright, who spent 27 years in Angola for a crime he did not commit, agrees. “There were always guys who came back injured from the rodeo,” he says. “One guy had severe kidney problems after he was attacked by one of the bulls. He later died from complications. No one talks about that.” I spent three months in the United States, earlier this year, on a Sylvester Stein reporting fellowship. I wanted to find out what the similarities and differences … Read more

The power of words for incarcerated people


My friend and New York attorney Beena Ahmad– who worked for nearly a year with the Wits Justice Project – had a quirky habit. In her neighbourhood in Brooklyn, with great enthusiasm, she picked up books that people left out on the street. Sometimes I would share her joy, like when she picked up a battered copy of Long Walk to Freedom, placed on a garden wall. Other finds, like Form Your Own Limited Liability Company, for example, didn’t seem … Read more

How a prison term becomes a debt to society that cannot be repaid


RUTH HOPKINS reflects on how language can impinge on a person’s dignity and why it’s important to consider the meaning and impact of the words we use in the service of justice. A few days after I arrived in New York, to start a criminal justice reporting fellowship, I emailed Johnny Perez, an advocate for the mental health project at the Urban Justice Center, a legal aid and social justice organisation based in the city. Not only does Perez do a lot of … Read more

Inequality before the law – Is South Africa’s criminal justice system punitive to the poor?

Inequality before the law – Is South Africa’s criminal justice system punitive to the poor?

“It would be a sad day … if the impression is created that one law counts for the poor and another for the rich and famous,” Judge Thokozile Masipa told the world last Tuesday when she sentenced Paralympian Oscar Pistorius to five years behind bars. She listened carefully to the testimony of acting National Commissioner of Correctional Services Zach Modise and said she “had no reason to believe SA prisons would not be able to cater to the needs of … Read more