What’s the story?

THE past week has seen international attention brought to the deliberations of a Scottish court, the conclusions of which could have far-reaching implications.

Reportage by the Marshall Project – a US non-profit online journalism outlet focusing on matters of criminal justice and the prison-industrial complex – has raised awareness of the case of an Aberdeen man who allegedly shot a security guard in Texas, but whose extradition to stand trial in the United States has been refused on grounds of human rights.

Who is Daniel Magee?

Magee grew up between the United States and Scotland, and is accused of having shot a security guard in the foot during a fraternity party at the University of Texas.

Following the incident, Magee was tracked down by authorities and charged, but was released on a $50,000 bail, after which he seemingly fled to Aberdeen, from which he has not returned since.

Why has the extradition been refused?

Magee’s barrister, Fred Mackintosh QC, argued last year that prison conditions in Texas could constitute an international human rights violation.

Mackintosh highlighted evidence which he said “gave rise to substantial grounds for believing that prisoners in the Texan state prison system face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3” of the European Convention of Human Rights, which codifies protection against torture or inhuman treatment.

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In late 2021, Edinburgh Sheriff Nigel Ross discharged Magee, after US officials reportedly “declined to give assurance” that Magee’s rights as a prisoner would be protected. In doing so, Ross also articulated his concerns over the conditions in Texas prisons.

What led to this decision?

Paul Dunne, an Edinburgh lawyer representing Magee, said: “Every other country in the developed world and even some dictatorships allow international inspectors into their prison systems to monitor them for conditions.

“That is a completely alien concept in America.”

University of Texas lecturer Michele Deitch, who specialises in independent oversight of prisons and their conditions and was called upon as an expert witness by Magee’s legal team, commented: “This case should be a wake-up call for officials — not just in Texas but all over the US — to realize that many routine conditions of confinement in our nation’s prisons do not measure up to international human rights standards.

“Some of these conditions are really out of step with what are considered acceptable practices in other Western nations.”

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Amongst the issues which led to the judge’s decision were a lack of oversight in the Texas prison system, the quality of food, the forced labour of prisoners, and the inadequate size of prison cells.

How widespread are the issues the judge identified?

Writing on the Marshall Project, journalist Keri Blackinger noted: “When I did time in New York a decade ago, we regularly encountered things that felt like human rights violations, from solitary confinement to sex abuse to guards who turned off the water as punishment. Sometimes, we grumbled about how appalled people would be if they really knew what went on behind bars – and other times, we mused about whether they would actually care.

“After I got out and became a reporter covering prisons, I discovered that the conditions in Southern lockups were far worse than any I’d seen in New York. Desperate prisoners complained of bad medical care, unidentifiable food, contaminated water, guards who planted contraband and cells so hot that people baked to death.”

Issues such as these were among the motivations for the 2016 US prison strike – the largest in America’s history – which saw 24,000 prisoners across 24 states, including Texas, participate in protest against penal servitude and prison conditions.