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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mandatory Time Off for Informants in Protective Custody?

Here's a snitching development from New South Wales, in Australia:

"The New South Wales Government says criminals who give evidence against other criminals will not automatically get reduced sentences because of the hardship they suffer in jail.

Attorney-General John Hatzistergos says they will get a discount for providing information to police but not an additional discount for the extra hardship they may suffer."

The New South Wales system gave two automatic discounts to jailhouse informants. These might be characterized as the direct and collateral benefits for informing (on the lines of direct and collateral penalties at sentencing). The direct benefit was time off for the nature and quality of the information given; the collateral benefit was to compensate them for hardships suffered through requiring protective custody. Like direct and collateral penalties, one is clearly related to the criminal's act (in the case of punishment, the crime; in the case of informing, cooperation with the government); another is regarded as regulatory in nature. In the case of punishment, there is a whole range of collateral penalties, ranging from losing the right to vote, to deportation (for eligible foreign nationals), to losing public housing, health care or welfare eligibility. In the case of informing, New South Wales treats protective custody as regulatory, and so as a matter of ensuring safety and security within prisons, rather than as an additional punishment consequent to informing.

It is unlikely that the American system would treat this type of direct/collateral benefit as legally significant. After all, the decision to reward the informant with some sentencing recommendation is well within the discretion of the prosecutor. And it's well established that decisions regarding protective custody are regulatory rather than punitive. But New South Wales apparently had a mandatory award of time off for informants for protective custody. Apparently, the state’s rethinking of that policy reflects a tough on crime attitude on the part of prosecutors that is now catching up on prison informants.