POLICING & CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Police Decentralization, Fragmentation, and Implications for Patterns of Violence: Insights from Iraq
American Political Science Association
Comparative Politics Newsletter (2020)
Recent episodes of severe police repression and violence against protesters in diverse contexts including Hong Kong, the United States, and Iraq have brought new urgency to longstanding calls for reform and in some cases more fundamental structural changes including abolition of existing police institutions (McLeod 2018). In times of social crisis and conflict between states and opposition movements, police--as “the most visible daily manifestation of the state” (Mani 1999, 22)--are also often the most visible instrument of state repression. But the police, and state security institutions in general, are not monolithic and there is considerable variation in the extent to which individual police officers and units use excessive force against civilians who engage in mass mobilization to express political grievances. Some individuals and units are more abusive than others, while some may try to diffuse violence or intervene to protect civilians. Variation in patterns of police violence has important implications for the study of crises. Sociologists, historians, and scholars of American politics and law have made important contributions to the study of police violence (Sierra-Arévalo 2016; Soss and Weaver 2017; Butler 2018; Prowse et al. 2020), but there is a need for more research in the field of comparative politics on the determinants of excessive force as well as restraint in other contexts. In this essay, I argue that two factors – decentralization and fragmentation of state security institutions – have interacted to shape the recent pattern of police violence in Iraq, where federal-level riot police and SWAT forces used lethal force against protesters in 2019, ultimately killing more than 600 people. However, not all security forces participated in the repression. In contrast with the violent conduct of federal-level police, local community police officers visited the demonstrations to provide water and pamphlets affirming the right to peaceful protest, telling protesters that they were there to protect them. I suggest that two factors--fragmentation and decentralization--help to explain this pattern of violence with data from a door-to-door household survey on perceptions of police that I conducted through a research partnership between the International Organization for Migration and Yale Law School’s Center for Global Legal Challenges (Revkin and Aymerich 2020).
Perceptions of Security and Police in Iraq:
Baseline Survey Findings
(with Olga Aymerich)
The International Organization for Migration and Yale Law School's Center for Global Legal Challenges (April 2020)
This report by IOM Iraq and Yale Law School Center for Global Legal Challenges aims to shed light on the inter-related security and governance factors at play in three diverse communities in Iraq – Jubeil (Anbar), Hamdaniyah (Ninewa) and Baradiyah (Basra) – as a way to contextualize and evaluate the effectiveness of community policing programming. This baseline study evaluates civilians’ attitudes and behaviors towards providers of security and justice; their perceptions of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government; police officers’ attitudes and behaviors toward civilians; and the prevalence of crime and violence. The study finds that communities directly affected by the ISIL crisis perceive the greatest relative improvement in security, while governance and economic issues are at the top of community concerns across all communities. The survey results also indicated heavy reliance on informal actors such as tribes and religious leaders for informal mediation and dispute resolution. Additionally, in all three communities, a majority of respondents would not allow female family members to report problems to the police on their own.
How Does Punishment Affect Reintegration of
Former Offenders? Evidence from Iraq
(with Kristen Kao)
Incarceration has become the dominant form of punishment in the United States and many other countries around the world despite the availability of more humane and less costly non-carceral alternatives. Given the heavy costs of incarceration both for offenders and society, there is a need for more empirical research on the question of whether incarceration is actually effective in achieving its purported objectives including the rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of former offenders. A factor that has been overlooked in previous studies of reintegration is public opinion toward former offenders in the communities to which they return. If community members distrust and fear former offenders, the resulting stigmatization makes it difficult for former offenders to rebuild social relationships and find employment, which then increases their risk of recidivism. Important empirical questions about the relationship between punishment and reintegration remain unanswered, of which this paper addresses one: How do harsh punishments such as long-term incarceration affect public opinion toward the reintegration of former offenders in comparison with shorter prison sentences and non-carceral alternatives?
We study this question in the context of Iraq, where the United States has been heavily involved in the design and development of criminal justice institutions since overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003. Building upon extensive fieldwork and interviews in Iraq, we designed an innovative survey experiment—a method developed in the social sciences but not yet widely used by legal scholars—that randomly varied the severity of sentences in hypothetical scenarios of nonviolent Islamic State “collaborators” (e.g. cleaners, cooks, and wives of fighters) to estimate the causal effects of punishment on attitudes toward reintegration. We find that a long prison sentence of 15 years does not increase the likelihood of participants’ willingness to allow the reintegration of former nonviolent offenders, but a non-carceral punishment (community service) has a small but statistically significant positive effect. Our strongest finding is that non-carceral, community-based justice mechanisms can significantly increase the likelihood of successful reintegration after punishment. Fifteen percent of respondents who were initially opposed to the return and reintegration of former offenders into their communities said that they would be willing to change their judgment and support reintegration if they were asked to do so by a tribal or religious leader, or if the offender completes a non-carceral rehabilitation program. Together, these findings suggest that non-carceral, restorative, and community-based justice mechanisms may be equally or even more effective than long-term incarceration for achieving the objectives of rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of former nonviolent offenders, with important implications for the design of evidence-based transitional justice processes in Iraq and other war-torn societies. Since Iraq is a particularly challenging case for reintegration given high levels of fear and anger against the tens of thousands of people who have been convicted of collaborating with the Islamic State, our findings are relevant not only to scholars and practitioners working in the fields of national security, counter-terrorism, and transitional justice, but may also offer lessons for criminal justice and sentencing policies in other contexts where barriers to reintegration of nonviolent offenders are not as steep. Our work highlights the need for more empirical research on the relationship between punishment and reintegration and we offer an innovative research design—one of the first survey experiments used in legal scholarship—that can be replicated in other settings including the United States to help answer important empirical questions about the causal effects of criminal justice policies.