In a landmark decision, the United Kingdom’s High Court of Justice quashed the extradition of activist and computer scientist Lauri Love because it is possible prison conditions would result in his death if transferred to the United States to stand trial.
Love was indicted three-to-five years ago by three federal district courts for allegedly hacking into systems controlled by the Federal Reserve, U.S. Army, and a number of other government agencies. He challenged his extradition before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in 2016, but a judge ruled in favor of extradition.
On February 5, the High Court of Justice concluded [PDF] extradition would result in “severe depression” and Love would likely be “determined to commit suicide, here or in America.”
“If he were kept on suicide watch, and reviewed every 30 days or so, he would be in segregation, with a watcher inside or outside the cell for company, and with very limited activities. All the evidence is that this would be very harmful for his difficult mental conditions, Asperger’s syndrome and depression, linked as they are; and for his physical conditions, notable eczema, which would be exacerbated by stress.”
“That in turn would add to his worsening mental condition, which in its turn would worsen his physical conditions. There is no satisfactory and sufficiently specific evidence that treatment for this combination of severe problems would be available in the sort of prisons to which he would most likely be sent,” the court added.
The High Court further indicted the Bureau of Prisons’ “suicide prevention program,” which involves placing an inmate in a “suicide smock” in a “suicide prevention room” to be monitored 24 hours a day, “without any unapproved personal items.”
“That would leave Mr. Love feeling extremely isolated in the absence of an internet connection and undoubtedly would have a severe adverse effect on his mental state,” the court noted. “His mental condition would remove his mental capacity to resist the impulse to commit suicide. His ability to cope with the trial would be severely compromised.”
“Suicide watch is not a form of treatment; there is no evidence that treatment would or could be made available on suicide watch for the very conditions which suicide watch itself exacerbates,” the court additionally asserted. “But once removed from suicide watch, the risk of suicide as found by the judge, cannot realistically be prevented.”
“Were Mr. Love not to be in segregation, his Asperger’s syndrome and physical conditions would make him very vulnerable. He would be a likely target for bullying and intimidation by other prisoners. The response by the authorities would be segregation for his own protection, which would bring in all the problems of isolation to which we have already referred. He would have no support network available in prison in the United States.”
Naomi Colvin, a case director for the Courage Foundation, which supported Love’s legal defense, hailed the ruling as a “massive victory for free expression online, for the fair treatment of neurodiverse people, and for those of us who have drawn attention to the dire treatment of hackers and information activists in the United States.”
Love benefited from what is known as the “forum bar.” It was established to protect UK citizens after the U.S. attempted to extradite Gary McKinnon for alleged hacking.
The High Court determined the forum bar protected Love because he is a British national with a girlfriend, connection to a family, and a home where he is able to receive medical care and treatment. His parents provide stability and breaking those connections would accelerate the deterioration of his health.
Michael Kopelman, a forensic psychiatrist at King’s College in London, assessed if extradited there was a “high risk” that his incarceration in U.S. prison and being tried in the U.S. would make him unfit to stand trial.
“There would be a severe deterioration in both his physical and his mental state. His eczema, his asthma, gastrointestinal symptoms, and palpitations, would certainly become far worse, and he might lose his hair again (alopecia), thereby causing further deterioration in his mental state,” Kopelman asserted.
“Mr. Love would not be able to cope with separation from his family and friends, nor would he cope with the likely isolation in a United States facility. His depression would become far worse, and he would be very likely to develop psychotic symptoms (as he has during past severe depressions). His suicide risk would become very high as a result of the exacerbation of his clinical depression and a deterioration in his physical health. In such circumstances, Mr Love’s ability to concentrate and sustain attention would, in consequence, be severely affected.”
The High Court largely accepted Kopelman’s assessment of what would happen to Love if incarcerated in a U.S. prison.
Judges were additionally impacted by Dr. L. Thomas Kucharski’s testimony. Kucharski is a forensic psychologist and once was the chief psychologist at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.
He countered the testimony submitted by the Bureau of Prisons’ psychology services branch administrator, which did not accurately reflect the “reality of the services available” to prisoners.
“Only two or three psychologists were available in each institution for direct inmate health care,” according to Kucharski. “Positions were often kept vacant because of cost, and the ratio of inmates in need of care for significant psychological difficulties to staff psychologists was about 100/130:1. And that one had other tasks to fulfill as well.”
Sometimes psychologists “had to act as correctional guards because of shortages. Most inmates were only treated by way of medication. The psychologists had to respond to crises all the time, and a high level of arrivals and turnover.”
The High Court recognized a judge could recommend Love to a “medical center” with “inpatient psychiatric services.” BOP might accept, but soon thereafter, Love might be transferred to a non-medical facility if they concluded hospitalization was unnecessary.
As Kucharski testified, “If an inpatient, Mr. Love would [likely] be one of 1000 or more inmates in one of four medical facilities, and most of those beds were not available for sentenced inmates to receive medical care. There were therefore significant resource constraints on the delivery of inpatient mental care facilities for sentenced inmates.”
“Kucharski was not aware of any BOP program specially designed for those with Asperger’s syndrome. BOP facilities were seriously over-crowded, straining the medical resources further, and increasing the stress on inmates.”
More than likely, if extradited, Love would be prosecuted in three different districts. That means he would probably be transferred to three different prisons. That could increase Love’s suicide risk. Kucharski said he had seen prisoners “restored to competency” lose “competence” after time in transit for trial.
“There is no basis upon which we could conclude that the severity of the problems would be brought swiftly to an end by early transfer to the United Kingdom,” the High Court stated.
Love can still be tried for his alleged offenses in the UK, but the ruling grants him protection from any human rights abuses he would have endured if extradited, prosecuted, and incarcerated in the United States.