Erdogan’s legacy: More prisons more crime victims

Turkish justice system is overcrowded. Too many people are arrested, prosecuted for political crimes such as offending the president, or for being a journalist or academic.

A WOMAN is detained during a protest in Ankara in solidarity with rape victims and to oppose violence against women. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A WOMAN is detained during a protest in Ankara in solidarity with rape victims and to oppose violence against women.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s Islamist rule had promised a pious generation. The result is misogyny on steroids with skyrocketing crime rates on all fronts. Islamists plan to deliver justice with more prisons, which have proved expensive and counterproductive.
A 20-year-old ballerina, Ceren Ozdemir, was murdered as she was entering her home on December 3 in Ordu, Turkey. A street camera captured her scared gaze looking behind her as if she had realized she was being followed. She didn’t know her murderer. But the criminal system knew him well. He had attacked a 13-year-old child a few years ago and was caught and prosecuted. Then he was transferred to a minimum security prison from which he escaped effortlessly.
There was no police search for the fugitive. In his testimony, the killer said he wanted to kill more people but he couldn’t afford a gun only a stolen knife. That is why he could only kill one person. He was not remorseful, we read in his testimony. He charged at the police with the knife in his pocket while being arrested. The police in Turkey don’t bother to search you if you are a potential ISIS or other Islamist militant or a murderer. Peaceful protesters, particularly women, are groped, beaten, dragged on the streets by the police and handcuffed and stripped-searched.
In Turkey every day, women of all ages watch their backs, literally. They are constantly in fear of being sexually harassed or attacked in broad daylight in the streets. Femicide is a skyrocketing problem in Turkey where women who have sought help from authorities are murdered daily. They are routinely beaten by their fathers, brothers and especially husbands. One husband slit his pleading wife’s throat at a café as their young daughter was screaming “mommy do not die.” She didn’t say “daddy don’t kill” because even the kids know well in Turkey women cannot make demands from men.
We ask for more rigorous punishment for the villains from a government that repeatedly belittles women and forces them to be obedient, serve tea and marry as soon as they reach puberty. In return, spending millions of dollars, Erdogan’s government builds more prisons. In 2019 Turkey ranked number two among OECD countries in its incarceration rate. In the last year, the inmate population increased 14%. From 2006 to 2019, the AKP government has built 178 new prisons. Their promise is to add 114 more that currently under construction. The more prisons are built the higher the crime rate becomes. Prisons do not deter criminals in Turkey.
Just take a look at these mind-boggling numbers. All the data show an increase from 2016 to 2018, as published in September 2019. The rise in different crime categories are as follows: Tax evasion, 217%; organized crime, 365%; arms smuggling, 295%; alcohol smuggling, 175%; aggravated fraud, 212%; and loan-shark crimes rose by 148%. The government pretty much stopped providing credible data about femicide because it was upset we were carrying that information to the news. From 2003 to 2010 the femicide rate increased 1,400%.
SO HOW can we explain the correlation between the rise of crime rates and rise of number of prisons, and of inmates? First, all these crimes, including femicide, sexual assault or rape of minors are considered “petty crimes” in the eyes of the new Turkish justice system. If a man can wear a tie and appear nice at the courts, the judges are all too willing to make sure he gets a punishment that can easily be reduced.
Blaming the “overcrowding” of the prisons, prison terms in maximum security prisons have been reduced significantly in the last couple of years. So most of these violent criminals who are potential threats to the society serve for a year or two and then are either transferred to a minimum security prison or they are forgiven through another amnesty. The prisons, needless to say, do little to rehabilitate the inmates.
Turkish justice system is overcrowded. Too many people are arrested, prosecuted for political crimes such as offending the president, or for being a journalist or academic. These people are routinely charged with being a part of a terrorist organization.
To make things easier for prosecutors, they have created a category called “cocktail terror organization.” This means you may be charged with being part of a group and a supporter or sympathizer of another group simultaneously. Sometimes these different terrorist organizations may be fighting against each other. It doesn’t make sense, and it is not supposed to make sense. It is a system that isn’t based on evidence, logic or reasoning; but rather on political vendettas.
If you are charged with terrorism you are going to serve a long term. Prisons are viewed as places to tame the opposition and keep the potential leaders of dissent out of sight. They also send a message to the rest of us: “If you misbehave, you will be jailed.” We even get teased on social media for sharp-tongued comments with the reminder that the “prison must be cold now.”
While political crimes (challenging the palace) get long terms in prisons, violent criminals have to be cycled around. Erdogan’s 17 years in government will be remembered as a time of construction, and mega-projects that produced horrid financial results. The justice system has been neutered and sent adrift under Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. Polls show little to no public trust left in the country’s courts. Prolonged mistrust in the justice system is destined to ruin public order.
The writer is a visiting scholar of political science at Cal Poly Pomona College, in Los Angeles, and a columnist for Al Monitor.


Tags crime Erdogan