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Nightmare Abroad.

Nightmare Abroad is a compilation of mostly anecdotal accounts of Americans imprisoned abroad. The author, a freelance journalist, recounts his visits to several foreign prisons to interview Americans. While not all the American prisoners can be fairly viewed as having nightmarish experiences - certainly not those incarcerated in developed countries like Canada, France and Germany - the stories of those languishing in prisons in less developed countries are sobering.

The book emphasizes the cultural gulf between American and foreign criminal justice systems. The Americans incarcerated abroad, based on the limited examples Laufer highlights, fall into two classes: those who knowingly violated the law and took the chance that they would not be caught and those who, through ignorance of foreign law and custom, became ensnared in an alien criminal justice system. Readers obviously will sympathize more with the latter group; few Americans are aware that a traffic accident or the purchase of an antique as a souvenir could result in a significant period of detention.

The author competently illustrates the apparently arbitrary and draconian measures foreign authorities take in response to a crime. He notes that many countries approach the investigation and prosecution of the accused differently from the United States. The presumption of innocence is not a universally held concept, and the accused does not necessarily have the right to pretrial bond, the right not to incriminate him or herself or the right to confront examples of coerced confessions and corruption he cites create a craving in the reader for a viable solution. Unfortunately, the book does not tackle this greater issue.

Laufer is often critical of how the U.S. government responds to the plight of Americans incarcerated abroad. While deploring the substandard prison conditions of many poorer nations, he seems to argue that the United States should exert more diplomatic pressure on these nations to treat American prisoners differently than they treat their own nationals.

The experience recounted by an American imprisoned in Peru for trying to smuggle cocaine paste is a good example of this. His year-long wait from arrest until conviction and the volting sanitary conditions he faced are intolerable by American standards. However, this is a reality all prisoners there endure. In fact, the American fared better in the corrupt environment than most of his fellow prisoners because of his economic resources.

The author suggests no prescription available to the United States for changing these conditions other than "diplomatic pressure." Although few would disagree that improving the criminal justice systems in many foreign countries is a laudable goal, it is difficult to imagine how the United States could justify expending substantial diplomatic capital to exert influence over an area that is objectively an internal affair. Most countries would legitimately object to having the United States dictate how they treat individuals who have been found to have violated their criminal laws. The book simply skirts this issue altogether, emphasizing instead a few cases to suggest that the United States is deliberately ineffective to further other goals.

The book concludes with practical advice on how to avoid trouble abroad. This advice is valuable, and anyone who plans to travel internationally would benefit from a review of these tips.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Preston, Richard K.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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