|Crime and forms of punishment|
Published: Jun 19, 2012
The Caribbean Association of Corrections is holding a conference here in The Bahamas. Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage addressed the conference yesterday.
Dr. Nottage argued a logical point in his address, insisting that prison should be a place of last resort for people who commit petty crimes. He added that based on research on the issue prison should be reserved almost exclusively for five categories of people: violent dangerous offenders; drugs, arms and human traffickers; multiple recidivists; child molesters and corruption offenders.
“Persons charged or convicted of non-violent petty crimes should as far as is possible be confined to prison only as a measure of last resort,” Dr. Nottage said.
We agree. This does not mean that those offenders should not be punished. It just means that alternative dispute mediation and sentencing measures must be created to deal with non-violent petty offenders.
One major problem in our justice system is the issue of marijuana possession. Some young men and women have trials over the possession of one joint for personal consumption. For this to take place police officers have to make arrests, detain people and write up reports, and prosecutors have to lead cases before the court. Our law enforcement resources should be better deployed.
Many countries have moved away from treating minor marijuana possession as a crime that requires this type of state response. If small-scale possession for personal use is to remain an offense, treating it like a minor traffic infraction may be a better way to go. Officers could issue tickets to those found with small quantities of the substance rather than jailing and prosecuting these individuals.
That being said, we must get better at dealing with serious criminals – that is, violent offenders and those who commit property crimes that disturb the peace. The new administration has re-launched its swift justice initiative and is pledging to quicken the pace and improve the quality of prosecutions.
Those who rob, rape and kill, and those who break in to homes and vehicles, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage and stealing goods honest people worked for, must be met with painful sanctions that discourage them and others from doing similar things.
The key is the speedy and fair arrest and trial process once offenses occur. Too many offenders have no fear of the Bahamian criminal justice system. They think that charges will simply get lost in an overburdened system. And sadly, in too many cases, they are correct.
Just as it is likely that the new attorney general will have to discontinue prosecutions in many unwinnable cases, the new government will have to work towards changing our laws to ensure that we deal aggressively and swiftly with those who commit serious offenses and find alternative means to deal with those who commit minor nuisance offenses. With limited resources our courts waste time focusing on minor matters that could more effectively be dealt with via other means.