Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If we are going to be serious about deterring crime -- particularly murders -- then we can't get soft on punishment... Already this timidity in enforcing the law has broken down law and order on every level in The Bahamas

Considering crime and punishment

tribune242 editorial

SPEAKING in the House of Assembly last week Cat Island MP Philip "Brave" Davis criticised Government's proposed crime Bills as falling "short" of what is needed to eliminate violent crime.

He wondered if any thought had been given to the rate of recidivism and what would be the average length of time to rehabilitate an offender when defining life imprisonment.

"There is jurisprudence," he said, "to suggest natural life without an opportunity to review with a view of release is cruel and unusual punishment."

One never hears of the "cruel and unusual punishment" suffered by a victim's family -- a victim who has not had a second chance at life. And a family that has lost their main breadwinner.

With capital punishment virtually removed from the scene, there has to be a penalty, not only to punish, but to deter. True, there are degrees of murder -- the planned, vicious murders spawned from a psychotic brain, and the impulsive anger, where death was not intended, but was the result. There might be some hope of rehabilitating the latter, but none for the former.

The society's complaint today is that the laws are too soft, so soft that the criminal is making a fool of our judicial system. It is felt that with automatic hanging removed, the criminal is willing to play Russian roulette with his life, knowing that he can commit his crime and in all probability avoid the hangman's noose. It might give him second thoughts if he had to contemplate a lifetime in prison - when he and the undertaker leave together.

However, if he knows that he can again trick his way out by good behaviour, where is the deterrent to his crime?

A police officer told us that what many of them do is "get religion" while in prison to impress their jailers. Some, released for good behaviour before completing their sentence, turn their collars backwards and quietly continue their misdeeds, while others shed their religion and openly revert to type.

If we are going to be serious about deterring crime -- particularly murders -- then we can't get soft on punishment. Already this timidity in enforcing the law has broken down law and order on every level in this country.

Mr Davis said that legislators have to think of the cost of housing a convict for the rest of his natural life -- particularly if the offender has youth on his side. They also have to think of the increased burden on taxpayers.

Mr Davis told House members that it costs $14,000 a year to house a prisoner. He said that if a person were sentenced to life at the age of 30 - life expectancy for the average Bahamian male being 70 years - the state would have to support him for at least 40 years.

"Do the math," he told legislators, "there are at least 400 persons to be tried -- millions of dollars it will be costing taxpayers!"

These convicts become burdens only if the government lacks the imagination to put them to good use and make them pay their way by their daily labour.

Already in this column we have suggested setting aside a large acreage of Crown land for cultivation. These prisoners -- composed of lifers and those with shorter sentences -- could feed the nation.

Of course, for those with a life sentence this would be a life time job. At least they can turn a misspent life into a useful one and remember -- if the laws had not been changed -- they could have been hanged, buried and forgotten about, instead of breathing God's fresh air, and growing a field of tomatoes.

This production could be a tremendous savings to government by reducing the cost of imports. If done on a large enough scale and managed like a business, it could even increase our foreign reserves through exports.

In the woodwork department, men with this ability could be taught to turn out first class cabinetry that could be sold from various furniture stores. Again if it were handled as a proper business, the prison could open its own furniture store and attract a market. They could even go into the business of making toys for children.

With a little imagination, these men need not become as heavy a burden as some predict. What must be remembered is that outside of prison walls they will be a constant menace.

Society has to decide whether they prefer to pay for their upkeep knowing that they can have a good night's sleep in the safety of their homes, or save the expense and sleep with one eye open, and an ear cocked listening for the thief at the window.

However, these prisoners could possibly earn enough that restitution also could be made to some of the victims of their evil deeds.

Who knows but that it might encourage pride in some of these men in the knowledge that in the end their lives were not a complete waste.

But with the criminal playing hardball with society, society cannot now go soft on punishment.

October 17, 2011

tribune242 editorial