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Help convicted nationals

Tony Best

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Few things epitomize the changing face of Caribbean immigrantsin New York more than their involvement inthe city’s criminal justice system.
That’s particularly true of the young men who trace their family’s roots to Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Haiti and their neighbours. Whether it is for gang-related crimes or minor infractions officially called misdemeanours, the hard reality is that they can be found daily in the courts, police station holding cells or in Riker’s Island jail.
“We are seeing a growing number of people from the Caribbean in our jail population,” said a senior official of the city’s corrections department.
But what’s troubling for Caribbean immigrant activists, court officials and Caribbean consular representatives is the immigrants’ lack of knowledge when they become entangled inthe system, accusedof wrongdoing or when their relatives must help alleged perpetratorsof crime.
“It was an eye-opener for me when I first went to the bench as a State Supreme Court judge,” said Justice SylviaHinds-Radix, a Barbadian who now sits on the appeals division of the state supreme court in Brooklyn, perhaps the busiest state appellate judicial body inthe country.
“Generally, immigrants from the Caribbeandon’t understand the criminal justice system because it is large and different from what they are familiar with in their respective homelands. The fact is that many people commit crimes, come to court, are convicted and end upin jail, and are subsequently deported.
“Many young people come to this country when they are young, some at about two years old, and end up being deported and sent back to countries they know little about,” added the highly regarded senior judge who was recently in Barbados where she delivered a lecture.
“Too many kids graduate from high school, can’t go to college because of their immigration status,and can’t get a job.They end up inthe court system andare then deported.”
Because of that challenging situation, Hazra Ali, a Caribbean community activist in Brooklyn, worked with the office of Brooklyn district attorney (DA) Charles Hynes and the Caribbean Consular Corps in New York to hold a Criminal Justice Day In Brooklyn as part of Caribbean Heritage month celebrations. It began with a breakfast presentation by Hynes, the Brooklyn DA for at least 20 years, and other officials.
More than a dozen consuls general and other consular representatives from Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and St Lucia heard Hynes, toured the Family Justice Centre where domestic violence cases are tried, went toa criminal court, visited the mental health court, the 84th precinct police station and its holding cells, and ended up at the state supreme court complex where Hinds-Radix has her chambers, hears cases anddecides appeals.
The judge also conducted a briefing session during which she told them that itwas probably the first time they were fully exposed to the workings of the criminal justice system, and the information and insights they garnered would serve consular representatives well when they have to respond to their nationals’ cries for help.
“There is a need to understand the system because immigrants are easy prey for those who wish to take advantage of them,” she said.
Lennox Price, Barbados’ Consul General, said afterwards it was an eye-opener for him and his colleagues because of the complexity of the system and the way it works.
“I am in a better position now to workwith our nationals when they turn to us for help,” he said.
“It’s important that we become aware of the way the courts,how the district attorney and his prosecutors function, and indeed try to assist those convicted of criminal offences [who] served their time in jail and arere-entering society.
“His office has an array of social programmes to aid people covicted of crimes so they can re-enter society after completing their sentences.” Julian Dubois, St Lucia’s consulgeneral and current chairman of the Caribbean Consular Corps, agreed.
“We have ourwork cut out forus as representatives of our nationals. The tour was very well organized and informative,”said Dubois.
“I agree that it was an eye-opener for allof us and will serve our offices well.”