EDITORIAL: Time to take a second look at our penal system
THE RECENT MURDERS and violent crimes across Barbados can give no one a feeling of comfort. So when the perpetrators are caught, the natural response has been to inflict the harshest punishment possible. But our response to even the slightest infraction of the law has been to jail the offender.
On reflection, it is clear that one of the problems is a penal system in need of a major reform, in particular the way we have criminalised wayward conductof non-violent culprits.
So while it was good to hear Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite speak of the things his department has been doing to make the justice system more efficient, criminal justice is badly in need of reform.
HMP Dodds costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year, and although it is a relatively new facility, its ever-expanding population includes,a fair percentage of non-violent offenders. The incarceration of people for the smoking and possession of small quantities of marijuana does little other than to wreck lives as does the imprisonment of delinquent men for failing to support their offspring.
It is obvious that Dodds Prison is not a remedial institution. We do not want a system where people simply get a slap on the wrist and walk away, thereby making the punishment meaningless, but the punishment must fit the crime. We must also appreciate that crime will not be reduced when, on taking criminals off the streets, we put them in an environment from which they are likely to re-emerge more effective criminals.
This is why reform becomes necessary for those who are in breach of the law on a daily basis. They must be shifted to alternative treatment and punishment as it is evident that programmes such as probation should take precedence over imprisonment. For sure it is going to be cheaper, and much of the money saved can be used in various other positive ways. Great social gains will be made by investing the savings on bricks and mortar in more and better-paid social workers, psychologists and other professionals in the system.
It is against this background that we ask the Attorney General to look at the following: sentencing reform, recidivism, finding work after release, expanded community service, pretrial reform and treatment programmes, enhanced community service and greater emphasis on protection orders and restitution. Effective educational and vocational programmes must also be instituted.
Ideas about necessary changes should not be sought only from the experts, whether judges, prosecutors, court administrators, police and corrections officials. The voices of the advocates for change and the loved ones of those behind bars must be embraced.
Our system must be one that offers a chance at redemption for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.