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EDITORIAL: Urgent need for reform of justice system


EDITORIAL: Urgent need for reform of justice system

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THE OUTCRY BY Barbadians against the early release of ex-convicts who had been locked away for heinous crimes underscores a major challenge the public has with criminal justice reform. Some people –exactly what proportion of the society we do not know – are diametrically opposed to such considerations.

Yet, there are inmates at Dodds prison who should not be there, even though we cannot give precise figures. They have been found guilty, but the society must get over simply seeking retribution. The way the system deals with petty criminals, drug users and even deadbeat fathers, has perhaps worsened the attitudes of many non-violent offenders.

The underlying issue is the criminal justice system which needs to be reformed. This is why the establishment of a Drug Court is a welcome initiative, since what’s needed is remedial action to deal with abusers and addicts. This enlightened approach should be extended to all convicts.

Those guilty of murder, rape, aggravated robbery and assault have hurt society in many ways. They must serve their time, but it must have an end date, even in circumstances where the public clearly fears reform measures may put dangerous felons back on the streets.

But, there is a realism Barbadians must accept about the inmates at Dodds. An increasing number of them will have to be considered for early release; the elderly, those suffering from chronic illnesses, and those who have served lengthy sentences.

This is why we need to focus on getting more experts in various areas to prepare these convicts for re-entry into society. Families need to be actively involved; so too must law enforcement which must monitor how such initiatives work.

We should disregard those views that suggest lengthy incarceration, especially following an upsurge in serious crimes, as the only answer. The United States is a prime jurisdiction where this approach has been a dismal failure and one which has also been skewed against the poor and minorities.

Barbadians must also appreciate some of the causes of recidivism and appreciate what the stigma attached to someone with a jail record and a lack of rehabilitation can cause. It can be a traumatic experience in a small nation as many of them are never fully accepted back into society. 

We believe Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite should consider new sentencing reform and correction legislation but not before the public have a chance to give their input. This approach is important to gain full support for the reforms and also win full confidence for those who administer the process at all its stages.

 The changes are urgently needed and must be on the national agenda. But, they will also require a shift in mindset.