Authorities looking to send a strong message to criminals
Retired juvenile court magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris says the jury is still out on whether a gun amnesty will work in Barbados.
However, responding to a recent spate of violent crime here, Marshall-Harris today strongly agreed with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that a clear and unequivocal signal must be sent to would-be perpetrators that “crime does not pay”.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, the former coroner drew a link between rising gun crime and the illegal drug trade, while warning that a stern message needed to be sent to offenders that the authorities will not tolerate the illegal possession or abuse of firearms.
“I think that we were somewhat going in the right direction when we introduced some draconian sentencing for firearm offences,” she said, while acknowledging that the measures did “not leave enough judicial discretion”.
“For example, you had instances where somebody was charged with possession of two rounds of ammunition and they would have gotten the severest penalty as someone who would have been caught with an arsenal of guns.
So that needs a bit of tweaking in terms of allowing for more judicial discretion in the sentencing. But, having said that, I was quite in favour to some extent, of the fact that it sent a message that we would not tolerate the proliferation of firearms,” added Marshall-Harris, who is a child rights advocate.
Speaking in the House of Assembly today on a bill to amend the Prisons Act, Prime Minister Stuart also zeroed in on the domestic problem of crime, warning that “no society can survive if the message out in the society is that crime pays”.
“The clearest signal has to be sent to perpetrators of crime that crime does not pay, and the best way to send that signal is by effective modes of punishment,” he added.
However, Stuart contended that in circumstances where people were imprisoned, the idea was not just to send them there and feed them and subject them to various forms of discipline.
“The object is to ensure that when those people leave prison and come back into society, that they can make a contribution to the society and can be reintegrated as easily as possible. Now that is a big challenge for countries like Barbados,” he acknowledged.
“Because of the smallness of our societies; because our societies are highly personalised societies; because everybody knows everybody else and knows everybody else’s family, it is very difficult for persons to commit criminal offences and to be forgotten very easily by the society,” the Prime Minister pointed out.
With this in mind, Stuart said rehabilitation became even more difficult.
“But because it is difficult, doesn’t mean we should not try it. And therefore, we must not only work on the perpetrator of crime, but we also have to tackle the society itself in respect as to how it relates to people who have had a criminal past.”
During the parliamentary debate, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite also weighed in on the issue of crime and punishment in Barbados.
Brathwaite said since most crimes were committed by young people, systems must be put in place to give them a second chance.
However, he insisted that this did not mean Government was backing off on crime.
“As Attorney General, certainly this Government has no intention of being soft on crime. We still believe that there is a role to be played for when someone infringes our laws that there is some penalty to be attached,” he said.
At the same time, he did not feel every sanction must be imprisonment.