Nicholls questions prisoner release proposal
Government has been asked to shed some light on the proposal to free close to 200 prisoners by Independence Day.
Attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls has conceded that it was possible that the 184 inmates expected to be released this year had all served their time and were eligible to go home.
However, he told Barbados TODAY the Freundel Stuart administration had a responsibility to “establish the basis for their release”.
If the prisoners are being released after serving their time, the state was not obligated to explain itself, Nicholls said. Still he remained insistent that if there had been any change in Government’s policy the public ought to be notified.
The part-time university lecturer recalled that in 1997 Government had pardoned prisoners convicted in the 1937 riots, but explained that the situation was different.
“If it is that it is a policy of the Government that it is applying the policy in terms of the remission of sentences based on applications to the Mercy Committee, then the Government must state why it is that the prison release policy has created a situation where you have so many people applying and meeting the criteria.
“And if that is the reason for the large numbers, then the Government has to come out and allay the fears that the policy itself is not putting the society at risk,” Nicholls stated.
“These are questions that I believe the Attorney General and the Office of the Attorney General have to speak to the country about, because we can’t speculate that just because we are celebrating 50 years of Independence we are releasing 200 prisoners.”
Last Thursday, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY that only prisoners who had served their time would be freed, stressing that none of the convicts would be released early.
However, in acknowledging that the Mercy Committee had the power to review the sentences of prisoners and grant their release as it saw fit, Nicholls questioned whether the standards had dropped.
“If you have a policy that because the threshold is so low that all a man has to show that he has behaved good is to do some CXC’s, participate in a lot of laudable activities while in prison, or become a baker
. . . if the threshold is so low, then the State has the responsibility to guide the country through the application of the policy and why it is that the standard to meet by the Mercy Committee is so low,” he insisted.
Nicholls, however, admitted that while the figure seemed a bit high, it could be in part due to harsher sentences which had been handed down in the past.
“A fellow might have gotten 25 years when sentences 15 to 20 years ago were a lot harsher than the sentences they would get now.
“A guy might have been sentenced to 35 years for shooting at police, but really and truly after 20 years you realize that while this crime is a serious crime, you can’t really keep him for 35 years when a man kills another man, takes a manslaughter conviction and comes out in 12 [years],” he noted.
“So you find yourself in a situation where the Mercy Committee has to consider someone who was sentenced to hang, but who cannot be hanged now. What would be the appropriate sentence?”
Meantime, Queen’s Counsel Andrew Pilgrim agreed that in all likelihood the prisoners had applied to the Mercy Committee and had been pardoned, adding that it was unlikely that Government was releasing them simply because of the jubilee celebrations.
“It is unclear to me that Government would say ‘look we are celebrating 50 years of independence therefore we are going to release some people.’ That really just seems like a very strange manoeuvre to me . . .”
Another QC, Hal Gollop, while conceding that he did not know if the reports were true, said he saw nothing wrong with the gesture.
“I do not see it other than being very charitable and an acceptance of a very deep Christian principle.
Of course, the offence for which these persons have been incarcerated would have to be taken into consideration [however], I see it as being an occasion to give persons a second chance…” Gollop noted.