|Prison should be last resort for petty, minor, non-violent offenders|
|Tuesday, 19 June 2012 09:05|
NASSAU, Bahamas --- Prison should be used as a last resort – as far as possible - for persons charged or convicted of non-violent, petty crimes, Minister of National Security Dr. the Hon. Bernard J. Nottage said Monday. Dr. Nottage said while a jail sentence should remain the first choice for violent, dangerous offenders; drugs, arms and human traffickers; multiple recidivists; child molesters and corruption offenders, focus should be placed on the treatment and rehabilitation of persons charged with, or convicted of petty, minor and non-violent offences.
“Indeed the evidence is clear that for dangerous, hardened criminals, punishments works mostly when it is swift, sure and severe,” Dr. Nottage said. “For petty offenders, on the other hand, treatment and rehabilitation seem to offer the best prospects – not incarceration.” Addressing the joint opening session of the Association of Caribbean Heads of Corrections and Prison Services and Caribbean Association of Corrections Conferences, Dr. Nottage said Corrections/Prison officials in many Caribbean jurisdictions are of the opinion that the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality is the “antidote to crime and violence.”
“It is well known that for far too long, prisons have been used as the sanction of first resort for those accused or convicted of relatively minor offences. Indeed, in many of our jurisdictions, it was perhaps and is still felt that to ‘lock ‘em up ad throw away the key’ is the antidote to crime and violence,” Dr. Nottage said. “While tight-fisted policies may be a popular posture, the evidence is clear that only when prisons are used as the sanction of first resort for hardened, dangerous and/or violent offenders, but the place of last resort for petty, minor offenders, society tends to be safer and remediation amongst wrongdoers more assured.”Dr. Nottage said a comparison of major countries to the north of The Bahamas, one which uses the prison first sanction for petty offenders and the other which uses the prison as a last resort mentality with regards to petty offences, has produced differing results. On the one hand, he said, the country using the prison first mentality has an incarceration rate of nearly 700 per 100,000 population, while the country using the prison last mentality has an incarceration rate of 107 per 100,000 population. England has an incarceration rate of 148 per 100,000; India, 30 per 100,000 population and Japan, 62 per 100,000 population.
“I leave it to you to determine which of the countries cited above has the highest level of crime,” Dr. Nottage said.The National Security Minister said there needs to be a common understanding as to the purpose and functions of prisons. He said if the purpose of incarceration is to protect society and expose the convicted offender to a regime of attitudes, programmes and behaviours that would reduce the chance of re-offending once released, “if we accept that premise, we may have to examine the extent to which persons are remanded for minor, non-violent crimes which helps to bloat the prison population.”“To this end, (and) at the risk of again being wrongly accused of going soft on criminals, I would suggest that we need evidence-led data to guide our policies with respect to incarceration and the evidence seems clear that whether convicted or simply charged, prisons should be reserved almost exclusively for five categories of persons: violent, dangerous offenders; drugs, arms and human traffickers; multiple recidivists; child molesters and corruption offenders. “Persons charged or convicted of non-violent, petty crimes should as far as possible be consigned to prison only as a measure of last resort,” Dr. Nottage added.
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