Laws Do Not Stop Or Pre­vent Crime!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Dr.Velon L. John Editor’s note: The au­thor of this ar­ti­cle served as Jus­tice Min­is­ter in the Labour Party ad­min­is­tra­tion of Kenny An­thony.

On Novem­ber 28,1997 the Pa­role Act (No.12/1997) be­came the law of the land. Its birth and seem­ing demise co­in­cided with that date for up to the time of the writ­ing of this ar­ti­cle, yet this piece of leg­is­la­tion has never been op­er­a­tionalised. As a Bill the Pa­role Act, and at sec­ond read­ing, had been de­bated in the House of As­sem­bly and sub­se­quently was scru­ti­nised and de­bated in the Se­nate. And so the ques­tion that comes to the fore is: why hav­ing been en­shrined in our ju­rispru­dence has this Act been al­lowed to lan­guish in a co­matose state, which in our opin­ion is a kind of leg­isla­tive death?

Con­sid­er­ing the tem­per of the times and the ex­i­gen­cies of our crim­in­jal jus­tice sit­u­a­tion and the bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion at the Borde­lais Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre, why hasn’t the Pa­role Act been con­sid­ered? In very re­cent times five in­mates of that in­sti­tu­tion had their pe­riod of in­car­cer­a­tion ter­mi­nated be­fore the nor­mal ex­pi­ra­tion of their ju­di­cially im­posed tem­po­ral con­straint.

They had not fully served their years of im­pris­on­ment, but they were re­leased. But they were re­leased through the in­stru­men­tal­ity of the Com­mit­tee on Pre­rog­a­tive of Mercy. This Com­mit­tee falls un­der Sec­tion 74 of our Con­sti­tu­tion: and it reads in part: “The Gover­nor Gen­eral may: a) Grant a par­don, ei­ther free or sub­ject to law­ful con­di­tions, to any per­son con­victed of any of­fence . . . d) re­mit the whole or any part of any pun­ish­ment im­posed on any per­son for any of­fence or of any penalty or for­fei­ture other­wise due to the Crown on ac­count of any of­fence.”

The power and au­thor­ity that de­volve upon the Gover­nor Gen­eral are in­formed by the Com­mit­tee on Perog­a­tive of Mercy, which is com­posed of at most six mem­bers. These are in part a Min­is­ter of Gov­ern­ment, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral and the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer. And so, as re­gards the five in­mates that were re­cently re­leased from prison, Sec­tion 74 (d) was ac­tu­ated. Re­gret­tably, the terms of im­pris­on­ment and na­ture of the of­fences com­mit­ted were not dis­closed in re­la­tion to each in­mate. That in­for­ma­tion in our opin­ion should have been pro­mul­gated so that we the pub­lic and from our van­tage point, would have been bet­ter po­si­tioned to as­sess the process and the cor­rect­ness or rec­ti­tude of the de­ci­sion. As we see it, trans­parency in the ex­er­cise of gov­ern­men­tal power and au­thor­ity, on what­ever the level, is a sine qua non for ef­fec­tive demo­cratic gov­er­nance.

From the paucity of in­for­ma­tion re­ceived what we have gleaned is that the five in­mates were re­leased be­cause 1) they were con­sid­ered to have been re­ha­bil­i­tated, 2) they no longer posed a threat to the so­ci­ety and 3) their length of in­car­cer­ated time was deemed suf­fi­cient con­sid­er­ing their in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stance. At this time Borde­lais, with over 500 in­mates, is alarm­ingly over­crowded. And 500 mi­nus five does not in any way re­solve that prob­lem. The res­o­lu­tion of this prob­lem has never been the fo­cus of the Mercy Com­mit­tee. In 1999 ten per­sons, con­tex­tu­ally speak­ing, were re­leased; in 2003 one; in 2005 three; in 2006 one; in 2015 one; and in 2016 five. And so be­tween 1999 and 2016 twen­ty­one in­mates were par­doned. Of course, the over­crowd­ing prob­lem at Borde­lais has not been ad­dressed. But then the Pre­rog­a­tive of Mercy served its pur­pose.

Over­crowd­ing mil­i­tates against the aims and ob­jec­tives of this in­sti­tu­tion in many ways. It cre­ates a se­cu­rity prob­lem, it sub­verts the var­i­ous modal­i­ties of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and pros­ti­tutes the Hu­man Rights of the im­pris­oned pop­u­la­tion not only in terms of their se­questered en­vi­ron­ment, but also in terms of their an­tic­i­pated and suc­cess­ful rein­te­gra­tion into the so­ci­ety. What then is needed is a modis operandi and vivendi that is pred­i­cated upon the en­light­ened con­straints of leg­isla­tive fiat; and in this re­gard the Pa­role Act comes to the fore. In St Lu­cia we do have a Pa­role Act that ur­gently needs to be op­er­a­tionalised. It is at this time dead, dy­ing or co­matose.

At this junc­ture it is quite ger­mane to pose the ques­tion, what is Pa­role? Sec­tion two of the Pa­role Act pro­vides the an­swer. It states: “Pa­role means the au­thor­ity granted to re­lease a pris­oner un­der the Act from prison in which he is serv­ing a sen­tence and un­der su­per­vi­sion of a pa­role of­fi­cer be per­mit­ted to spend the re­main­der of that sen­tence out of prison.”

Fall­ing un­der the rubric of this Act are two ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures: the Pa­role Board and the Pa­role Com­mit­tee. The pri­mary func­tion of the “Board is to re­ceive and con­sider ap­pli­cants for pa­role and to grant or re­ject such ap­pli­ca­tions.” The func­tion of the Com­mit­tee is to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the Board for con­sid­er­a­tion as a re­sult of any in­ves­ti­ga­tion car­ried out by it. As re­gards the is­sue of el­i­gi­bil­ity “ev­ery pris­oner serv­ing a sen­tence more than twelve months shall be el­i­gi­ble for pa­role af­ter hav­ing served a pe­riod of one third of such sen­tence or twelve months which­ever is the greater.” How­ever, it is to be noted (Sec­tion 6) that a pris­oner who has been sen­tenced to im­pris­on­ment for life or in re­spect of whom a sen­tence of death has been com­muted for life shall be el­i­gi­ble for pa­role af­ter hav­ing served a pe­riod of not less than fif­teen years.

What is im­por­tant to note is that the en­tire (or al­most) prison pop­u­la­tion is el­i­gi­ble for pa­role once cer­tain cri­te­ria have been met af­ter their case has been in­ves­ti­gated by the Mercy Com­mit­tee. We are of the opin­ion and be­lief that one third (1/3) of the prison pop­u­la­tion can be placed on pa­role at any one time. Once in­mates re­alise that pa­role is an as­pect of prison life there will be greater con­form­ity to the rules, the reg­u­la­tions, the aims and ob­jec­tives of this clois­tered en­vi­ron­ment. Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion will be real and ubiq­ui­tous; and prison life in some mean­ing­ful mea­sure will be more ful­fill­ing, less frus­trat­ing and not to men­tion safer.

Pa­role does not stop at the exit por­tal of the prison. It con­tin­ues into the com­mu­nity and en­gages the min­istries of gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety and the so­ci­ety gen­er­ally. Cer­tain struc­tures need to be put into place to ef­fec­tu­ate the salu­bri­ous ob­jec­tive of pa­role, and link­ages must be es­tab­lished to fa­cil­i­tate the life and liv­ing of the paroled in­mate in his or com­mu­nity. First there must ba a cadre of pa­role of­fi­cers to su­per­vise the in­mate while he is on pa­role. One or two half-way houses must be es­tab­lished to pro­vide tem­po­rary hous­ing for the in­mate who on be­ing paroled has no read­ily avail­able place of abode. From the Pa­role Of­fice link­ages must be estsab­lished with the com­mer­cial houses so that job op­por­tu­ni­ties can be made avail­able to the parolee. Gen­er­ally, the so­ci­ety needs to be ed­u­cated as to the rai­son d’etre and ra­tio­nale for a pa­role pro­gram. Each sec­tor of the so­ci­ety has its role to play in pre­vent­ing the parolee from be­com­ing a re­cidi­vist statis­tic. As we see it, the Pa­role Act No.12/1977 needs to be re­vised and op­er­a­tionalised. At the Sec­ond Read­ing in the House of As­sem­bly it was de­bated and on its mer­its (we hope), lies its func­tional jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and the need for its ex­is­tence.

One third of 500, 166, is a sig­nif­i­cant amount and num­ber. Therein lies a so­lu­tion to the over­crowd­ing at Borde­lais; a so­lu­tion that em­braces the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion thrust of this in­sti­tu­tion. With­out a func­tion­ing Pa­role Act in an en­vi­ron­ment pe­cu­liar to its so­ci­etal ex­i­gen­cies, the in­ci­dence of crime will never mean­ing­fully be re­duced. Its omis­sion in our day to day re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ex­er­tions since 1977 has been egre­gious and de­serv­ing of our con­dem­na­tion, oblo­quy and ex­pos­tu­la­tion.

And so as we con­clude our crim­i­no­log­i­cal ru­mi­na­tions it must pel­lu­cidly be pos­tu­lated that the triad of na­tional se­cu­rity con­sists of the po­lice, the prisons and the so­ci­ety. There will al­ways be crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity; and though the pri­mary way to re­duce crime is to fo­cus on the po­lice, a fully op­er­a­tional pa­role pro­gram will go a long way in mak­ing Borde­lais a more vi­able, func­tional and ef­fec­tive in­sti­tu­tion.

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