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Sentencing must still be reasonable

The crime problem The Bahamas has faced the past 10 to 15 years is well documented. From 2011 to 2017, more than 100 people were murdered each year. There were five murder records between 2007 and 2017. The worst year was 2015 when there were 146 murders.

Most of these killings took place in New Providence, our most populated island. The Family Islands remain peaceful.

With the upswing in violence there were increased calls for capital punishment. Those who support state-sanctioned killing think it would solve the problem. We disagree. It is final and irreversible, yet the criminal justice system often gets it wrong. The death penalty is also disproportionately carried out on the poor, uneducated and under-represented. It is unjust.

On the response side to crime, it is important to have quality police investigations; competent prosecutors; well-resourced and well-staffed courts to hear matters in a reasonable time; and fair judges who pass sentences appropriate to the circumstances before them.

On Saturday a well-known pastor released a statement calling for life sentences to be issued to murder and rape convicts.

“Both the ghastly act of rape and the nefarious intentional murder of a human being qualifies as the worst of the worst in my book – the United Kingdom’s Privy Council’s position notwithstanding,” said Bishop Simeon Hall.

“We are far too passive in this country for certain matters and we must not accept wanton acts of crime as our new normal. Anyone rightly convicted through the judicial system of rape and/or murder should be removed from civilized society for the rest of his or her natural life.

“I do believe that when people make mistakes, particularly when they are repentant, they deserve another chance to remake their lives. Unfortunately, I am also convinced that there are some who are impervious to the best that society offers, and they should be permanently removed from civilization.”

Firm sentences are needed for those convicted of murder and rape. But what must be acknowledged, too, is each case is different.

If two 20-year-olds with no previous convictions were in an argument over a common girlfriend, then one goes inside his house, gets a gun and kills the other, that’s one type of murder. If a man who was previously convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder, after coming out of prison, shoots an 80-year-old woman dead in the commission of another armed robbery, that’s a different type of murder.

The judge has to consider the person’s history. The judge has to consider the circumstances surrounding the killing. The judge has to consider the potential for the convict’s reform.

A judge hearing these two cases is much more likely to give a harsher sentence to the repeat offender.

Judges need discretion. It is an abuse of our constitution to level blanket punishments across the board absent of consideration of the facts of a matter. Life sentences should not automatically be given to every person convicted of rape or murder.

While it is necessary to focus on the state’s response to crime and violence, in order to make our communities safer we must also invest more in our young men – the ones committing most crimes – before having to spend money arresting, prosecuting and jailing them.

More state-sponsored child care assistance is needed for struggling families; there should be special emphasis on finding a better pedagogical model to reach boys; male teens should not be allowed to just drop out. Find them and bring them back, by whatever reasonable means, to the school environment where they can be taught, socialized, trained and positively inspired.

We will not have peace if we continue accepting the failure of our boys and young men as inevitable.

The crisis of male failure in the school system should be a top priority for the government. No administration has considered it a crisis and responded with the necessary mix of new policy and resources to attempt to reverse disturbing trends.

We do need better police case preparation; we need the Office of the Attorney General to up its prosecutorial performance; we need efficient courts able and ready to hear cases; we need judges to issue appropriate sentences to hardened repeat offenders.

But let’s always keep the focus on the production side of this equation. We are creating too many robbers, thieves and killers – especially on New Providence. When we figure out how to stop doing that, our crime problem will fade away.

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