Thu | Mar 30, 2023

Activist fears hike in murder sentence could doom rehab

Published:Thursday | January 26, 2023 | 1:25 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Carla Gullotta
Carla Gullotta

The proposed dramatic increase in the mandatory minimum sentence from 15 to 45 years could render prisoner rehabilitation useless, a rights activist has said. Executive director of Stand Up for Jamaica, Carla Gullotta, theorises that those...

The proposed dramatic increase in the mandatory minimum sentence from 15 to 45 years could render prisoner rehabilitation useless, a rights activist has said.

Executive director of Stand Up for Jamaica, Carla Gullotta, theorises that those incarcerated for extremely long periods may not see any incentive in behaviour change as they bid for early parole to be reintegrated into society.

And an ex-prisoner who spent nine years behind bars for murder but was ultimately released after the United Kingdom Privy Council overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal told The Gleaner that long mandatory minimum sentences would not act as a deterrent.

“Based on what I saw in prison and the persons that I talked to, I don’t think any sentence would be a deterrent,” the man, who requested anonymity, said Tuesday.

He also argued that there was no evidence that hanging, which last occurred in Jamaica in 1988, resulted in a reduction in murders.

“How 45 years is going to be a deterrent? I see people get 60-odd years and it is still not a deterrent,” he added.

Gullotta told The Gleaner that the near-tripling of parole periods for non-capital murder would not help.

“That is not going to solve the problem at all because nobody is going to be particularly scared because people who are committing crimes know the risk,” the executive director said.

Gullotta reasoned that a huge increase in prison time would virtually condemn the repentant and weaken the desire for rehabilitation.

“They won’t have any reason to do that,” she said.

“If somebody has been condemned for murder and he will be trying with the help of the Department of Correctional Services to make changes in his life, when you put the sentence so high, why should they try to rehabilitate? They won’t have any reason because they will be dead before they will be able to apply for parole.”

The Stand Up for Jamaica executive director said the country has spent much time discussing crime, but very little is being done to target the root causes by empowering depressed communities.

She said that deployment of the police and army in crime-plagued communities while hiking prison terms were not sufficient solutions.

“Who is running programmes for the juveniles? Nobody,” she said.

“Those 13-, 14-, and 15-year-olds, they grow in the middle of the road. They have no father, the mother is hustling to earn some money to pay the rent and put food on the table – nobody is taking any action and the action is prevention and empowerment.”

Referencing society’s failure in rescuing delinquent youth, Gullotta also pointed out that the correctional centres are already overcrowded.

Correctional centres built for 700 people are now housing 1,600, she said.

“If you increase the time in prison, you are only creating increased overcrowding in the institutions, which could lead to more violence inside,” Gullotta added.

Judge should exercise discretion

The man who walked free after his murder conviction was overturned by the Privy Council was first sentenced to 35 years before parole. He is of the view that a judge should exercise discretion regarding sentencing.

He said it was the judge who “knows the intricacies of the case”.

“The parliamentarians should not make a determination in Parliament. Even before they know how the case turned out, they say 45 years (minimum); that is utter rubbish and madness,” the former inmate said.

He said that if his judgment had not been overturned and he had been convicted under the proposed law with the minimum period before eligibility for parole being 40 years, he would be in prison for up to 80 years.

Shabadine Peart, who was eventually freed after being convicted in 2000 for the year-earlier murder of a security guard on Curphey Road, Kingston 5, said that lengthy sentences prescribed by the legislature would not curb the murder rate.

“Mi know nuff youth weh release from prison. Mi beg dem say when you go back into society, behave unnuself because mi did get a bigger sentence than dem, and dem seh, ‘Dean, when mi go a road, mi a go run most wanted,’” Peart said.

He is also of the view that a judge should be left with the discretion to impose sentences on convicted persons, noting that “the judge knows everything about the case”.

The 42-year-old, who was sentenced to death, lost an appeal in the Court of Appeal.

But in 2006, the United Kingdom Privy Council quashed the conviction and remitted the case to the Court of Appeal for a determination of whether there should be a retrial.

The Privy Council found that the Judges’ Rules had been breached because Peart, who was only 18 when he was arrested and charged, did not have the services of an attorney-at-law when the police questioned him.

On Tuesday, the Government proposed to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for non-capital murder from 15 to 45 years. The parliamentary Opposition has signalled that it will support the move.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, in a statement to Parliament, said that for sentences of life imprisonment for non-capital murder, it is proposed that convicts not be eligible for parole before serving 40 years, up from 15.

The minister said that he would shortly take a bill to Parliament that reflects the Government’s position on the proposed increased penalties.