Breaking The Habit

“WE LIVE in a country that is addicted to incarceration as a tool for social control. As it stands now justice systems are extremely expensive, do not rehabilitate but in fact make the people that experience them worse and have no evidence based correlatives to reducing crime. Yet with that track record they continue to thrive, prosper and are seen as an appropriate response to children in trouble with the law. Only an addict would see that as an okay result.” – James Bell

That quote from James Bell, American attorney and youth justice activist, could easily be directed toward the Bahamas and could be said by any free thinking Bahamian about our own justice system.

We are currently on a treadmill where instead of dealing with the core reasons behind the crime in our country by throwing money at it and creating programmes that focus on incarceration and punishment.

Our legislators are spending hundreds of man hours on laws that seek to cure the illness after a major medical emergency. The effort is akin to the sad futility of a diabetic who tries to eat right after their leg has been amputated.

A good example of the hamster wheel we are on occurred this past week when a man wearing an ankle monitor attempted to rob another man at gunpoint in Fox Hill.

Police also arrested two men in the parking lot at the Mall at Marathon after they put foil paper on their ankle bracelets to prevent authorities from pinpointing their locations.

Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said this week said that many accused criminals have proven “too dangerous to be put back in the community.”

Mr Greenslade’s boss Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage echoed the commissioner’s sentiments saying that if left up to him, people accused of committing serious crimes would not be granted bail if their trial progresses in a “suitable period of time”. He added that people whose movements are being electronically monitored are “too dangerous to be put on the streets.”

Dr Nottage’s words seem empty especially considering that last month Dr Nottage announced that the government has extended ICS’ – the company responsible for the electronic monitoring programme – contract.

A little under a year ago he as well as his Minister of State Keith Bell repeatedly criticized ICS, for repeated failures in the system.

In fact, Dr Nottage said that “the ankle bracelet monitoring system is not worth the money the government has invested in it.”

ICS manager Gari Gonzalez told the media that most of the people who commit criminal acts while wearing ankle bracelets do so by “exploiting the ability to roam free.”

“As such, we believe that the Courts should establish for each device-wearer a combination of inclusion zone, exclusion zone and curfew that must be strictly adhered to as a condition of receiving bail or probation. With this requirement, the person being electronically monitored would be confined to their home parameters and restricted from entering specified areas,” Mr Gonzalez said.

“This would result in far greater compliance by those wearing the devices. As importantly, the Police would be positioned to react quickly if someone violated the specified zones or curfew – thus preventing criminal behaviour from being pursued or acted on.”

Currently, Mr Gonzalez said there are about 400 offenders being monitored at this time and more than 90 per cent of them are compliant with their bail conditions. He said the remaining 10 per cent are immediately dealt with by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

The ankle bracelet programme is an easy answer in a long list of easy answers to a problem that has no easy answer.

We must break our habit of expending public funds on punitive measures as our attempt to solve our crime problem before it becomes an addiction.

If we can’t, don’t know how to or unwilling to break the back of the social issues that cause crime in the first place then the human and economic resources must be focused on the rehabilitation and reeducation of our people.

As a people we need to take a holistic view of the justice system. Persons need to have access to resources that can allow them to redeem themselves.


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