The Department of Correctional Services at Fox Hill. (File photo)
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Police Commissioner Paul Farquharson wants young and first-time offenders, especially those convicted of drug possession crimes, to get their criminal records expunged.
Thousands could be eligible for clean records through the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, the new committee Mr Farquharson now heads, he told The Tribune yesterday.
123 total votes.
“Our young people and first-time offenders have been carrying around the burden of records and offences after they have served their time, paid their debt to society and still these records exist against their name,” he said.
“With drugs, which I believe probably has the most offenders among our young people, there are many people who are victims, they have made mistakes and they are now toeing the straight line so we need to accelerate the process of trying to clear their name once they have paid their due debt to society.”
National Security Minister Marvin Dames announced the constitution of the new committee on September 25, saying ex-convicts are discriminated against too often.
This is a part of a package officials hope will include a parole system as the country inches toward a less punitive and more rehabilitative justice system.
Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (Amendment) 2015, people who have committed murder, manslaughter, treason, armed robbery, rape or possessed dangerous drugs with the intent to supply cannot have their records expunged. But after five years most others are eligible if they are first-time offenders or were younger than 21 at the time of their first conviction.
“We need those persons who feel that they would wish to apply for expungement of their records to submit their records to the Ministry of National Security,” Mr Farquharson said, adding that someday he hopes such people could get relief sooner because “five years is a bit too long.”
“I would like to see it come down to three years; maybe they have been convicted for two or three joints and therefore if that person goes straight, after three years they should be able to have that record expunged,” he said.
His committee is awaiting guidelines from the Office of the Attorney General and will host town-hall meetings early next year to engage the public. Once applications are submitted, the group hopes to answer applicants within three to six months, enough time to receive and review reports from three agencies, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Social Services and the police. Ultimately, their recommendations must be approved by the minister of national security.
“If you were to take a poll among young people, a whole lot of them have tried marijuana,” Mr Farquharson said. “Unfortunately, some of them get caught and there are a lot of people who haven’t been caught who may have tried it before so I am particularly interested in the young people and giving them another chance, those who certainly toed a straight line, made a mistake once and therefore to have that record linger against their name, preventing them from getting a job, going to college, travelling, we have to do a better job than that as a country.”
“There was a symposium recently by the Inter-American Development Bank at Baha Mar and it was most educational. There was a young lady who was incarcerated, she was a panelist and she said she still has a criminal record and she talked about being locked up with dope and this was many, many years ago. She learned to do chef‘s work in the Department of Corrections and since then she said she has learned her lesson, having been in no problems and that is an example of a citizen who has tried their best and I think persons of that kind we need to reach out to help and we as a committee will do that.”