WHAT do we do to turn the lives around of offenders once the gates of Fox Hill Prison close behind them?
To some, of course, any action to give criminals a pathway back toward being a part of civil society is too much. Some would just slam the door and throw away the key – but there are many prisoners whose lives can be turned around.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has given a positive signal in trying to do so – first talking about expunging the records of those convicted of marijuana possession and now wanting to overhaul the rehabilitation process.
That’s long overdue – many would be surprised to learn there even is a rehabilitation process. We’re not talking about the serious murderers or dangerous gang leaders here, but what about those convicted of minor offences who learn the error of their ways? Where are the jobs for them when they come out with a record?
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee has the power to expunge the records of young people and first-time offenders. There are criteria to be met, so it’s not wiping the slate clean for everyone.
We need to take The Bahamas forward as a society, and one of our societal problems is the difficulty facing particularly young men with a blot on their record.
In principle, this is a good thing. There’s always the worry over whether these things will be handled the right way, of course. Records mustn’t be wiped away simply because of who you know or who you vote for. Those who cry “my good son” as criminals are locked away mustn’t be rewarded for their political allegiance at the expense of public safety.
But if we can steer clear of bias, then this hopefully allows us to stop just locking our problems away inside the walls of Fox Hill and ignoring them.
As Dr Minnis says, “We want to give our countrymen a freedom and a future they have been deprived of because of minor offences and in some cases, decades old offences.”
We hope this can be a bi-partisan process. There is no reason for the FNM and PLP to differ over whether a minor offender deserves to have the slate cleared or not. They can squabble about who gets the credit later.
Prison sentences have a limit for a reason. When the prisoner has completed their sentence, we hope they will have learned their lesson, that they will have understood their punishment. If we are to believe that they can, then there must be a future awaiting offenders who do learn that lesson. Indeed, we must ensure that their future is part of our own.
Train and support our officers
Two men died after police pursued a car on Saturday. The driver of the vehicle police were chasing lost control and crashed into a wall. Both men in the car died as a result of the crash.
Another police chase on Thursday ended with two men fleeing a car and one reportedly opening fire on police. Officers returned fire and one of the men ended up in hospital.
In court on Thursday, another man faced charges following an incident last year in which the occupants of a vehicle reportedly opened fire on police before a chase led to the pursued vehicle crashing and bursting into flames. The occupant reportedly opened fire on police, who returned fire and injured two men, a third escaping on foot.
For a country of our size, these events happen far more often than they should. You can look at it and be worried about the respect for the rule of law, about the safety of officers who have to risk their lives in high-speed chases and gun battles, about whether the appropriate course of action has been taken.
What we can say is that this happens often enough that we hope that our officers are being trained appropriately to deal with such situations – not just in the ability to drive a car at speed or to wield a gun but also to keep a level head to make decisions when the adrenaline is pumping.
We also hope that procedures are firmly in place to investigate such incidents and to ensure officers have done the right thing in the toughest circumstances.
But there is one other thing we hope – this can be traumatic for officers. We hope the force is able to take those traumatised by such incidents literally out of the firing line, and ease them back in when the time is right.
Officers face a difficult job, but it is one that has to be done right. To do it right, they need the right training and support. Let’s make sure they’re getting it.