PRIME Minister Hubert Minnis. (File photo)
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis wants a “complete overhaul of the rehabilitation process” for prisoners, declaring yesterday too many people have been deprived of their freedom and future.
On Friday he met representatives of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, which has the power to expunge records of young people and first time offenders who meet criteria. The committee’s work is a part of a package which officials hope will eventually include a parole system that would allow some prisoners to receive early release from prison.
“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,” Dr Minnis said when asked yesterday about wider rehabilitation reforms.
“We need to reform the whole system so they can have a clean slate and their lives can begin again. We are a government of expanding freedom and creating better futures.”
Dr Minnis has especially stressed the role the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee will play in expunging the records of people convicted of marijuana possession crimes.
“I met with members of the committee,” he told The Tribune. “It was just established by the FNM and despite what the PLP has talked about, they didn’t bring the committee forward to do what is necessary. We spoke about the progress they’re making and how they’re focusing on young people and first offenders. We promised them that we want to move forward not only with expunging records of people with marijuana, but many young people and first offenders with minor offences.
“The government will provide all the resources necessary for them to work: a secretariat, adequate staff, etc. There will be town hall meetings. We want to expunge the records of these young people so they can have a clean slate and get back into society and travel, find jobs, qualify for visas, etc. I am told this will impact thousands of young people and thousands of homes.
“When we came to office, we spoke about wanting to change lives and we made a promise and a commitment that we want to do so because in most cases, those affected are the poor and the marginalised. We made the commitment and now we’re making the changes.”
Paul Farquharson, chairman of the committee, has said he hopes its takes no more than between three to six months for applicants to hear from the committee after they submit an application.
Dr Minnis said he hopes to accelerate the process “as fast as possible so individuals lives can change and go on.”
“There are job opportunities in Abaco and Grand Bahama to come and as Bahamians they must be a part of the new revolution,” he said.
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. Dr Minnis said as the government looks to reform the rehabilitation process, it might be necessary to expand the list of serious crimes for which expungement of records cannot take place, citing human smuggling as an example.