By FARRAH JOHNSON
BISHOP Simeon Hall said he supports the prime minister's stance on expunging records for people convicted of minor offences, stating yesterday everyone deserves a "second chance".
Bishop Hall spoke a day after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told The Tribune he wants a "complete overhaul of the rehabilitation process" for prisoners, which would see the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee work towards expunging the records of persons convicted for being in possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as first time offenders with minor offences.
"I wish to say the prime minister's decision on this particular issue is in my opinion an answer to prayers," Bishop Hall told The Tribune.
"All the churches in The Bahamas pray for prisoners. If you listen to their intercessions on Sunday or on their Sabbath, they pray for the prisoners.
"I think what the prime minister is seeking to do is an answer to prayer in terms of (setting) the prisoner free."
Bishop Hall, a prominent religious leader, said the country has "scores of young men" that have been locked up for being in possession of small amounts of marijuana or other "petty crimes."
He said the country should work towards improving their positions because everybody deserves a second chance.
"Some people need another chance and to give these young black men another chance is the right thing," he insisted.
"It is the right thing to do to give these young men and women a fresh start to expunge their records and let them go."
Bishop Hall said although there are some people who are "questioning Mr Minnis'" motives, he does not care whether the Killarney MP's position is politically motivated.
He told The Tribune he is calling on churches to "join in the fight".
"If Mr Minnis, through the legal set up could help some of these young men and women sentenced on probation to work with churches, the church could pick up the ball and help these young men," he said.
"I believe that we should seek to reach these young men, give them another chance to get their social life together and to go on. I support this one unequivocally and I believe it is the right thing to do."
Bishop Hall, co-chair of the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, insisted any pardon should only be extended to those with minor offences.
"We're not even looking at persons who bring in huge amounts of marijuana, they should go to jail and they should stay in jail. I have no pity for them," he said.
"What I'm saying is for those young men who are with small amounts, they should be given a second chance.
"This is what makes our nation Christian, when we could give sight to the blind, when we can give a second chance to those who break the law, this is what makes us Christian."
He insisted he is not interested in what motivated Dr Minnis' call for prison reform, but said he believes it is the right thing to do. "The next time you go to church, listen," he said. "They pray for the prisoners and many of our churches have prison visiting ministries. This is a practical answer to that kind of intercession."
On Friday, Dr Minnis 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 on Sunday 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."
He also said: "I met with members of the committee. 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."