Nassau, Bahamas – The following are remarks given by Craig Butler, independent candidate for Kennedy on September 4th, 2011.
Good afternoon. First of all I would like to thank the members of the press for coming on a Sunday afternoon.
Before I commence I’d like to remind everyone today is the 10th anniversary of the straw market fire and some of those vendors who were there then find themselves yet again in turmoil as they have lost what they had during the recent hurricane.
I’m here today to talk about crime in our nation. I have sat back and listened as our local experts have tried for the past 10 plus years to determine what the problems are and supposedly find solutions for them. Both administrations have been unable to curb the situation, and we find ourselves this year with respect to murders on a pace that makes it appear that lawlessness rules the day.
There have been repeated calls for capital punishment to be resumed as it is felt by many that this would have the deterrent effect. Although the ability to effect such a sentence is on our books in reality given the constraints that have been imposed by the Privy Council through its interpretation of our constitution the likelihood of hanging a convicted person is virtually nil.
If it is the desire of the Bahamian people to resume this practice a referendum must be held so that the necessary changes to our constitution can be made, that would allow a convicted person the right to pursue any and all appeals that they may desire and at the end of that process despite the passage of a long period of time for the State to mete out its punishment.
On a personal note I do not feel as though the institution of capital punishment will have any significant impact on our crime statistics but I am willing to abide by the voice of the people. In the circumstances I call upon the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister to hold the national referendum before the next general election and allow the voices of the people to be heard. To me it seems as though it would be impossible for any political institution to oppose such a move for fear of being branded not serious about dealing with the issue of crime.
My personal observations tell a different story as to the problems and the solutions. As you are aware I am seeking at present to represent the people of Kennedy. This has allowed me to go up and down and to speak and interact with the constituents. Kennedy encompasses parts of Nassau Village, Kennedy Subdivision, Golden Palm, Windsor Place, Redland Acres, Flamingo Heights, and parts of Malcolm Road. This is clearly the inner city, ghetto, down and depressed the hood or however you want to term it. The demographic that I am faced with are those who comprise the bottom rung of the 5000 plus students who leave school on an annual basis. Many of my area residents have only certificates of attendance and so the ability to find meaningful employment is greatly restricted.
To truly understand the problem one needs to talk with people first hand. The young men are marginalized and the young women are being taken advantage of. Jobs are needed and urgently. Please don’t be under the misapprehension that these are people who are lazy and don’t want to work. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Most have challenges in obtaining employment though because many have criminal records and as I previously noted very limited education.
What we as society have then done is left them to defend for themselves with little or no ability to cope. Accordingly they are primed to be taken advantage of by persons who have nefarious intent.
Example the young man who spoke to me and told me he applied to Atlantis for a job as a porter/ bell boy. He was refused as he has a conviction for being found in possession of a marijuana joint. Other than that he has had no other run ins with the law. We have now taken what could be a productive citizen and closed all legitimate means for him to support himself. When approached by a gang leader and as they put it on the street shown some love he becomes a soldier in that gang.
What is showing some love in most instances it’s anywhere from 20 to 50 dollars, a pair of tennis or a pair of jeans. Couple this with having a party where that young man can come and drink and have a good time and you now have an individual who has crossed over and doesn’t even realize it. To the young man he’s only surviving or as he will put it ‘on a hustle’
Until we can adequately address this problem our crime situation will not improve. There must be avenues for the youth to express themselves. Sports is always a good outlet for energy and frustration but education is the key. I’ve asked the Minister of Youth Sports & Culture to see about resurfacing the basketball court in the community. To date I have had no response. The electrical supply boxes were old presented a hazard I asked BEC to fix the same and ended up doing it myself. The bathrooms are not functioning as a matter of fact they were inaccessible because they were being used as a dump site. I caused them to be cleaned out but still require Ministry of Works to assist with getting them operational again.
As for educational opportunities for most College of the Bahamas is out of the question. Many require adult education classes just to get what would be a high school diploma. BTVI is a possibility but there needs to be incorporated classes with a shorter duration that will teach basic skill levels in a 6 to 8 week period. Constant positive reinforcement is the only way to maintain the interest level.
As for urban renewal and initiatives I’m sure that they have their place but the bottom line is there must be something in place that makes the personal connection. The gang leaders have realized this and use it to their advantage thus the gang becomes more akin to a family.
Our court system and police force needs to be addressed. Any government serious about crime will devout the necessary resources. First and foremost there need to be an increase in the number of our courts both at the Supreme & Magisterial Court level. I would say 4 – 6 additional at the upper level and the same at the magistrate level coupled with an increase in the number of registrars to allow for specialization. There needs to be provided for each Supreme Court justice two clerks who are legally trained. One can be a novice whose duty will be primarily research and the other of at least 5 years experience to assist in the more substantive areas. What these increase doe is allow for the legal process to be carried out in an expedited manner. I realize that this would incur a significant expenditure and budget limitations will be cited when my comments are criticized. But ask yourselves the following question ‘if the measures are not taken and the hard decisions are not made are we prepared to live with the current situation?
Every year at least 50 persons are being called to the Bar so there is an abundant supply of legally trained persons to fulfill these roles so what are we going to do?
Magistrate courts ought to have lawyers as prosecutors. Lawyers need to be assigned to the police force to assist in the investigation process. Many cases fail due to poor preparation. A DNA facility needs to be established locally.
As for sentencing by sentencing by the courts this area needs to be addressed to provide for greater uniformity. In the magistrate court depending upon before whom you appear similar crimes can vary drastically in the sentences handed down and in some instances this can be seen before the same magistrate. This can’t be fair and must be changed.
Corporal punishment I feel is the way forward. Whilst capital punishment has the allure to me corporal brings real results. The reinstitution of the use of ‘the rod’ and ‘the Cat’ will be something that will in my estimation cause one to stop and think. Amnesty International and all the other international groups I am sure will be berating us as a barbaric society. However remember this ‘the cat’ is so devastating that it can only be applied in a limited fashion as the body requires a significant amount of time to heal.
If the more serious crimes came with these as a mandatory part of the sentence I am convinced that many of those who commit crimes will think long and hard before doing so, for example if an armed robbery conviction carries 6 lashes with ‘the cat’ that would be administered over the first two years of the sentence how many of those individuals do we think would seriously resort to crime again. Of course we have to institute a rehabilitative measure in the prison to help these men and women to adjust to society when released and find employers willing to hire them upon reentry to society but steps such as these are necessary.