Crowds gathered at a crime scene. The Bahamas murder count hits 60 on yesterday morning equal to the total number of murder in 2006.
NASSAU, Bahamas – The Government is seriously considering plea bargaining and compulsory education and skills programmes, with a view to “freeing up” the criminal justice system and Her Majesty’s Prison, Minister of National Security, the Hon. Tommy Turnquest declared Wednesday.
During his parliament contribution to the debate on a Bill for an Act to amend the Juries Act, Minister Turnquest said, “nothing this Government will propose, or do, will release from custody violent and dangerous repeat offenders. Neither will persons granted alternative sentences be permitted to breach the terms of their sentences. If they do, they will go back to prison.”
He said the level of repeat offenders going to prison remains too high, calling into question the ability to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders in society.
According to Minister Turnquest, “The Government’s position on alternative sentencing and prison reform generally, is evident from the Prison Department’s steady movement towards the long overdue reform and modernization of Her Majesty’s Prison.
“It is worrisome that approximately one in every 232 Bahamians, predominantly young men, are in Her Majesty’s Prison, seriously depleting our country’s human capital. Imagine what this means for family and community life, productivity and development in our country.”
The Minister disclosed that the Government is implementing strategies to reduce the rate of recidivism and to work towards the successful reintegration of inmates into their communities upon release from prison.
“Statements of overcrowding and other ills in Her Majesty’s Prison are somewhat exaggerated,” he stated. “Conditions at Her Majesty’s Prison are improving, and we are taking active steps daily to make it so.”
Mr. Turnquest said the current population in the prison – designed to house 1,350 inmates – stands at 1,359.
He said the overcrowding at the prison relates to maximum security, “and this facility is challenged by the large number of persons on remand who have to be housed there. There are 358 persons on remand in the maximum security facility.”
Minister Turnquest said, “Addressing the remand problem should go a long way to reducing the prison population, particularly in the one area of concern – maximum security.”
Meantime, Minister Turnquest underscored that an analysis of the murder statistics so far in 2007 reveal that 64 per cent of murder victims had a prior criminal record and 74 per cent of murder suspects also had a prior criminal record.
He emphasized that 10 of the murder suspects charged this year were previously charged with murder.
“There is an urgent need,” Mr. Turnquest stated, “for us to come to terms with domestic violence; to implement programmes to lower the levels of anger and frustration among our people, and to foster and promote non-violent resolution of conflicts.
“Alarmingly, a growing number of the perpetrators of serious crime are young men, in too many instances boys still in high school, and others younger than 21. In some disturbing cases, young females are reported as instigators of the violence.”
He told House members that too many young Bahamians are going to jail.
“There is also evidence that crime of the nature we are experiencing – the level of crime in New Providence – is creeping into our more populous Family Islands, long fabled as tranquil, restful and carefree retreats,” said Minister Turnquest.
He said the proposed amendment to the Juries Act does not, in any way, interferes with the “fundamental right” to trial by jury in criminal cases before the Supreme Court of The Bahamas.
“The purpose of this Bill,” he added, “is straightforward, and clear. It is to amend this critical area of the law, to bring it in step with current realities.
“The provision of the Bill maintains the number of jurors required in capital cases at 12, while reducing the number of jurors for non-capital cases from 12 to nine.”
Minister Turnquest explained that The Bahamas, with a population of approximately 350,000 people, has a correspondingly small jury pool.
“This Bill, once passed, should assist in the expeditious empanelling of juries from this limited pool, and consequently improve the operations of the criminal justice system,” he stressed.
Minister Turnquest emphasized that The Bahamas has a serious crime problem.
“Murder, rape, assault, armed robbery, robbery, burglary, shop breaking, theft, stolen vehicles, fraud and corruption, all feature prominently in disturbing crime trends in our Bahamas,” he told House members.
“Crime statistics for our country for some years now,” Minister Turnquest stated, “suggest that our efforts to inculcate acceptable values and standards of morality in our children are inadequate. Clearly the inadequacy of our efforts would have repercussions on our societies and country.
“We did not wake up one morning surprised to find that murder and other serious crimes were actually occurring in our country. It happened over time, as changes to the social norms that had long directed our behaviour were tolerated, and then accepted, as if we were powerless to do otherwise.
“The deterioration was widespread,” he said.