Letters & Opinion

Parole — By Dr. Velon John

THIS “piece” was wriiten or perhaps re-witten more than a year ago but was never published; but since I perceive a certain relevance in terms of what presently obtains I have decided to promulgate my thinking on this matter of parole as conceptualised a long time ago.

On the 28th November, 1997 THE PAROLE ACT (No.12/1997) became the law of the land. Its birth and seeming demise coincided with that date, for up to the time of penning these words, this piece of legislation has never been operationalised. As a Bill it had been debated in the House and was therefore scrutinised and analysed in the Senate. And so the question that comes to the fore is why having been enshrined in our jurisprudence, this Act was allowed to languish in a comatose state?

Considering the temper of the times and the exigencies of our criminal justice situation and the burgeoning population at Bordelais, why hasn’t the Parole Act been considered at this time? In very recent times five inmates of that institution have had their period of incarceration terminated before the normal expiration of their judicially temporal constraint. They had not fully served their years of incarceration but they were released through the instrumentality of the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy.

That Committee falls under Section 74 of our Constitution: and it reads in part:
The Governor General May:
(a) Grant a pardon ,either free or subject to lawful conditions, to any person convicted of any offence…..
Remit the whole or any part of any punishment
Imposed on any person for any offence or of any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the Crown on account of any offence.

The power and authority that devolve upon the Governor General are informed by the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy, which is composed of and at most six persons. These are in part, a Minister of Government, the Attorney General and the Chief Medical Officer. And so as regards the five inmates that were released from prison Section 74 (d) was actuated. Regrettably the terms of imprisonment and the nature of the offences were not disclosed. That information in my opinion should have been promulgated so that we the public would have been better positioned to assess the process and rectitude of the decision. As I see it, transparency in the exercise of governmental power, on whatever the level, is a sine qua non for effective, salubrious democratic governance.

From the paucity of information received, what I have gleaned is that the five inmates were released because of (1) they were considered to have been rehabilitated (2) they no longer posed a threat to the society and (3) their length of incarcerated time was deemed sufficient considering their individual circumstance.

At this time, Bordelais, with over 500 inmates is alarmingly overcrowded. And five hundred inmates minus five do not in any way resolve that sardine can problem. But then the resolution of that problem has never been the focus and raison d’etre of the Committee. In 1199 ten inmates, contextually speaking,were released; in 2003,one and in 2005,three. In 2006, one, in 20015, one and in 2016, five. The overcrowding problem had not been addressed but the Committee had served its purpose.

Overcrowding
Overcrowding militates against the aims and objectives of the Bordelais institution in many ways. It creates a security problem; it subverts the various modalities of rehabilitation and prostitutes the Human Rights of the imprisoned population not only in terms of their sequesterd environment but also in terms of their anticipated and successful reintegration into the society. What then is needed is a modus operandi and modus vivendi that are predicated upon the enlightened constraints of legislative fiat. And in this regard the Parole Act comes to the fore. At this time our Parole Act is either dead, dying or comatose.

At this time it is quite germane to pose the question: what is Parole? Section 2 of the said Act provides the answer. It states:

Parole means the authority granted to release a prisoner under the Act from prison in which he is serving a sentence and under supervision of a Parole Officer be permitted to spend the remainder of that sentence out of prison.

Falling under the rubric of this Act are two Administrative structures: The Parole Board and the Parole Committee. The primary function of the Board is to receive and consider applicants for parole and to grant or reject such applications. The function of the Committee is to make recommendations to the Board for consideration as a result of any investigation carried out by it.

As regards the issue of eligibility every prisoner serving a sentence of more than twelve months shall be eligible for parole after having served a period of one third of such a sentence of twelve months whichever is the greater. However it is to be noted in Section 6 that a prisoner who has been sentenced for life or in respect of whom a sentence of death has been commuted for life shall be eligible for parole after having served a period of not less than fifteen years.

Parole do not stop at the exit portal of the prison. It continues into the community and engages various ministries of government, civil society and society generally. Certain structures need to be put into place to effectuate the salubrious objective of parole; and linkages must be established to facilitate the life and living of the parolee in his community, adopted or otherwise. First there must be a cadre of Parole Officers to supervise the parolee while on parole. One or two half-way houses must be established to provide temporary housing and shelter for the parolee, who on being paroled most likely has no available place of abode. Further the half-way house facilitates a gentle and gradual entry or re-entry into his new environment.

From the Parole Office linkages must be established with commercial houses so that job opportunities can be made available or capitalised upon. Generally the society needs to be educated as to the raison d’etre and rationale of a parole program. Each sector of the society has its role to play in preventing the parolee from becoming a recidivistic static.

As I see it the overcrowding at Bordelais needs to be urgently addressed. One third of five hundred is about one hundred and sixty six, and that is a significant number. Therein lies the solution for this institutional overcrowding. And it is a solution that embraces the rehabilitative thrust of this institution. Without a functioning PAROLE ACT in an environment peculiar to its societal exigencies the incidence of crime will never meaningfully be reduced. Its omission and disregard in our day to day rehabilitation exertions since 1977 has been egregious and deserving of the obloquy of our time.

In the final analysis it must be noted that without a formal institution for rehabilitation our Criminal Justice System would grind to a halt. For antecedent to the process of rehabilitation is the process of Sentencing.

And the Courts in Criminal matters must upon conviction, sentence. That virtually is the fundamental reason for the existence of the Criminal Court since the fundamental principle of sentencing is the protection of the Society; and the Society includes the offender.

There will always be criminal activity; and though the primary way to reduce crime is to focus on the Police, a fully operational PAROLE SYSTEM will go a long way in making Bordelais a more viable, functional and effective institution for national security and social rehabilitation.

1 Comment

  1. It’ s too complicated for the average Joe like myself and worse yet for the relatives
    who have lost a loved one. I honestly feel that the punishment should fit the crime.
    We live on a chunk of Rock out of the Ocean with less than 200K people and so far
    this year, it’s well over 50 homicides. It is believed that we are nearing + or – 1000
    such convicts locked up. Something is wrong and something is not working. At this
    moment there are forces out there, working hard for the release of certain individuals.
    The motive behind this, I personally find questionable and troubling and I fear greatly
    for the citizens especially the elderly, the sick, disabled and the very young.The darkness
    of that evil that has crept over the lives of this nation is one which myself and many others
    find hard to bear. So what is an appropriate answer? Would the noose stop the violence?

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