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JM | Sep 19, 2021

Kent Gammon | The Right Angle: Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines need to be revisited

/ Our Today

administrator
Attorney-at-Law Kent Gammon

The level of crime in Jamaica remains a constant thorn in the side of law-abiding citizens. With a murder rate per capita rate of 46.5 and only 10,991 square kilometres this is bar none the most dangerous place in the world to live, work and raise families.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) remains unequal to the task of controlling the crime monster and what I mean is getting ahead of the criminal gangs and their nefarious activities.

Since 2011 the JCF has been better resourced and compensated but, as with all state employees to be honest, are woefully underpaid.

That situation though is a function of the economy which paradoxically crime retards from improving allowing all state employee to be far better paid.

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson

Crime as a cost per annum to the Jamaican economy has been estimated in the region of $5 billion dollars but this is a woeful underestimation as it fails to take into account the psychological damage to the citizenry at large.

It is a well-known and long accepted adage by criminologists that the greatest deterrent to crime is the probability of being caught. The JCF’s success rate of catching criminals remain below any acceptable standard.

In tackling crime the former Minister of Justice and now Opposition Leader, Mark Golding, shepherded into legislation the Criminal Justice (Administration) Amendment Act 2015 creating the ‘Minimum Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines’ which has sparked outrage in more recent times with the passing of some ‘slap on the wrist’ sentencing for some serious crimes.

Has the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines been working? I don’t think so at all.

The broken windows theory works in curbing crime

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani

In the 1990’s crime in New York city was out of control.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani was elected as mayor in 1994 and implemented the ‘broken windows’ theory which is to immediately stop and arrest those who commit even the smallest of infractions.  

The rationale of the theory is that when little infractions, littering, urinating on the streets, loitering, etc. are not immediately addressed it creates a criminal enabling environment and emboldens law breakers to break even more laws.

This type of environment likewise encourages law breaker fence sitters who seeing no prevention of the little infractions feel it’s okay to break laws themselves.

Then criminality becomes a vicious cycle and society becomes more and more lawless.

The theory works because once it was implemented in New York city the crime rate precipitously declined in the mid-1990’s to early 2000’s.

 Regular lawbreakers and law breaker fence sitters then start to think twice about law breaking and that’s what any decent society should want, law and order so we can all live in peace and earn a fair living to the maximum of one’s potential.

But the former Minister of Justice and now Opposition Leader, Mark Golding, came up with the bright idea of making minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines for serious criminal acts as to way to cut down on crime.

A raft of minimum guilty plea sentencing guidelines was laid out on a platter for violent offenders which many of course were happy to oblige themselves.

The effect of the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines we are now witnessing has had the opposite effect of reducing criminality and crime continues to run apace in the ‘paradise’ island.

Going soft on criminals emboldens criminals

Opposition Leader Mark Golding in a November 2020 interview with Our Today. (Our Today photo)

Opposition Leader Mark Golding when questioned by the media as to why he ushered in the legislation of reduction in sentences with the amendment to the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act 2015 took some umbrage and declared it was to encourage criminals to plead guilty as to not further clog the court system.

This is a typical liberal way of thinking, which is seen in those uber liberal cities in the United States of America such as Baltimore and New York where crime is now running wild, of going soft on crime which encourages crime not discourages crime.

Controversially there has been some sentences handed down by members of the judiciary which have been considered too soft sparking outrage by many members of society in whose best interest the judiciary is to serve. When some judges have been questioned by the media about these light sentences handed down they have said they are hamstrung to go heavier as there is the mandatory minimum sentences guidelines they have to abide by.    

There has been this perpetuation by some quarters that the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines encourage law breakers to just plead guilty as the sentences are light and so criminals won’t mind just spending a little time incarcerated.

The effect of the legislation of minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines is that crime is not going in the right direction.

The time has now come to revisit the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines and change them to have the desired effect. Society must never bend over backwards to accommodate criminals.

Blowing with the wind is weak kneed and shows lack of conviction 

 

 Opposition Leader Golding who championed in 2015 the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines now as the wind is blowing in an opposite direction wants to join the waggon of increasing the sentencing as he has a feeble character and stands for only what is popular at the time. 

Now that society wants the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines revisited to heavier sentences he is all on board even though he and his party were the ones who created the problem in the first place.

Going soft on criminals doesn’t make them better members of society and the foremost thinking is not to appease criminals but to get rid of them so they don’t offend again.

 But fundamentally to curb lawlessness in Jamaica the JCF needs a complete overhaul.  

Why are members of the JCF using speed radar guns on highways when a CCTV could do the job far better? 

Take the members of the JCF off the highways with the speed radar guns and put them out to investigate criminal gangs before they go on their criminal rampage.

Why aren’t all JCF members allowed to charge traffic offenders when traffic infractions are committed? Why is that solely in the purview of the JCF Traffic Division who aren’t doing a good job anyway. 

Why aren’t JCF members properly compensated so that the force attracts the best brains in the force?

Unless there is applied some more brain power into tackling crime the Jamaican economy will continue to regress, law abiding citizens will continue to be scared and Jamaica’s moral standing will continue to falter.

Kent Gammon is an Attorney-at-Law

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