Barbados urged to reserve prison for violent, dangerous criminals

Barbados Today:-Arguing that prison should be for “the most dangerous and violent” offenders only, noted specialist in correctional reform Yolande Forde is appealing to the authorities to impose “more sensible sentencing” on young people who run foul of the law, insisting that incarceration simply creates generations of hardened criminals.

In fact, Forde is suggesting that some offenders should not even be brought before the court, preferring instead “diversionary programmes” for the youngest among the delinquents.

“If the person reaches the court as a juvenile, we need a battery of well-designed diversionary programmes. Research shows that most children who have an early involvement in the criminal justice system tend to stay in the system. There are definite merits to having some programmes that . . . divert children from going to court and being treated like adults. There is merit in keeping them from detention. Our children need to be handled differently when they run afoul of the law. There needs to be far more investigation as to the source of the problem,” the criminologist told Barbados TODAY.

On the other hand, Forde said that for older offenders, there was a need to ensure that judicial officers have at their disposal a range of intermediate, non-custodial sentencing options.

“There are lots of different non-custodial options that should be placed at the disposal of the courts. Day centres, [for example], which are intended to deal with persons [involved] in drug abuse and lacking in specific life skills . . . .Community service can be expanded . . . [and] electronic monitoring. There are different forms of intensive supervision, probation,” the criminologist said.

Forde told Barbados TODAY she had interviewed offenders in the United States who preferred imprisonment than this form of sentencing “because this is a miserable existence.

“They [authorities] can turn up at your house at any time demanding urine samples. These intermediate sanctions do not necessarily let people off. No way,” she noted, adding that people facing such sentencing are strictly supervised and controlled.

The international criminologist also advised the Freundel Stuart administration that the continued policy of suspending or expelling delinquent students would backfire Forde, who worked for the Barbados Government between 1995 and 2000, said this approach simply adds fuel to the blazing fire.

“We have to move away from a strict penal approach with respect to our children. Lots of the issues that need to be addressed cannot be done by detention or suspension or expulsion,” Forde, who has specialized in crime reduction and legal and judicial reform, told Barbados TODAY.

“If you are behaving badly and I expel you and you gravitate towards those who may already be advanced in their criminal careers and that’s where you hang out, having been expelled, and they embrace you, why do we expect this individual would suddenly be signing up for a course at the [Samuel Jackman Prescod] Polytechnic for a course in engineering?” she asked.

The former World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank consultant is particularly worried that once these young people are “thrown into” an unsupervised and uncontrolled environment, having had their education curtailed, they would become ill-equipped for a legitimate, successful, responsible adult life.

She strongly suggested that the authorities must act now if they intended to prevent the youth from joining a life of crime.

“Children who are displaying that kind of behaviour, [do] we think we are going to fix it by giving them harsh penalties, detaining and incarcerating them? No! You are just pushing them into a system which most of the time will simply revolve and revolve,” cautioned the former consultant criminologist for the Cayman Islands Government and Caribbean Community Secretariat.