‘Custodial sentences for non-violent offenders not the way to go’

MEMBER of Parliament for Christ Church West, Dr. Maria Agard, has raised concern about the incarceration of non-violent offenders in Barbados, particularly for the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Speaking in the Lower Chamber on Tuesday, Dr. Agard said, “There are people who have been remanded for possession of marijuana. There are some communities where entire families have been remanded for the possession of this simple and singular drug.

“And Sir, while I am well aware that there is a distinction between one who is in possession of the drug for personal use and a trafficker to whom we give no ease, so to speak, my belief is that a person in possession of marijuana should be treated differently to the violent offender.

“It is my hope that I would see the day when marijuana possession in this country does not ever carry a custodial sentence as long as the quantities are within the realm of quantity for personal use. Be that as it may, for those who are incarcerated for non-violent offences, I am happy to see that we have reduced their rehabili-tation period and that in a timely fashion, their record can be expunged so that they can be reintegrated into the society.”

Dr. Agard, who was speaking on the debate on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2017, lauded the legislation, noting that persons “must be able to throw off the shackles of the history of the offence that they have committed”.

“A thief should not be a thief until he dies. A rapist should not be branded as a rapist if he desires to restore himself, if he desires to change. And when these offenders go back to society, having to face the scourge and the scorn and the contempt of an entire community, sometimes it is extremely difficult for them.”

She noted the difficulties in seeking employment to support themselves and their families. “When an offender presents him or herself to an employer, the history of that offence should not be looming and should not be an obstacle in the attainment of a job. Too many application forms contain a dreaded phrase… ‘Have you ever been incarcerated?’, whether it is for a violent offence or non-violent offence. Once the individual has to say yes, you can be certain that application will be placed at the bottom of the pile.”

The parliamentary representative also raised concern about the issue of acquiring a Certificate of Character, which she noted can be a tedious process and one which targets the poor, black male in society.

Dr. Agard suggested an alternative to the issuance of a Certificate of Character. “I would like to propose that the Justice of the Peace be used as reference to many of these individuals, especially our non-violent offenders because I am certain that if the offender is able to take a testimonial or a reference from a Justice of the Peace, certainly it should alleviate the hesitancy on the part of the employer to even consider that offender,” she said. (JH)

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