Archive for February 9th, 2014

Mandatory minimum failings

| 09/02/2014 | 18 Comments

Since legislators introduced a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for the possession of unlicensed firearms, gun crime has increased and a significant number of young men are now housed at HMP Northward with decades ahead of them to learn how to be even better criminals. When it comes to deterrence, rehabilitation and crime reduction, prison is hopeless. All prison does is keep people who are convicted away from society until they are released with even more criminal skills.

Despite the name of an offence, very few acts of criminality are committed under the same circumstances, and that is why judges are usually given discretion to hand down a sentence that fits not just the crime but the circumstances of the crime.

The introduction of this minimum term appears to have done little to address the increasing crime in Cayman, which like much of the region has experienced a spike in violence over the last few years. This is due, in part at least, to the changes in the illegal drug trade in reaction to the US pressure on the Mexican border, squeezing the crime into the Caribbean, and the increase in regional poverty.

The mandatory ten year minimum sentence being handed to anyone convicted of having control of a gun, regardless of whether or not it has been fired or used in a crime, is leading to some serious inequities in in the criminal justice system.

When the crown cannot prove that a weapon used in a crime is an actual firearm as a result of either not being able to recover the gun or because it may not function properly, they will charge offenders in robberies or other incidents with possession of an imitation firearm with intent. As a result we have seen a robber handed a four year term in connection with an armed robbery because the gun was never recovered, and another man found guilty of firing a shot at a victim also given four years because, again, the crown could not prove a real firearm was involved. 

By contrast, several young men are serving sentences more than twice as long for gun convictions where no crime was connected to the weapon’s use and where the guns were never fired. Marcus Manderson, who escaped from HMP Northward last year with his father, Steve Manderson, and fellow inmate Chadwick Dale, was even given the mandatory term for possessing a modified flare gun, because despite arguments between experts, with some adaptations the authorities had managed to fire a bullet from it under test conditions.

While small weapons and handguns of any kind, licensed or otherwise, are certainly a problem in society and the more guns there are around the more likely they will be used, the introduction of a mandatory minimum sentence has done nothing to reduce gun crime. What it has done, however, is turn young men who made stupid mistakes and in some cases were first time offenders into hardened criminals.

Alongside the ten years for gun possession, Cayman also has a mandatory whole life sentence for murder of any kind, be it a crime of passion or a cold calculated gang assignation – a sentence which the human rights commission has warned must be overturned and a tariff system introduced, which would allow a lifer to apply for parole after a set number of years.

Sadly, rather than recognizing the folly of taking away the power of judges to make the right decision based on the individual circumstances and the aggravating or mitigating factors of a crime and an offender, the legislators seem set on adding to the list of mandatory minimum sentences.

The authorities recently circulated a consultation document on introducing a minimum term for possession of an imitation gun now as well as extending possession to merely handling a gun. If this passes through the parliament, the crown would no longer have to prove an offender actually had control of a weapon to gain a guilty verdict, merely that the offender had touched the weapon.

That’s not all. The outcry over a relatively short sentence handed down to a father accused of molesting his daughter saw the country’s politicians in complete unity recently in their support for a private member's motion to introduce a mandatory minimum five year sentence for any sexual assault. This means that a suspect who touches a grown woman inappropriately could face the same jail time for that unsolicited advance or inappropriate move as the man that all but rapes a child.

Mandatory minimum sentences, like all jail terms, do not deter criminals or stop anti-social behaviour; they don’t reduce crime and they do nothing to assist offenders into a new crime free life. They simply cost the tax payer more money, teach new offenders how to be better criminals and create significant inequities in the justice system.

Society cannot tackle the problem of crime by locking up more people for longer and until there is a cultural shift away from the warehouse style of imprisonment that is still common the world over, politicians should leave sentencing decisions to judges, who can then use their experience-fuelled discretion to protect society from violent habitual offenders and give those that made a stupid mistake another chance.

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Teenager admits robbery, denies having gun

| 09/02/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A 16 year old boy will now be facing trial later this year in connection with a daylight robbery at Chisholm’s supermarket in North Side last year. The teenager who cannot be named because of his age has admitted that he took part in the hold-up in which he and three other offenders made off with cash, jewellery and cigarettes before being apprehended by the police following a coordinated chase with a patrol car and the police helicopter. However, the boy has denied being armed when he went into the store with Courtney Bryan who was recently jailed for four years his part in the crime having admitted both the robbery and being armed with an imitation gun.

The teen who is being represented by local attorney Irwin Banks had been quick to admit his guilt as far as the robbery was concerned. He admitted to being one of the two men that entered the store and held up the 83 year old owner and her grand-daughter but has been persistent in his denials about being armed.

The crown’s case is that the teen along with Bryan entered and robbed the shop after their accomplices Odain Ebanks and Ian Ellington had first gone in to check out the store both of who were carrying what looked like guns. The four men then fled towards East End but after the shop owner had made a note of the license plate the police were able to pick up the escaping vehicle and quickly arrest the four suspects. During the chase police said several things were thrown from the car windows but no weapons were ever recovered.

Both Ebanks and Ellington have pleaded not guilty and are currently scheduled to be tried in February.

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Education reform

| 09/02/2014 | 20 Comments

Isn't it ironic that in the middle of current education reform the minister is suggesting that there is a need to reform the system? In 2012 the former minister led the development of what was considered strategic reform in education. The development of this plan included all stakeholders, or at least that is what we were led to believe. There are about 6 goals, I believe, which are expected to drive change and ultimate improvements in the system. 

The idea of having a system where education matches the needs of the workforce is also a key factor in this strategic reform. The new government, including the new minister, seemed to have bought into this reformation and publicly communicated their intention to work with it. Now, this is a strategic reform for 2012 to 2017.

To return from the UK after a few days talking with education officials there and then publicly state that the system needs reform is worrying. It is further ironic, given the fact that the current chief officer, who was also a key leader in the development of the 2012 to 2017 strategic reform, was a member of the delegation to UK. Now, if the minister had said that there is a need for us to expedite critical aspects of the 2012 to 2017 plan, then that would be more realistic. I stand corrected if this is actually her intention and would laud her efforts to push it forward.

Let me draw your attention to the 2012 -2017 strategic plan for education: See here.

Take a good look at strategic goal #5. All the objectives are aligned to achieving what the current minister is currently proposing after her recent visit. The problem with the system is that we keep changing our plans every time the government changes. As a result, we don't ever get to evaluate the effectiveness of any initiative.

The next thing is that we keep copying what the UK is doing rather than examining what will work best for our situation. Fact: what we adopted from the UK (curriculum and assessment models) is what they have recently found out and admitted is not working for them and hence they are in the middle of reform.

When the government indicated initially that they will keep the chief officers from the previous administration and when they verbally indicated their support for the 2012 to 2017 strategic plan for education developed by the previous administration, I was impressed and thought that for once we have a government who truly had the people's interest at heart.

I urge the minister to try the 2012 to 2017 plan. Give it a chance. See through its implementation. Evaluate it along the way and then make necessary changes accordingly.

(Originally posted as a comment to Rivers: $20k UK trip yields ‘tremendous information’)

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HR lawyer says he can win reparations case

| 09/02/2014 | 84 Comments

(CNS): Human rights lawyer Martyn Day, a partner at the UK law firm Leigh Day, says that despite massive impediments there is a real prospect that the British and other governments of the Western powers will pay-up for their part in the slave trade. In an exclusive interview for the UK’s leading black newspaper, The Voice, Day says the reparations issue is resonating in British society. Following the firm’s victory in the Mau Mau case, the lawyer said that while the reparations case will be tough, it is one worth fighting. The case is being pursued by CARICOM countries that say it is now time for the UK and other European governments to make financial amends for the horrors of the slave trade.

“The fact that it is a case involving issues that are two to four hundred years old is a massive impediment to a victory. But we feel the morality of the whole thing is very strong,” he told the London-based weekly.

“The morality of the case is massive and I think it will be very well recognised. William Hague is the foreign secretary who wrote the definitive book on [British abolitionist] William Wilberforce, so we have a foreign secretary who is absolutely knowledgeable about the issue. I hope we get a very sympathetic ear from the British government and have some chance of resolving it,” he said.

Day said that the primary question is, what is the impact of the slave era on the Caribbean today? And while reparations will not come in the shape of payments made directly to all the descendants of slaves, forgiving debt may be one of the ways for the UK to make reparations in the Caribbean. Explaining that there are a number of cultural sides to it, the lawyer said the firm would look at many issues to present to the British authorities.

Day is hopeful of persuading the UK to pay up without a court room fight

See full interview here.

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Suspect murder-suicide in BT

| 09/02/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Updated: The police have now named the two people who were found dead in Bodden Town Sunday in what is beleived to be a murder-suicide. Jamaica nationals Nichelle Anna-Kay Thomas (21) and Devon Roy Campbell (39) were found dead at an address in Lookout Gardens. At about 8:25 on Sunday morning, 9 February, the RCIPS were called to the scene where the bodies were discovered. A spokesperson said that more information would be revealed after police gather more details on what may have happened to the two people in what looks like a domestic tragedy. Other sources tell CNS that Thomas was killed in a machete attack while Campbell hanged himself following the suspected murder.

Anyone with information in relation to the incident is asked to call 949-7777, or 800 TIPS to remain anonymous, as soon as possible.

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