Problems of punishment

| 16/10/2010

It’s very easy in times of rising crime to get carried away when it comes to punishment. The mob mentality is “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” when society manages to apprehend and convict those who have done wrong. However, it is always important to consider the problems associated with long prison terms as a form of punishment, and despite the severity of a specific crime, long sentences are not always beneficial to society.

There was no doubt in my mind that there would be hue and cry regarding the sentences given to the four young teens on Friday but I believe the judge did exactly what he is supposed to do and considered all the circumstances. Looking further than those who are baying for blood, he saw four teenagers with considerable potential who had made a mistake – a serious one, no doubt — but their first and very likely their last encounter with the court system.
He recognised, contrary to popular belief, that these youngsters are not ‘thugs’ or a real danger to society, but four young people who for a combination of reasons found themselves committing a serious crime. Recognising their contrition, remorse, the fact that they had never committed a crime before and that they all had the potential to go on to a brighter future, he gave them a chance.
Sending these young people to jail for a long period in a system that currentlyhas no proper educational opportunities (it is nigh on impossible for prisoners who are illiterate to learn to read in the prison, never mind study for a degree) would have been a mistake.
Furthermore, putting four impressionable teenagers who are not really criminals in an environment full of professional wrongdoers is very likely to have the opposite affect of teaching them a lesson and perhaps teach them where they went wrong in the execution of their crime and how to do it better next time.
Prison is a punishment of last resort that serves society only by protecting it from those who are violent or habitual in their criminality, and in turn punishes them by removing their liberty. However, for habitual offenders with learning difficulties and other mental health problems who become institutionalised, sometimes prison is the only place where they can actually cope with life – a sad indictment on our community. The current prison system has no real deterrent affect nor does it have any rehabilitative qualities.
When people commit a crime they are rarely thinking of the relative prison terms attached to the crime as they do it – after all, they don’t expect to get caught. It is not really a deterrent to anyone. Law abiding citizens who are educated don’t commit crime just because they don’t want to go to jail. They don’t commit crime because they are smart enough to realize that crime undermines the overall quality of society, because they are able to empathise with their fellow human beings and because they seek to protect, rather than risk, the people they love and the lifestyles they have.
Most people (with obvious exceptions) who commit crime are less able to empathize with others, are not educated enough to understand the complexities of society and community and often have little to lose and have rarely been shown consistent unconditional love during their upbringing.  Once in the prison system, rehabilitation and by turn education, which is the most important tool in preventing crime, is virtually non-existent.
While prisoners are routinely put to work constructing and repairing the buildings at Northward or on the prison farm for full working days, a mere four hours per week is set aside for volunteers to go to the prison and teach inmates how to read. Over 80% of the prisoners at Northward are functionally illiterate – and then we wonder why they are criminals.
We need to maintain prison for violent offenders to protect society but we must remember its limitations in serving the wider public and its impact on the concept of law and order. For people who have something to lose and family and friends who love and care for them, even the shortest spell in jail is an enormous punishment for the individual and their families. For those who have nothing to lose it is of no real consequence and merely protects the rest of us from their violent or habitual criminality.
It’s far more useful if societies choose to make prisons places of real learning and rehabilitation, but few, with the exception of some in Scandinavia, do so. Most are nothing more than secure holding pens.
Placing young first time offenders who have the potential to be upstanding and positive members of the community in such places for any significant period is entirelypointless. Of course the young people need to know there are consequences for their actions and they must be punished, and having the threat of returning to jail with a suspended sentence once they have served six months will be more punishment to them than a life sentence to an institutionalised habitual offender. The issue that must be considered is that punishment is always relative and not absolute.
We have to be sensible about how we approach crime and punishment and understand what prison really is and stop kidding ourselves that it is either a deterrent or a place of rehabilitation. If we as a society really want to teach those who are at risk of offending or who have committed their first criminal act a lesson, we need to ask ourselves what that lesson should be and where and how it should be delivered. Personally I think it is rarely behind bars.
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  1. slowpoke says:

     I fully agree with you on this one. The idea of punishment being effective and acting as a deterrent is so appealing and“logical”. Unfortunately, research simply does not support this concept. For example, while giving a kid a spanking may work in the very short term, it does nothing positive in the long run. Recent studies reveal that children who are beaten are less intelligent and tend to be more violent, even when all other factors are accounted for.


    When someone commits a crime it tends to be either an impulsive act, or based on a judgment as to the perceived likelihood of getting caught. It is not based on the possible consequences. If someone knew for sure that they would be caught speeding, they would not, no matter whether the fine was $25.00 or $ 250.00.


    While these youngsters may or may not re-offend, sending them to prison at this point would serve no purpose other than making some in the public feel better.


    Justice was served.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The fruit of that decision will be seen in the coming years to see how well these 4 teenagers used this opportunity to turn their lives around.  One would hope that seeing as they have been given a second chance it is now up to the parents to monitor them a little more closely and see that they use this second chance as a golden opportunity to do something for society. 




    The above is the problem – the parents were not monitoring them in the first place. This is where at least 80% of the crime starts – useless parents. No moral fiber is put into the young people, I mean come on, they grabbed some machetes and went robbed a pizza place. This is not like shop lifting candy. I aggree that sending them to prison for a long period of time may not be where it is at, but the crime was serious.

  3. Anonymous says:

     As one of the many volunteers who go to the prison to teach prisoners how to read and write, I am always saddened at the loss of potential that I see wallowing at Northward every time I go there.  There are young men at Northward who have spent most of their lives there and this is the only life they know.   Their children, when they do get out to have conjugal visits with women, only know their father in prison and they grow up idolising that lifestyle because when they visit their father they are told to be a soldier and stay strong. 

    The cycle continues.  Kudos to the judge for trying a different approach to a problem that is growing in leaps and bounds.  The fruit of that decision will be seen in the coming years to see how well these 4 teenagers used this opportunity to turn their lives around.  One would hope that seeing as they have been given a second chance it is now up to the parents to monitor them a little more closely and see that they use this second chance as a golden opportunity to do something for society. 

    As someone who is from a country that is riddled with crime and violence, steps are being taken to try the rehabilitation approach to crime, rather than the punishment route and while the results are slow in coming, they are coming.  Young men and women need some form of self esteem uplift and sending them to prison is not going to do that. 

  4. Anonymous says:


    I have to disagree. As a society we have learned to pyscho analyze everything to death, rationalize everything away and continue to pass the blame to someone else. Perhaps it is because we, as a society, can not accept that we have failed our children.

    We have come to accept that somebody has become a drunk because their father was a drunk. We rationalize away that somebody has tuned to crime because they grew up in a disrupted family. The list goes on and on.

    What has all that "understanding" and "pycho analyzing" done for society? Absolutely nothing! Whilst there are good stories about criminals who were succesfully rehabilitated, there are equal amounts of stories regarding criminals who have proven to be repeat offenders, never mind that they were subjected to "state-of-the-art" rehabilitation techniques and efforts.

  5. Anonymous says:

    These young women have been publicly identified, with or without a prison term; society will punish them for many years to come. I agree wholeheartedlywith Wendy here and the judge. What we are missing, is the opportunity that has availed itself here once again. This country has an opportunity to not only help turn these young people into productive citizens, but to obtain answers, maybe even recruit these as voices of reason for other youth to follow. If we do not ask them, probe; seek the reasons how will we know the root cause of their actions? What exactly makes us thing the root cause is parenting? The world is filled with Monday morning quarterbacks all graduates of the Google University. I swear we Caymanians are more intent on having something negative to talk about when it comes to our children, than making the necessary changes to help them. Let’s face it, every positive change proposed over the last 40 years for the children have been rejected by us to allow us the opportunity to rant.

  6. SS says:

    Wendy… I am with you 100% on this one!

    And I am not condoning that crime should go unpunished!  But there needs to be Mercy with Justice!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Re Cayman has no place for ….. you are right.  Govt. chose to ignore the warnings.. refused to address the problems, kept talking without action. That is one of the big reasons cayman is in sucha mess. Will someone please put our children at the top of their priority list..

  8. Anonymous says:

    I, for one, would love to see hard labour for youth offenders (and adults, assuming it’s not a violent crime). Free labour to repay society!

    • Anonymous says:

      "Free labour to repay society." wow, slavery was abolished by the British parliment in 1833 if I remeber correctly. Sounds more like revenge to me.By all means prisoners should work, but they should also be paid, albiet possibley a minimum wage. Work is good for what ails the soul, mind and spirit. For many men it is common their work is a part of their own definition. It boosts self esteem, creates self confidence and seems to me to be a tool of reformation and rehabilitation. It also gives one the ability to better one’s self, a sense of purpose.

      • Anonymous says:

        I have no problem paying prisoners market rates for their work. We just need to deduct the $50,000  – $60,000 per year it costs to keep them and they can have whatever is left after that.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that they would enter into slavery (maybe you should pull that stick out of you know where, it’s making you walk and type funny). However, there is certainly a debt to society to be repaid, so I would think any wages they receive would be only as a token gesture. If people out there want to be paid proper wages, they should get a proper job. Holding a prisoner costs a great deal of money, which can be somewhat offset by their labour. In the States, for example, where they actually have a legal "minimum wage," prisoners make significantly less for their work. Roughly 50% of the minimum. Keep in mind that labour by prisoners is NOT contractual labour toward the mutual benefit of both parties in the traditional sense, but rather an effort by the prisoner of meaningful and tangible restitution for the harm they have caused their society. This is by no means a hand-out, and I absolutely disagree with the concept that their punishment be remotely profitable in a monetary sense. However, I would be open to the concept of their quality labour (assuming they actually work hard and do a good job) contributing toward a reduction of their overall sentence, much as the way having "good behaviour" can often lead to earlier parole.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Cayman has no place for juveniles so judges have no choice except to give suspended sentence.

    The former HRC (led by Sara Collins & Melanie McLaughlin) pointed that out to Government several times, including during constitution debate.

    As usual, Government refuses to address the problem. This has been going on for years. In 2008, the former HRC pointed out that there had been  a series of cases with young children, even girls as young as 12 being processed through the courts and locked up.

    Minister Eden claimed they were looking at a juvenile detention facility in East End -but it never happened.

    The former HRC raise point again in Constitution -but PPM still did not want to deal with problem, so they amended the section to defer their obligations to address the issue of juvenile detention until 4 years AFTER the bill of rights comes into effect (by which time, another government will be/is in power).

    Judges cannot order detention for these young kids to an adult prison system.  The chance to rehabilitate juvenile offenders gets less the older they are. Northward has no juvenile counselling or education programme. The adults will prey on and train the juveniles as lifetime career criminals.

    So, until Cayman decides to address its juvenile detention needs, judges will have to give suspended sentences and we will continue to  incarcerate young children including girls as young as 12 – with adults, with no effort to rehabilitate or reducate them – dooming them to a life of crime.

    The former HRC did everything it could to warn you.


    • Anonymous says:

       Well, I’m sure that a proper facility could be built with all that money that they spent on travelling alone.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What is troubling many in Cayman is the perception that our criminal law and the application of that law is sending the wrong message to criminals and those tempted to commit crime. Simply put, deterrence appears to have disappeared as a consideration in the design and application of our criminal laws.

    I have no doubt that the judge in the most recent case faced a difficult decision, weighed up all the considerations and did what he thought was appropriate. Perhaps the Court of Appeal will agree with him and perhaps they will not. It is a matter of their judgment. Unfortunately the growing perception is that the voice which has been unheard in recent times is that of the ordinary people of these islands, the people most affected by the rising tide of violence.

    I am among those who believe that sentences should send a loud and clear warning, however tempting it is to be lenient. I would suggest that prominent messages should be placed in all our media saying what the penalties will be for violent crime.  The "tariff"  should not be placed in obscure places remote from the view of the average person.

    If the public disagrees with the current laws and sentencing practices, as I would suggest most do, then our politicians need to change them. It is not for the Governor to make these required changes no matter how convenient it may be for incompetent politicians to hide behind him. Changing our laws is the job of our politicians and in my view it is one of the areas that they have been failing us badly for at least the past 10 years.

    I believe that armed robbery should result in more than a slap on the wrist. In trying to understand the most recent sentences I have looked up the published 2002 sentencing guidelines. They are found here:

    I am not an expert but the sentence for a first time offense of armed robbery would seem to be clearly set at 8 years. I understand that certain things like an early plea of guilty may reduce that by a third, but how do we get to a 2 year suspended sentence and the public outrage that has followed?

    If the sentences in the most recent case would have been even 5 years with a large part suspended, I suspect that there would not have been nearly the outcry that is now being seen.

    The bottom line for me is that the politicians and the judiciary need to do a better job of explaining to the ordinary people of these islands the sentences that are being applied . They also need to listen and respect the people, however novel that concept might be to them. When politicians and the judiciary fail to explain and to listen to the people, they risk bringing our system of justice into disrepute. That cannot be tolerated. When politicians and the judiciary fail to listen to the people, the people must bring about changes to ensure that we have the laws that are needed to keep our community safe. 



  11. Crim N O'Logist says:

    The classical model of sentencing identifies four main aims : deterrence, punishments, retribution and rehabilitation.

    Retribution should be ignored.

    Alas deterrence has increasingly been ignored by those who advocate the joys of rehabilitation.  Deterrence should be the primary aim of sentencing.  Significant sentences increase the opportunity costs associated with committing crime.  Those that are caught and convicted should primarily be used to discourage others following the same path. Having committed crimes they cannot complain about this form of social service.

    Rehabilitation is admirable.  Unfortunately it is expensive and does not have appreciable benefits for the vast majority of inmates who are destined for recividism. 

    At best the prison system should identify those who might be amenable to some rehabilitation and focus resources on them, while leaving the majority to stew in their cells.

    The "university of crime" argument is ironic.  It comes as a result of the lobbying by prisoner friendly advocates to increase the social interactions in jail.  One answer to the argument is solitary confinement.  Studies have indicated that it is powerful deterrent.  No family visits.  No TV.  Just four walls and a prison number.

    Rehabilitation can have a place after sentences have been served on the outside. 

    Maybe these four girls are "good girls" but by letting them off (and that is what thise sentence is), the message is sent to those more open to crime that they will "get away with it" if they are caught.

    Having committed the crime, these four should be incarcerated primarily for deterrence reasons.


  12. Anonymous says:

    Everyone else’s fault as usual. Society failed to provide them with  a happy childhood, society failed to provide them jobs, society failed to provide them with alternative sentencing and rehabilitation, society failed to have special schools, prisons, programs, social workers, empathy, reaching out…blah, blah


    Gag me with a spoon.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Well said and it’s not just an opinion, but also based on research.  Good to hear from people who are truly loving

    These barbaric mentalities should spend some time reading good books and they would know that prison does not reform — just take a look at those who went to prison; they came out into society worse than before. For teens, the effect of prison is even more detrimental.

    Most of the kids who bully in school or are violent, their home life is the root cause.  Abuse, no love, neglect etc. produce criminals.  Those who cry: cane, long sentences, harsh treatment………there is no love in your hearts — I’m sorry that your views are so warped because that means we have so many hateful adults out there who were not nurtured and now confuse abuse with love.

    Those of us who were nurtured and loved – not abused – we are so fortunate and we have the ability and conscience to be compassionate.

    Let us all try to be kind

  14. Anonymous says:

    I am very disappointed by this Viewpoint, not because of the argument for leniency adopted by Ms Ledger, but because of the disrespect exhibited on this occasion towards those who have a perspective which differs from that of the author. Labeling as “baying for blood”, those who feel that the sentences handed down were too lenient, may have a role in the narrative, but it hardly reflects the very genuine and entirely rational concerns of a great many of the residents of this country.

     I am an older Caymanian who has observed crime and punishment, (and recently the lack of punishment and the corresponding rise in crime), in this country for many years. I find the lenient sentences which seem to have become the norm to be troubling. Mercy has a place, but so has punishment, and so has the communication of the message that violent crime will not be tolerated in these Islands.

     It is not my objective in responding to this Viewpoint to provide a compendium of the arguments which counter those offered by Ms Ledger. I understand that people weigh arguments differently and I understand that sentencing is more an imperfect art than a science. I also understand that balancing all of the interests to be considered is a difficult task for a judge.

     Midst all the wonderful theories that are put forward regarding the functions of sentencing, and midst all the stories of what happens in other societies, are some inescapable truths. A system of sentencing will only be accepted by a community as long as it is viewed as just and “fit for purpose”. Part of being “fit for purpose” relates to sending the signals that each society wishes to send to its members. In the present context, sentencing offers one of the few ways that we as a society are able to convey a clear message that violent crime is intolerable and will result in severe punishment without exception or favour. Ignoring the fact that the community demands that this message be sent is likely to bring oursystem of justice into further disrepute.  

    Sentencing ought to reflect the values of the community. When sentencing does not reflect community values, legislators ought to change the tariff and the sentencing latitude of the judiciary to ensure that sentencing both keeps honest residents safe and reflects the values of the community. If legislators refuse to change the sentencing tariff and the latitude of the judiciary in such circumstances, then the electors ought to change the legislators in order to ensure that they and their families are safe and that sentencing reflects the values of the community.

     Hopefully, the Crown will appeal the sentences handed down. If the Crown does appeal, I sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal will find a different balance which serves our community’s interests and values. I also hope that at some point the legislators of this country will stop their current nonsense and make the amendments that we need to our criminal law in order to keep truly violent criminals off our streets. If any of them wish to be re-elected, I suggest that they take this step immediately.  

  15. Anonymous says:

    Exactly what lesson would you suggest that they learned from this crime of armed robbery?

    We are not talking shoplifting here we are talking of armed robbery with a machete.

    Perhaps the lesson learned is exactly the opposite of the one you suggest. They now believe that they can do anything and there are no consequences.

    Only time will tell.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Very good viewpoint, Wendy. I agree wholeheatedly.

    A point to add is that by the time "punishment" comes into the picture, society is 18 to 25 years too late.

    So called "bad kids" generally have problems that often started before birth. Some were an unwanted "hangover" after sex. Some were prenataly abused by mothers who smoked, drank and consumed other drugs while pregnant. To be fair, some of the young mothers themselves were victims of the above and were not able to make rational choices about having a child.

    Solution? Work with young women to educate them regarding the options available for responsible sex and responsible parenting. All options must be on the table including birth control, relationship counceling and (sadly) abortion.

    And keep the churches out all this. Churches generally look at the world as it "should be" rather that as it "is".

    • rectus femoris says:

      It’s interesting how all the responsibility for producing criminals falls on the mothers. It’s a shame there wasn’t someone else involved in creating babies, then the mother might get some help.

      Oh wait, it takes a man to make a baby too. And, hold on, men can share in the responsibility of raising a child too. 

      Wow, what a concept! Perhaps we should explore this option. 

      • Anonymous says:

        Rampant adultry is a way of life in Cayman, a woman can have multiple children from multiple men and child support is almost nonexistent.

        This family breakdown is a major contributing factor in the creation of a generation of young people with little or no parenting and who get a feeling of belonging in a gang.

        Perhaps it is family shame that keeps the families of these young criminals from alerting authorities about criminal activities of the children.

        Learning to respect life and authority and self respect is missing from these young people.

  17. noname says:

    This is very well reasoned and well written. Only a bloodthirsty moron could dispute Wendy’s points.

    Well done! It’s a shame you are too senible and honest to run for office. I would vote for you in a second.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am not so sure I believe in a light prison sentence for youth offenders. Most youth offenders serve their short prison sentence only to return to the conditions as they came from- same criminal offender friends, poor family structure, lack of education, etc. Their outside surroundings have not changed and they go back to their same routine.

      I believe it is also proven that teenagers serving light sentences are also in the highest group to be repeat offenders.

      XXXXXX Criminals usually become bolder when they have not been caught and the element of crime escalates.

      Maybe the prison system needs to be adjusted for first time prisoners with a tutoring/GED, job placement in place, but IMO, if they do the crime, they should serve the time.

      • Anonymous says:

        A little deportation (after sentencing) may come in handy too as a cost effective deterrent.

      • Anonymous says:

        …… a light prison sentence for youth offenders. Most youth offenders serve their short prison sentence only to return to the conditions as they came from ;…..

        Pray, tell us what positive effect in rehabilitation did the long terms serve.  Statistics say none.  They come back into society colder and harder. 

        Too many abusers in our society.  How about abusive adults serving long terms – especially abusive parents.  However that is not the answer.  These adults need to be educated in child rearing.  Knocking your kids around is cruel and this abuse then becomes a cycle.  Please learn the definition of love  — stop spitting so much hatred?