Mandatory minimum failings

| 09/02/2014

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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  1. Anonymous says:

    10 years is the minimum.  Most of these low life deserve to go down for at least 20.  That would solve the "problem" about what the do in their 30s right there.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There are far more young men and women that have not ventured into the criminal world. Increase the sentence to 20 years. Spend the money on education and providing help to the good, hard working, able, willing young persons. they are worth giving the first chance. Not wasting time on these repeat offenders. Cayman need to admit we have a handful of punks that continue to play the system. A criminal minded young kid could make the people feel that getting a broken arm while walking around a gas station parking lot  is wrong by the police officer. The officer lost his job, only to see the little criminal kid reprimanded back in court for another offense. Same thing with the Scotia Bank robbery, they get away, and continue to make a mockery of the system, and instead of getting away and feeling belssed for the loopholes that get the free, they try and try again. Enough is enough Cayman , spend time and money on the not so criminal minded children.  Children make mistakes and yes they can be given a chance. That chance can be giving them the choice to take on a course or education process or go to jail. So they have a choice, improve their life style and the country, or go to jail. Has it ever occured to people that this criminal minded kids could just want to spend some family time together with Daddy in the hotel.?  It is only a matter of time that there will be a hired hit squad to clear the handful of cayman criminals from the streets. They are much safer in prison.

    I will not stop preaching that education should be the choice. Without some form of Trade School or proper education facilities, we dont allow any choice, but easy money style.

    CNS, maybe you can investigate how many first time offenders compared with repeat offenders in Jail over simpe crimes, then maybe we can see a trend or detect the flaw in the free world. after all everyone has a choice to do good or bad.

    lets hear it for the spell checkers.

  3. Natural Native says:

    Read the comments. Understand "ViewPoints" opinion.  Too many young men are being sentenced to 10-years. Minimum time "afforded' by Law! – for being "concerned" with a firearm.

    A 20-year-old young man was recently incarcerated for 10-years for being "concerned"  (no known crime committed, may have handled the firearm that was found?, no previous history of violent crimes).  

    At 30-years-old he will be released from a "residence" that has left him BITTER! ANGRY! and COACHED BY SEASONED CRIMINALS.

    AND "Society" believes this will rehabilitate him!? Only then the crimes begin!

    Let's find a better way. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Two better ways for a start:

      1) Solitary confinement.  Then prison is not a university of crime.

      2) Twenty years minimum instead of ten years.  Recidivism is much less likely in the over 40s.

      Why feel sorry for these gun crime aiding scumbags?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dear CNS,

    You write as if locking up people caught with illegal weapons increases crime.  We both know that the increase in crime is not because criminals are taken off the street!  Each gun-carrying punk locked up is one more that will not be using a firearm to commit a crime before he is released.  You also state that prison is not a deterrent.  I don't believe that either…. if all the wannabe robbers know that they will be in prison for ten years if caught with a gun, SOME of them will weigh that before carrying one.  I'm not going to comment on rehab because I know nothing of the prison's rehab programs, if there are any.  Take a moment to think about your statement that prison is hopeless in crime reduction.  One criminal in prison is one criminal off the street.  Ten criminals in prison means ten criminals are off the street.  ANY number of criminals incarcerated means there are that many criminals off the street and not committing crimes.  If you REALLY want to make a drastic reduction in gun-related crimes, enact the death penalty for using a gun to commit a robbery!  There will be no repeat offenders.


    The Parliamentarian  


    • Anonymous says:

      Your logic would make sense if Northward was a real prison.  It has been said  ex-prisoners have committed crime in some instances, just to get back in there.

      Consdier that they are in prison/irestricted-access-hotel getting free food, many of life's comforts and entertainment without striking a lick.   Is that not a lazy mans dream.

      Is Northward a Prsion people dread, or is it just a place of fee-food, relaxation and comfort with limited freedom?.

      Ten years is a long time.  More than enough to qualify as a professional in any career crime or otherwise.

      Judges who judge intelligently and justly,  should be allowed to use discretion.
      There should be some flexibility rather than rigid rules that do not take all factors into consideration.

      After all it is like what one gentleman his is dead and gone said "Circumstances alter cases."

      Mandatory sentences do not always offer  justice! .

  5. Anonymous says:

    Maybe mandatory time along with an uncomfortable prison (ie no privileges like TV, radio, AC and ganja smoking) would to the trick?

    Sorry to say but I don't believe that rehabilitation will work in Cayman. The Island is too small and criminals are not and will not be able to escape their past. One way or another, someone will alway know their story……..

    • Anonymous says:

      Rehabilitation does not work anywhere.  It is a waste of money based upon liberal dreams that prisoners can be changed into good people by state assistance.  Prisoners either decide to change their own ways themselves (very few) or are just bad eggs (the vast majority).  Rehabilitation services inside prison does nothing to materially increase the numbers of those that go on to commit crimes.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Harsh sentences do not deter criminals.


    The only way to deter criminals is to dramatically increase the probability that they will be caught. This option is too expensive as it would require a pair of uncorrupt police persons on every single corner throughout the land.


    In the long run, Cayman will have to resort to the usual deterants of security: razor wire, burgler bars, security guards, gated communities, self imposed curfews, and (for the tourists) high security all inclusive resorts.


    This is a sad outcome for the little piece of freindly, peaceful paradise that was once "the land that time forgot".

    • Anonymous says:

      I like the sound of the all inclusive resorts.  Every cloud has a silver lining.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Punishment by jailtime serves no purpose.

    It only determines the price of the crime. The price to pay for a gun will simply go up when jailtime goes up. When the price of a gun goes up, it becomes more lucrative for people to import and sell one.

    Legalize marijuana, prostitution and make the job of politician a voluntary job. Close the churches and get 103.1 off the air.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is putting the cart before the horse.  It is the economic value of the use of the gun that is important.  There are three key factors in that equation: first the cost of accessing the gun (Acquistion Cost), second the cost of using the gun (Utilization Cost) and third the value which can be obtained from the use of the gun (Gross Income).  The third element is relatively fixed – the amount one gets from robbing with a gun is not affected by the first two elements.  You accept that implementing punishment on the use of guns increases Acquisition Cost and the risk of jail time is an element of Utilization Cost so increased jail time increases this too.  For the use of a gun to make strict economic sense, Gross Income – (Acquisition Cost + Utlization Cost ) must be greater than zero and sufficiently greater than zero compared to other revenue generating opportunities to make it worthwhile.  As this policy increases both the costs in the equation then jailtime does make using a gun a less rational choice in economic terms.  So if you want to get all pure economics on this one, then the answer is that increased jailtime has certain positive effect on the utility of being a gun criminal.  It is fair to say that in time a reduced market for the sale of guns could reduce any upward impact on Acquisition Costs, but that effect would cut straight across the main point in your post.  Strict criminal liability and high sentences for mere possession are valuable because they vastly increase the cost to those who profit the least from the gun crime cycle, namely those that hold guns for others to use in between criminal activity.  This last point is why one of the main themes in the original View Point completely misses the point of the legislation.  The View Point panders to a "they are just boys holding guns" argument while ignoring that these "boys" are critical to the functioning of gun crime in an island context and are the weakest points in the criminal chain for effective enforcement mechanisms.

  8. Libertarian says:

    The initiation of force is never moral. Man's nature is such that he survives by his God-given reason. Survival by reason requires the ability to act on your reason. Force destroys that ability. If a man uses force against you, he is declaring that he does not want to survive by means of reason. He is telling you that he doesn't recognize your right to exist as an independent individual. According to him, might makes right, and he is just taking his share from the local sucker.

    When you come up against a person who views force as the proper means of relating to people, you know that this is a person not worth dealing with. This is a person outside the realm of morality, and once outside, moral conventions and principles have no place. There is only one way to deal with such a person, and that is with retaliatory force.

    The difference between the initiation of force and retaliatory force is that retaliatory force is a response to force. It is force meeting force in kind. It is the only proper response to a person who initiates force.

    Since force inhibits survival, men can only thrive within a society if they are shielded from the coercion of others. Government is instituted among men to fulfill this function. The police services and prison are suppose to protect people from thugs who can't reason and be responsible for their own lives.

    The Cayman Islands is in dire need of a proper government, and when I say proper I mean serving her role by which man's life as the standard of evaluation, designed to allow man to live his life to the fullest according to his nature, his rational being, and not belittle because he lives in a british territory such as on an island or the color of his skin.

    Secondly, the people of the Cayman Islands need to realize that it can never by its own government completely shield its citizens from the coercion of others. Only an armed population has the ability to control the gun crimes as well as overthrow a tyrannical british government if it becomes established here. She is well aware of this. In every dictatorship, ownership of guns is outlawed to the general populace. Before the Nazis went about exterminating their Jewish population, they needed to disarm them first. A state treads carefully when the citizens are armed. To have "natives" armed on an island is a no no. More cctv camaras to control them really and not the criminals. Yet as time unfolds and these sorts of gun crime increases, it will become clearer as day, the libertarian's message. 

  9. Slowpoke says:

    Thank you CNS, for reading the research and stating the truth.  We insist on following the US model for crime and drugs, which has been proven to be ineffectual.  In the US, the only beneficiaries are the corporations that run the private prisons.  Society gains nothing, because there is no rehabilitation.


    If these types of “minimum sentences” and the “three strikes” laws were in anyway effective, the US would be crime free.  Instead, they have by far the highest crime and incarceration rate in the western world.


    Justice is not served by this type of nonsense.

  10. Anonymous says:

    There is nohing wrong with a mandatory minimum sentence. Practically everyone who is convicted is a career criminal.  Take them out of circulation, and we are all safer.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the premise that mandatory minimum sentencing are a cop out by the Legislature to try to reign in the monster of gun control.  We have seen it in the US where the law is applied arbitrarily to convict persons of colour while those who are white get a slap on the wrist where drug offences are concerned.  However, gun crimes are a serious issue and as the letter writer before me opines, the one who is "holding" the gun is usually the weak link in a much stronger chain. 

    The fact that the young man who was recently sentenced to a 10 year prison term had not used the gun is beside the point.  His intention was clear as he not noly had gloves but a balaclava as well.  I know that in Jamaica you have many young men who borrow guns to commit offences and then share the proceeds of that crime with the owner of the gun. 

    There really needs to be more of a rehabilitation effort in the prisons to ensure that young men who are locked up find the means to add something to their lives and society's lives when they are released.  As it is now they consider themselves a failure to society or that society has failed them and so they believe that the only way out is a life of crime.  It will really take a concerted effort by the whole community to change the mind set of these young men and women and frankly I am not even sure how to accomplish this.  

  12. Anonymous says:

    Old saying – If you can't do the time don't do the crime.

    The probem isn't mandatory sentences, it's that criminals are either too stupid or too arrogant to understand that they will get caught and they will go to prison.

    When you finally hammer that message home crime will fall and the best way to do it is to take these dirtbags who think that owning an illegal firearm is cool out of circulation for as long as possible.

    The problem this article ignores is that illegal ownership of a firearm is almost always associated with other criminal activities so the Court isn't just punishing them for the weapon but for their generally hostile attitude to a law-abiding society.   


  13. Letsby Avenue says:

    Without this sentencing policy, gun crime would probably be much worse .  The article criticises sentencing those who are caught "merely" possessing guns but this is to misunderstand criminality.  Those that hold guns, even for others, are as critical to criminal networks as those than store their drugs or sell on stolen goods.  They are also weak links in the criminal chain and therefore are precisely the point at which deterrence leveraging can be the most effective.  Stop making excuses for the intentional criminal conduct of these "several young men" who took steps critical to continuing the spree of gun crime.

    The starting premise of the article addresses the wrong problem.  If prison is a place where criminals learn to be worse criminals by interacting with other prisoners, which is the first arugment made in this Viewpoint, then the answer is not to criticise sentencing policy, but to criticise what happens in the prison.  A better answer to the problem is to use solitary confinement so that prisoners are not interacting with each other while in jail.  

    Mandatory sentencing is wrong and cannot be continued giventhe clear human rights law on the topic.  But that does not mean there is anything wrong with the sentences in existing cases.  The provision of sentencing guidelines of the same length as the existing and proposed mandatory sentences is the way forward, provided that the judges then hand out those sentences rather than pandering to the usual sob stories dragged out in sentencing hearings.