October 5, 2007

Keep them locked up!


When the punishment meted out by our penal system does not serve as a deterrent, and rehabilitation seems not to work, what options do we as a society have when it comes to dealing with violent offenders who repeatedly break the law?{{more}}

Last week, Bobby Joseph, a 24-year-old man, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for brutally raping a schoolgirl. He was also given a concurrent 20-year custodial sentence for causing actual bodily harm.

Bobby Joseph is no stranger to our courts. Last week’s conviction was his 20th. He was convicted for his first offence at age 12, for which he was ordered by the Magistrate to be flogged.

Seven years ago, when he was sentenced to five years imprisonment for raping a 19-year-old woman, the judge who sentenced him, Justice Odel Adams, is reported in the Searchlight issue of October 20, 2000, to have said “Eighteen times they punished you and you still come back…. I know jail would not help him, or I would have given him seven or eight years. He has to turn around his own life.”

Justice Adams was right. Five years in jail did not help him, in fact, he seems to have deteriorated, as the crime for which he is now serving time seems to be his most heinous to date. It is therefore debatable whether he will have been reformed when he is unleashed on society in 2022 at age 39 (he will actually serve only 15 calendar years). His defiant, rude and unrepentant manner when he was being led away from court after sentencing doesn’t give much hope for that, however.

We don’t know what went wrong during Bobby Joseph’s childhood, nor do we know how much effort was put into counseling or rehabilitating him by our social services while he was a teenager. All of that is water under the bridge, and we have to deal with him and other similar hardened criminals as they are now.

Commissioner of Police Keith Miller at the World Peace Day rally a few weeks ago suggested castration for repeat offenders like Joseph. Pastor Noel Clarke on his TV programme Encounter on Monday evening suggested hanging.

As barbaric and radical as these suggestions are, if a poll is done, it would show that the Commissioner and Pastor have the support of the majority of Vincentians. Despite this, the state cannot and should not respond in a barbaric manner no matter how barbaric the manner in which a citizen has acted.

However, hardened, vicious criminals like Bobby Joseph, on whom incarceration obviously does not have a rehabilitative effect, and who have demonstrated that they are not fit to live among the rest of us, should spend the rest of their lives in jail.

Failing that, maybe the time has come for us to pass laws similar to those in the United States which state that the public has to be informed when convicted sex offenders like Bobby Joseph are about to be released, so that we can be on our guard, and give them little or no room in which to operate.