Understanding the Law
February 16, 2007

Prevention is better than cure

In last week’s article we looked at two of the more serious crimes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and we ended with the hope of reform for the offenders. The wishes of any society are for the eradication of crimes and especially the scourge of burglary and robbery. Since many of those caught are repeat offenders it would serve society better if we focus on the offender with a view to reform. In this way, crimes would be prevented and we would not have to look for cures.

Who is the offender?

Some years ago a man of forty years appeared before the Court of Appeal to appeal his conviction and sentence for robbery. The Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Sir Dennis Byron, thought it was unusual for a person of that age to appear before the court charged with the crime of robbery, and as he noted, most offenders before the court for robbery were persons between the ages of 16 years and 25years.{{more}} He opined that persons who committed robbery usually settle down by the age of thirty years. Besides the age group factor, from our own observations and from the statistics, most offenders are also males.

The prison’s population is indicative of the type of offenders but there are offenders who because of judges’ discretion and the system of mitigation may be put on bond and have to report to police stations periodically. It is not unusual for first timers to be given a second chance.

Our male population

Since most of the offenders are males between the ages of 16 and 25 years we need to focus on that group and make sure that our males are not initiated into crimes and that those who are already offenders are reformed. It is hoped that with a different approach to education and opportunities to stay in school longer, males would be kept out of crimes. It may require the strengthening of the counseling and guidance departments in schools.

In this modern age, it is very difficult for the young people to resist the temptations. They are bombarded on all sides with the life style of the wealthy and the invitations to become consumers of electronic items. Very often they are also persuaded by the desire for immediate gratification. They must have a cell phone, an ipod or mp3 player at all costs. And if they cannot get these from their parents they must get it elsewhere. There are those too, who have become dependent on drugs and must satisfy their addiction by stealing.

We therefore have to improve lives in a meaningful way so that our young people would not turn to crime. As I mentioned in an article some time ago, scientists have not isolated criminal genes and there is a general belief that crime is cultural and not biological. John Lea and Jock Young in “What is to be done about Law and Order” (1984) developed an approach to explaining criminality in which they described crime as rooted in social conditions especially deprivation. One other social scientist insists that poverty is not a cause of crime because old people do not usually commit crimes.

We are a small country of one hundred and fifty square miles; it should not be difficult for the police to keep offenders within their view. The bottom line is that young males should be directed into productive endeavours because persons with steady jobs rarely end up in jail for burglary and robbery.

• Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com