By Akola Thompson
SINCE President David Granger’s announcement that he would be giving out yearly pardons to non-violent offenders, the public has remained largely divisive on the issue.Many are of the opinion that the pardons will help reduce the population at the long overcrowded Camp Street Prison, and provide an opportunity for youths, mothers and fathers to learn from their mistakes and make a good contribution to society.
Then there are some who believe that those who have already been imprisoned would have no problem returning to a life of crime when they get out jail.
Both of these positions have strong arguments on their side. However, while President Granger’s reasons for pardoning non-violent prisoners can be understood, and even to a certain degree commended, the secrecy regarding the pardoned prisoners has, up to now, rightly caused considerable contention among a considerable size of the electorate.
While Article 188(1) of the Constitution provides the president with freedom to issue presidential pardons to prisoners, this right does not extend to the lack of transparency in who is being pardoned, and for what crime they were imprisoned, as those pardoned are not necessarily being pardoned for their innocence, but rather merely because of the goodwill of the President.
The secrecy regarding those pardoned must be corrected. One of the reasons given for the non-divulgence of the names was that it could possibly hinder the reintegration process of those persons back into society after a while of imprisonment. The President, in responding to mounting criticisms, reiterated that as long as his actions remain legal, he would continue to pardon prisoners, and the electorate should not fear. One hopes that the reform programmes set in place for those trying to reintegrate into society are substantial and have a high success rate, given the known trend of petty criminals — who often graduate into serious crimes, particularly after being housed for several months and years with hardened criminals.
Following the news, in late May of this year, that one of the youths — Kevin Bates — who was issued a presidential pardon but was again rearrested, and that he has a criminal record dating back to 2014, it appeared as if the Government would finally make the long-awaited move to publicly disclose the names of those pardoned.
Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, stated that the release of the teenager Kevin Bates was a grave mistake, and that he is now inclined to release the names of the pardoned prisoners, once there is request.
“It is an obligation in the name of transparency that the Minister (should) release all the names of those who are on parole and pardoned,” he said.
However, despite repeated calls made by the People’s Progressive Party Civic and the public to have the names of persons and specifics of their crimes released to them, the Government has, from all indications, not so done. It begs the question as to whether Government’s pronouncements must be taken with the proverbial ‘grain of salt,’ particularly in sensitive matters such as the prison pardons.
While the President can continue pardoning prisoners throughout the rest of his term, if the practice of refusal to divulge the names of those pardoned is continued, it will send the wrong signal to the electorate on the matter of transparency and accountability.