Let’s start a conversation on crime and the penal system
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Dear Editor,

PLEASE don’t blame earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, droughts or floods for shattering the lives and dreams of many Guyanese.
Instead, put the blame for shattering lives and dreams on predatory criminals (such as murderers, rapists, robbers, arsonists, etc), who nonchalantly violate the sanctity of life and individual property.

These criminals do not only hurt victims physically, including inflicting trauma upon them, but also drive fear into family members as well as other citizens. From a broader socio-economic perspective, such crimes clog up social intercourse; scare away investment; hurt tourism, and stifle repatriation of Guyanese.
A few analyses on crime attest to the gravity of the situation. The murder rate alone in 2019 was 15.2 per 100,000 compared with 5.3 in the US, and 5.5 for Suriname. Relative to sentencing, Bill Ramnarace writes (11/17/2020): “Devon Chacon, 26 years, …home Invader, who shot and killed Abdul Ameer Subrati, a father of two children at Herstelling, East Bank Demerara, was given four (4) years imprisonment.” While I and others have still been trying to grapple with the apparent rising tide of criminality, it was reported on the following day (November 18, 2020), that a 15-year-old boy of Kitty, Georgetown, was killed by his friend.

Still fresh in our memories are the brutal murders of the Henry boys, and Haresh Singh of West Coast Berbice, and the 86-year pensioner of La Grange, West Bank Demerara. No one has been charged yet with the heinous murder of the three West Coast Berbice boys.

These and other serious (violent) crimes add to the uneasiness, and great concern of Guyanese, both at home and abroad. Their feelings have not been helped by the issue of a Level 4 travel Advisory by the US Embassy in August 2020. This is how Guyanese’s concern is dramatised: “One can get the best job, accumulate all the wealth, enjoy all the social welfare benefits, live in the best home, have fancy vehicle(s), but as soon as he goes onto the street, he is cut down by a hail of bullets. Or even in his home, he can succumb to robbery or murder.” So, what is the point of having all these material comfort, but being deprived of adequate public security?

We know that crime cannot be fully eradicated. No matter how effective is the maintenance of law and order (and this is the primary role of government), a certain level of crime will occur. What people categorically reject is when crime, particularly serious ones, get out of control (as measured by rising rates, low detection levels (unsolved), and high acquittal rates).
The lenient sentence delivered by the Judge in the Devon Chacon case, has been criticised by Freddie Kissoon, who has called upon the authorities to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the sentencing. He continues: “Some humans are unfit for civilised society; they are beyond redemption. Their uncivilised, bestial murders should be met with the State putting them to death. I do not support the general abolition of the death penalty.”

Ramnarace asserts: “No one cares for the victims of crimes and their suffering families.” Well, not exactly. The victims of the West Coast Berbice mayhem, for example, have been promised partial relief in the form of monetary compensation. And there are efforts elsewhere to mitigate the crime problem through intervention and preventive measures.
The Spotlite Program grant of $US5 million by the United Nations and the European Union to the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, provides for the intervention and implementation of strategic measures to minimise violence against women and girls. In addition, the re-design and launch of community policing groups by the government is another useful step. But much more needs to be done to tame this monster.

For these and other programs (such as the Citizens Security Programme and the Security Sector Reform Programme) to have succeeded, they had to be integrated into a National Crime Fighting Strategy.

Public security of which crime control is a dominant element must always be on the government’s as well as civil society’s political radar. Accordingly, I am, once again, calling upon the current government to start a conversation on crime and the penal system, as part of an effort to develop a credible crime fighting strategy. A national conference on Crime and the Penal System could ignite or give momentum to the national conversation. From these sources would flow a coherent set of policy measures into the government’s decision making process.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Tara Singh

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