Punishment and Criminal Justice

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Sir Lawrence A Joseph

Recently the High Court in Grenada imposed a sentence of 67 years and 6 months imprisonment without parole upon 34-year-old British/Grenadian Alexander Clack for battering and strangling his 27-year-old wife Nixie-Ann to death in June 2014. Shortly thereafter a sentence of 80 years imprisonment without parole was imposed upon Sheldon “Dutch” Bain for his part in the shooting death during a home robbery in 2002 of a trafficker, Omelia Roberts from Belmont, St George’s. Three others were also convicted for that murder and were sentenced in 2004. Before the sentence date arrived Bain escaped the Richmond Hill prison and was later found in St Vincent some eleven years later.

Whilst some may have been very happy about the heavy sentences which were imposed, Counsel Anselm Clouden for Clack and Counsel George Prime for Bain expressed shock and stated their intention to appeal the sentences. The issue therefore focuses upon what should be regarded as the standard of punishment for various crimes which emanates from our criminal justice system. Criminal justice itself refers to the system of practices and institutions of a state which are directed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime by sanctioning those who violate the laws with appropriate penalties and by the use of suitable rehabilitation methods.

Various theories have emerged over the years with regards to how to deal with persons who have been convicted in the courts for criminal activities. In general the modern trend is that young persons under the age of 18 years must be treated differently to adults. This is why it is highly commendable that in Grenada the Juvenile Justice Act became effective as from 1st February 2016 and the Juvenile Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre was commissioned in Grand Bacolet in St. Andrew’s on 24th March last. Both the Act and the juvenile institution are geared towards the rehabilitation of young persons in conflict with the law.

The question as to how to deal with convicted adult persons remains a most difficult jurisprudential issue. The “deterrent theory” justifies punishment on the basis that the evil of treating criminals harshly is outweighed by the good it does by deterring people from committing crimes. The “retributive theory” justifies punishment as the appropriate moral response to criminal acts because the perpetrators deserve to be punished. The “rehabilitative theory” lays emphasis on the rehabilitation of criminal offenders rather than on harsh punishment including long prison sentences. Various countries over the years have relied upon the main thrusts of these theories as circumstances warrant.

Both the United Kingdom and the United States of America are presently considered to be utilizing harsh measures of punishment against offenders in an effort to dissuade others from committing crimes. However it has been reported that the prison populations in both countries seem to be constantly climbing despite this approach. This is in stark contrast to the consequential outcome following rehabilitative methods which are utilized in Norway on the Bastoy Prison Island. It is reported that the re-conviction rate for inmates there is 16% as compared with 70% for Europe and 77% for the USA.

It is understandable why some persons would like to see the death penalty issued against convicted murderers. In fact section 230 of the Criminal Code of Grenada provides that any person above the age of 18 years who is convicted of murder would be liable to suffer death. Despite this provision the last execution which took place in Grenada was 38 years ago in 1978. Besides other negative consequences, there is one school of thought that holds the view that imposing the death penalty on convicted murderers does not act as a deterrent to others. This view has been recently endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Resolution 62/206. However others seem to think otherwise.

In general the communities in which we live play a significant role in relation to the type of punishment which a court would be prepared to impose on convicted persons. In situations where there is an outcry against the rise in criminal activities especially with regards to certain types such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, the courts are generally minded to impose very stiff sentences in order to appease the general public. There seems to be a duty on the part of the court to enable the public to develop a measure of security against criminal activities. Notwithstanding this, from a jurisprudential point of view sentences within the jurisdiction of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court are expected to be proportional and consistent. Therefore an Appeal Court may well be minded to uphold an appeal where it seems that a particular punishment was unnecessarily oppressive in the interest of criminal justice.

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