Certain convicted persons need a second chance

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Sir Lawrence A Joseph

It is most unfortunate that a number of persons in Grenada who have been convicted of certain crimes in their past lives still have those convictions coming back to haunt them in the present. Some of these convictions may have involved minor offences such as being in possession of a stick or 2 of marijuana cigarettes, using obscene language or assaulting or wounding a colleague. Whilst most of these convictions are for minor offences which they perpetrated during periods of youthful indiscretions, these persons come to the stark realisation that blemishes on their police records negatively affect their future ambitions. These ambitions may be linked to obtaining a visa to travel to the USA, the UK or Canada in order to pursue further studies or to live abroad; to landing a proper job in Grenada; to obtaining a loan or merely to obtaining personal satisfaction by having peace of mind knowing that any past conviction is not on the records.

In such situations, there is a need to find a way to assist such convicted persons in obtaining a second chance in life. Many countries have passed their own legislation which lay down the conditions for expunging certain offences from the records of certain individuals. As a consequence, their police records would show up as being unblemished and moreover these individuals would not be legally compelled to acknowledge ever having been arrested or charged for any expunged offence.

The UK Rehabilitation Act of 1974, establishes rehabilitation periods following certain convictions which start from the date of conviction during which time the convicted person must not commit any further offence. When this rehabilitation period expires then the conviction is considered to be ‘spent,’ after which situation the conviction need not be revealed in the future. However, certain convictions such as rape and murder involving life imprisonment and imprisonment for over 30 months can never be considered as “spent.” With regards to a sentence of between 6 months to 30 months a rehabilitation period of 5 years must pass regarding a juvenile (i.e. someone under the age of 18 years) and a period of 10 years must pass in relation to an adult. Other rehabilitation periods are also established.

In Jamaica, the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act of 1988 lays down the conditions for certain convictions to be expunged from the records. However, any convicted person who has been sentenced to imprisonment for over 5 years are not eligible to obtain this relief. For a conviction without imprisonment involving a juvenile the rehabilitation period is 18 months and for an adult, it is 3 years; for a conviction with imprisonment for 3 to 5 years, the rehabilitation period is 5 years for a juvenile and 10 years for an adult. In Jamaica, the rehabilitation period starts from the date of termination of imprisonment. In Barbados, the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act of 1997 adopts similar principles. In the USA each state has its own legislation for dealing with the principle. Canada too has its own legislation for giving certain convicted persons a second chance.

In Grenada, there are no legislative provisions for expunging the convictions of individuals from the police records. However in the case of any offence which does not involve the death penalty, sections 72(1) and (2) of the Grenada Constitution make provisions for the Governor-General, on the advice of a specifically designated Minister, to grant a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions to any convicted person; grant a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, of the execution of any punishment; substitute a less severe form of punishment; or remit the whole or any part of any punishment or of any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the Crown on account of any offence. In the above situations, the designated Minister is not compelled to consult with the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy established by section 73 of the Constitution. It is only in a situation where the death penalty has been imposed that the Minister is compelled to consult with that Committee.

Whilst the constitutional provisions for granting pardons, granting respites and for providing other relief to a convicted person are in place, these provisions are insufficient. Additional legislation is needed in situations where minor offences have been committed by individuals, especially by juveniles so that they can obtain a second chance in life. It is strongly recommended therefore that similar legislative provisions as have been made possible in both the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act of both Jamaica and Barbados should also be made possible in Grenada.

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