The Legislative Assembly passed a bill last week that will provide the Courts with a wider range of sentencing options for people convicted of certain crimes.
In introducing the bill, Attorney General Sam Bulgin assured the public that not all convicted persons would qualify for sentencing under the new initiative.
‘…Violent offenders and others who have exhibited a particular violent propensity or certain anti-social tendencies will not qualify for alternative sentences,’ Mr. Bulgin said. ‘The public will still have to be protected from such persons.’
Any convicted person would first have to go through a risk assessment process to ensure he or she is suitable for the alternative sentencing programme, Mr. Bulgin said.
Instead of the usual fine and incarceration sentence, the Alternative Sentencing Law will give the Court many other options for sentencing. Some of those options include a curfew and monitoring the movements of an offender with electronic devices, and intermittent, conditional or suspended sentences, which allow an offender to spend all or part of their sentence in the community.
Another sentencing option is an exclusion order, which require an offender to stay away from certain places at certain times. This order is aimed at offenders who present a particular danger or nuisance to a particular victim or victims, Mr. Bulgin said.
Special centres of incarceration, called restitution centres, are another sentencing option. Mr. Bulgin said these are places where prisoners are allowed to work and use their term of imprisonment to earn funds for the purpose of compensation their victims.
There is also a fine option programme where an offender’s sentence is to pay a fine. ‘This option allows him to work… which will count as a credit towards the payment of the fine,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
Community orders are also a possibility for repeat petty offenders.
‘Instead of imposing a fine on a repeat petty criminal, where the court is of the opinion that he will not be able to pay his fine or fines, the court should instead consider imposing a curfew orders or a community service order,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
In helping to determine an appropriate sentence, the court may consider a victim impact statement made by the victim or the prosecution on behalf of the victim. The statement would describe the harm done to, or loss suffered by, the victim arising from the commission of the offence, Mr. Bulgin said.
In order for the alternative sentencing initiative to have success, Mr. Bulgin said it had to earn the confidence of the public.
‘It is therefore incumbent on Government to take the lead in educating the public about the benefits of such sentences,’ he said. ‘The public has to be persuaded that they are meaningful; that [they] are not a means of letting off offenders with a slap on the wrist.
Mr. Bulgin said that for the public to be persuaded the government had not gone soft on criminals, it had to be given the right information.
‘I am confident that the public of Cayman will embrace these initiatives,’ he said.
Mr. Bulgin outlined the many benefits of alternative sentencing. One benefit it offered was an enormous cost savings.
‘We heard about the figure of approximately $53,000 per annum to keep one person incarcerated,’ he said, adding that the House has also heard of the overcrowding problem at Northward Prison.
‘It is our hope, indeed, that the Alternative Sentencing initiatives will result in significant reduction in the prison population,’ he said.
Another important reason for the initiative is to better assist offenders on the road of rehabilitation, Mr. Bulgin said.
‘We recognize that it is incumbent on Government to ensure that persons who are involved in criminal activities are not simply convicted and warehoused somewhere at Northward without hope,’ he said. ‘It is recognized that as a society, we have a duty to try and salvage every single individual involved in criminal activities who can be salvaged.
‘We must assist them where possible to have another opportunity to make something good, not just for themselves, but their families.’
Mr. Bulgin called the alternative sentencing initiative a more enlightened approach on how the Cayman Islands deals with some offenders.
‘From the offender’s standpoint, this different approach to sentencing will allow the offender to pay his dues to society for his offences, whilst at the same providing for his family,’ he said, adding that alternative sentencing would allow for keeping family units together.
‘So there will be a reduction in the break-up of offenders’ families. Indeed, maintaining family ties has been shown to be an important factor in preventing recidivism,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
There are other benefits of keeping offenders out of prison through alternative sentencing.
‘It also has the effect of preventing offenders from associating with each other in prison where they may share experience and minor offenders may be influenced to eventually commit more serious crime,’ Mr. Bulgin said. ‘This is even more important for juvenile offenders.’
Mr. Bulgin said the government was of the opinion the new approach to sentencing would, over time, have the dual effects of reducing government expenditure and helping offenders by providing them with an opportunity to lead productive lives.
Bodden Town MLA Ossie Bodden rose to support the bill.
‘A lot of times, when someone goes to prison in Cayman, their life is finished and no one wants to give these people a chance,’ he said, adding that the Alterative Sentencing initiative would allow offenders to an opportunity to fully integrate back into society.’