A system of on-the-spot fines and formal warnings should be used to deal with low-level offenses, including smoking ganja, Police Commissioner David Baines said.
The commissioner said under the current system, young people are being unnecessarily criminalized and seeing their lives ruined for a “stupid mistake” that could be dealt with out of court.
He believes too many minor crimes are clogging up the courts and taking up time and money that would be better spent on dealing speedily with more serious offenders. Other low-level offenses, such as drunk and disorderly behavior, could also be dealt with through fixed fines, he said.
Speaking in the wake of a U.K. adviser’s criminal justice report highlighting a host of issues with the current system, Mr. Baines said police and prosecutors needed to work together to develop a more efficient justice system.
One of the report’s recommendations that he would like to see adopted is the introduction of legislation allowing police to deal with certain types of offenses without going through the courts.
He said in many circumstances, crimes such as possession of small amounts of marijuana could easily be dealt with through a caution system that would allow police to confiscate the drugs and record the crime without offenders being swept into the criminal justice system.
He said a caution and the involvement of parents at an early stage would likely be more effective in reducing re-offending than would court penalties.
“It means we don’t criminalize them and put a tag round their neck that makes it difficult for them to get a job, difficult to travel to the U.S., difficult to live a normal life,” he said. “Look at the number of people in Northward for using relatively low levels of ganja. It skews the figures and creates a dysfunctional society.”
Mr. Baines said the system would require proper controls, and offenses would have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. But he believes it could be an effective way of dealing with crimes that are admitted and often end up being dealt with by small fines after a lengthy court process.
“Let’s make sure the courts, the judiciary and the magistrates are able to bring their skill sets for the cadre of people that most need them – the more serious offenders,” he added.
Mr. Baines said he welcomed the report from Criminal Justice Adviser Claire Wetton, and said police were doing their part to provide evidence in a timely manner in order to speed up the course of justice.
He added that improving the speed of cases and putting victims and witnesses back at the heart of the justice system is crucial. In Jamaica and the Bahamas, he said, court backlogs have escalated to such an extent that people facing murder charges are facing waits of several years for trial, meaning they had to be released on bail. He said this contributes to a spiral of violence with victims seeking revenge on defendants, and intimidation and even killing of witnesses.
“The worst example is in the Bahamas where there are 350 people on bail charged with murder,” he said. “That is why the importance of Claire Wetton and us starting to expedite justice and cases before the court is so critical.
“Damn right, I welcome this report. I want us to prosecute serious criminal offences and I want us to do it quickly.”