WHATEVER we are doing, it is not working.
Our approach to dealing with crime and punishment can be debated back and forth – and has been many times – but it is when we take the wider view that we can see it in perspective.
An Inter-American Development Bank report has laid out the statistics that tell the story of our prison system.
In brute numbers, we lead the region, but not in a good way. We have the highest prison occupancy rates – and the third highest rate of repeat offending.
In other words, we have too many people in too little space, and too many committing crimes again after being released.
The report said 65 percent of male inmates lived in overcrowded conditions in The Bahamas, and 23 percent of women, the biggest disparity in the region between men and women. Meanwhile, 77 percent of inmates on remand – remember, they haven’t been convicted of anything yet – were overcrowded, and 62 percent of those who had been sentenced were overcrowded.
As far as repeat offending, half of all offenders committed crimes again and ended up back behind bars. Half had been in prison more than three times.
So as we say, our current approach? It’s not working.
Perhaps that should be no surprise – with a commissioner who doesn’t want anyone talking publicly about conditions at the prison.
Last week, Commissioner Charles Murphy denied there were any positive cases of COVID-19 at the prison after concerns were raised by his own officers. Days later, the Minister of National Security said a number of officers had tested positive.
More than that, the commissioner warned officers not to speak about conditions at the prison outside of the proper authority – or they could be fired.
There’s no hiding from the statistics provided by international experts though. Commissioner Murphy presides over a prison that is too crowded, and is ineffective at leading people away from a life of crime.
As for outside the walls, our murder rates have risen to well above the global average. That average is six murders per 100,000 inhabitants, we had more than five times that number in 2014.
How about access to firearms? Again, top of the list, with 19 weapons per 100 inhabitants.
This report shows deep and structural problems with how we deal with crime – the question is whether or not we have the sense to recognise that things aren’t going the right way, and the will to change it.
There’s a simple way to determine that – look to see what action is taken about overcrowding. If nothing is done, then don’t expect any change anywhere else.
Date extended again
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest has an obvious dilemma.
He wanted – along with the rest of the government – to get the country back up and running and get people back to work. That would allow the tap to be turned off on the flow of money from government to support people while they are out of work. The ideal would be people getting back to work, and no need for that support from government.
As hotel after hotel took a look at the state of recovery from COVID-19 and the prospects of bringing tourists back into the country before shaking their heads and saying they weren’t opening yet, it became increasingly obvious that government would either have to extend that support a little longer – or leave people stranded with nothing.
It’s a tough situation to be in – but we can equally understand the position of the hotels. We have yet to get COVID-19 under control here, despite Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ perhaps over optimistic declaration last week that the second wave was coming to an end. Perhaps more, the hotels are looking at our biggest market, the United States, which has now suffered more than 200,000 deaths from the virus and still with high daily numbers of new cases, and deciding that perhaps now is not yet the time.
The hotels need confidence in how we will handle tourism, a confidence probably not helped that we are almost at the end of the month and that new rules for travel are still being talked about as “hopefully” coming out this week.
They need to know where they stand – and so does the rest of the country. By now, we should know what we’re dealing with, the best practices from around the world to prevent resurgences – and hopefully be well enough stocked with tests and so on to be able to meet the needs of any scheme we implement.
We’re not there yet, it would seem, and the hotels aren’t going to take a gamble until we are.
We cannot help but notice that all these hotel declarations came after the government set its date – which suggests both sides are not on the same page. We would suggest doing everything possible to get on that same page – the only way forward is with confidence together. That’s what we need to rebuild our tourism industry.