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Correspondence: Crime and punishment in the twin-island republic
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Correspondence: Crime and punishment in the twin-island republic

Trinidad and Tobago’s government will have to go back to the drawing board following the defeat of a bill to reintroduce hanging, writes 21-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent Ryan Bachoo.

In a time when the world is experiencing all manner of challenges, Trinidad and Tobago, a little country in the Caribbean, finds itself battling the common threat of crime.

But as big as the issue is here in the twin-island republic, the superpowers of the world have had little time to voice concerns about the government in its quest to reinstate hanging, much unlike 11 years ago, when Dole Chadee and his gang were hung.

Then, human rights activists and the Mercy Committee here in T&T all tried to persuade then Attorney General, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, that hanging was not the rational way to deal with criminals.

Over a decade on, though, crime has kept climbing. In fact, it was one of the main reasons the Peoples National Movement party lost the general election last year to the ruling People’s Partnership. The coalition government then, in its campaigning, professed they had a plan to fight crime.

However, between May 24 of last year, when they won election, to now, it appears the only real crime plan the government has in its 72-page manifesto is the death penalty.

On Monday, needing a three-fourths majority in parliament to pass the hanging bill, the 29 yes’s in house of representatives were met with 11 no’s by the opposition, as the government failed to get the required 32 majority to pass the legislation.

Passing this bill was the top priority for the Kamla Persad-Bissessar government, but its defeat should not have it too worried. For starters, the statistics speak for themselves.

In 1999 when Dole Chadee and his gang were executed, the murder rate stood at 93 for that year. In 2010, the country recorded 485 murders. Even more alarming is the fact that the detection rate is below 20%. No hindsight required; if you don’t catch criminals, then you can’t hang criminals.

While the People’s Partnership government may feel the defeat of the hanging bill in Parliament on Monday may be their biggest set-back since coming into power, it could act as blessing in disguise. If one attempts to look past legislation for hangings to resume, with the present state of the police service and the number of cases of murder and kidnappings our security forces are actually solving, then it is quite easy to see that criminals need not fear the hangman’s knot.

Remember, the Prime Minister herself stated that the resumption of hangings will instil fear in the minds of criminals and deter them from criminal activities.

Instilling fear in the minds of criminals doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable or safe. Despite the lacklustre excuse from the opposition (citing failure to draft a separate bill dealing with petitions to international bodies), the government has a chance to really fight crime, rather than use some short-cut plan.

The government will now have to go back to the drawing board and work out ways that it can capture criminals and work on a justice system that takes too long to bring criminals to justice.

Note: The opinions and statements expressed are those of the author alone and do not represent the view of the Commonwealth Youth Programme

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