Independent Member of Parliament Dr Maria Agard is concerned that the majority of this island’s prison inmates are poor, black men from the same socio economic class.
Speaking during debate in the House of Assembly yesterday on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Member of Parliament for Christ Church West said “it is a scar and a blot on our culture that we live in a society where the very poor will find themselves as a subject of this bill … 99 per cent of inmates belong to the lower socio-economic class, almost to the exclusion of all others.”
She therefore agreed with the thrust of the Bill, which addresses the need for rehabilitation of such offenders and lays the foundation for their reintegration into society.
While stressing the need for proper reintegration, Agard said convicted offenders who have served out their time in jail, “must be able to throw off the shackles of the history of the offence that they have committed.
“[Therefore], a thief should not be a thief until he dies; a rapist should not be branded as a rapist if he desires to restore himself, if he desires to change,” she said.
Agard also expressed strong support for non-custodial sentences, saying the locking up and jailing of non-violent offenders “is an issue that grieves me deeply”.
She highlighted marijuana possession for recreational use as the “most popular” non-violent offences while suggesting that “a person in possession of marijuana should be treated differently to the violent offender.
“There are some communities where entire families have been remanded for possession of this simple and singular drug,” she said, adding that “it is my hope that I would see the day when a marijuana possession [charge] in this country does not ever carry a custodial sentence, as long as the quantities are within the realm of quantities for personal use”.