Yesterday, we reported that nearly half of Barbadians polled in a Public Opinion Survey on Crime in Barbados, conducted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit (CJRPU), were in favour of the death penalty, under certain circumstances.
Over 1 000 residents participated in the survey between October 2020 and February 2021.
“Overall, 43 per cent of persons were in favour of the death penalty whereas 32 per cent stated that it depended on the circumstances. There has been a significant decrease from 63 per cent [in the 2008 study] to 43 per cent of those who are in favour of the death penalty,” criminologist and Senior Research Officer at the CJRPU Kim Ramsay said as she reported on the findings.
At the same time, close to half of those surveyed were in favour of rehabilitating criminals instead of simply punishing them, and one in four Barbadians said they believed that no progress was being made in fighting certain crimes on the island.
The findings were interesting given all that the country has had to endure in recent times at the hands of gunmen.
The CJRPU urged authorities to “get tough” on crime with the use of “heavy-handed tactics” where necessary. They also want crime and violence treated as a public health and social issue, with input from the whole of society.
Interestingly, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Senator Dr Shantal Munro-Knight, speaking in the Senate on the same day, said gun violence should be viewed as a major public health issue and be addressed just as health issues are – attacking it from the root.
Referring to a recent UN Habitat study, she contended that traditional methods of fighting crime are long outdated.
Dr Munro-Knight said: “That study referenced that these approaches are outdated and that we needed to have comprehensive contemporary approaches based on, and I want to quote, ‘enhancement of urban safety and security through urban planning, design, and governance; the development of community-based approaches, to enhancing safety and security; reduction on the risk factors by focusing on groups most vulnerable to crime, and strengthening of social capital through initiatives that seek to develop the ability of individuals and communities’.”
Days before, former opposition leader Bishop Joseph Atherley accused the two main political parties of politicising crime and urged law enforcement authorities to go after the financiers of gun imports.
“We need to get robust with matters of justice and sentencing, investigations, and police prosecutions. We need to get robust and tough with these things. We are dealing with this matter of crime and cannot, to date, put hands on the big people who may be involved in the importation of weapons into Barbados.
“We can only deal with the fella from down Black Rock and up in the Pine who shoots a person his own age or goes into somebody’s house. Who are the people that are importing the guns? This is what we should be dealing with at this time,” Atherley insisted.
Criminologist Ramsay also cited corruption and fragmented efforts as problematic to the crime fight, especially against gun violence.
“First of all, we need to stop the inflow of guns. Our borders and our ports need to be strengthened. Where is the weak link? It has to be fixed. We know the problem exists . . . . We need to get tough, we need to clean up the streets . . . . Sometimes we need heavy-handed tactics,” she said.
If the problem does stem from the top, then the issue goes way beyond simply hanging a convict.
The structure of the criminal operation would dictate that when one bad boy goes, he will be replaced with another and the cycle will continue. So, while many may be convinced that capital punishment may be the answer to deter criminals, that may not be so.
This country has in the past been faced with this menacing issue of crime and violence and has found a way to wrestle it to the ground without the death penalty.
The debate over whether Barbados should hang or follow the lead of developed countries and frown on taking life as punishment will rage on.
It becomes more relevant and apparent at certain times, like when a person is gunned down while on board a Public Service Vehicle, or when a gunman opens fire in a busy mall.
Perhaps those in favour of the death penalty call for it only because they are totally fed up with all the talk and they see no other way.