COMMENTARY

Judge Dread

“Rude boys don’t cry!”, said Judge Dread in a 1960s record. “Hush Up!”, he berated Rude Boy who was begging for mercy, and proceeded to give Rude Boy a sentence of one hundred years in prison.

The popular sentence should have alarmed us, being beyond life expectancy, but instead, Judge Dread felt emboldened – and we as well- to give, so Rude Boy be warned, a sentence of five hundred years in prison.

Someone forgot to warn us about that template. It supposes harsh and severe penalties for crime act as deterrents. They don’t. Indeed, they act as accelerants.

Read it again. They act as accelerants. “Where is the proof?”, you asked.
At this juncture, you may be prepared to believe the experts or the political firedragons who are tough on crime. Hey, we can even believe our lying eyes.

Gun Court and Prison with Life Imprisonment as standard fare for gun or ammunition possession was painted Red to send a message of Dread. Instead of having a chilling effect on gun crimes, and being mostly empty, it had the opposite effect. Perhaps it should have been painted blue and have an apprenticeship jobs training school teaching aircraft mechanics to the inmates. People would be finding bullets and old guns to get in, without a corresponding increase in murders.

One could argue that Jamaica’s murder rate, one of the highest in the world, persists because justice is neither swift nor sure, but if they were, murderers would think twice. We are in denial.

Let’s look at something interesting with respect to a murder conviction. 26% of murder charges resulted in a conviction for a recent year. 74% of the 26% pleaded guilty. This means 1/4 of persons are convicted, 3/4 of the convicted helped the number to look good by agreeing to plead guilty. What’s the conclusion?

We could say our courts are inefficient but that assumes if we could run more accused murderers through the courts, we would get better numbers. Nope. We would get more cleared-up cases, but the plea agreements would have to be aided by persons who routinely plead not guilty, 3 out of 4 who are acquitted.

The takeaway is that our justice system, in the main, cannot convict the man who is determined to not plead guilty. Michael Manley could have painted Gun Court a brighter shade of Red- Double Dread- fear of prison or its severity would not tame a man.

Should we be disappointed or disturbed that prisons do not work?

We can assume prisons were designed to work at rehabilitation. Or that it was designed to show society’s displeasure at someone’s conduct and exact a price of confinement. It works for that. And it can be demoralizing as well. Do we want to punish and demoralize folks?

A demoralized person will hurt you. A person who finds or regains his dignity is an asset.

Do we need longer prison penalties or avenues to gain skill and competence so that a man doesn’t have to live or die to protect his ego?

We are at a place my friend, where people are willing to die like dogs rather than live like dogs. And if their lives don’t hold any promise, hope or value, can we expect that person to hold us or our cherished dreams in high esteem?

To save our lives it is going to, no, it has passed that stage. To save our lives we will have to save the man who is ready to throw his away. Be brave in designing the future.

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Peter Peterkin, Readers Bureau, Contributor

 Edited by Jesus Chan

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