Fri | Sep 21, 2018

St Kitts PM moves to eliminate debtor’s prison

Published:Friday | September 7, 2018 | 3:31 PM
Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Timothy Harris - CMC photo

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, CMC – Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris says his administration is moving towards ending the  “outdated” concept of debtor’s prison.

The Prime Minister, while wrapping up the debate on the Credit Reporting Bill 2018 in Parliament on Thursday, also described it as “the criminalisation of poverty.”

“My Government is of the view that that system has to be reviewed. At our last meeting of the Cabinet, we invited the Attorney General to get his legal department to look at the matter of debtor’s jail with a view of bringing an end to it, or some of the most punitive aspects of it because…in the application of that outdated concept of debtor’s jail we end up criminalising poverty.”

Debtor’s prison refers to the incarceration of individuals for their failure to pay a debt.

Harris further stressed that the concept of debtor’s prison, which found its way to the Caribbean region through colonisation, had been proven to be antiquated and flawed.

“If a person is thrown into prison, that person cannot earn to repay the debts, which continues to accumulate. And we are saying to have people going to jail in those circumstances…would not be what we would want to be part of a modern St. Kitts and Nevis,” the prime minister added.

The Prime Minister cited the 2011 case of popular calypsonian Cecil “rock-a-fella” Rock who was incarcerated for one week for failing to pay EC$24,000 to the St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank as a means of reinforcing his argument.

The Prime Minister noted that several Caribbean jurisdictions, including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and the Bahamas, have implemented Debtor’s Acts that essentially prevent an individual from being incarcerated for failing to pay a debt.

“And that is what we want to bring here—once we have done the consultations with the business community—no longer would an individual be incarcerated for failing to pay a debt, save in very specific circumstances,” he said.

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