Editorial | Punish those praedial thieves
The recent three-year sentence of a praedial thief in Clarendon has become a huge talking point in Jamaica. The case has once more placed the crime of agricultural larceny and the consistency of sentencing in the courts at the forefront of the nation's conversations.
Those who have risen to the thief's defence have forcefully argued that for stealing a few ears of corn, three years' imprisonment was just too harsh. This argument seeks to make light of the fact that praedial larceny is now an organised criminal enterprise and is inimical to the best interest of the small business sector and up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
In making their argument, these critics suggested that certain crimes were not being acknowledged and even arrested offenders are often let off too lightly. They were particularly strong about the lack of prosecution of paedophiles and made snide comments about the rectitude of persons in public service.
It is true that inconsistency in law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing is a flaw in a justice system that needs to be fixed. However, this should not diminish the seriousness of agricultural theft.
Hopefully, there are more persons in the community willing to denounce the actions of the thief and celebrate his imprisonment. And the police must get a morale boost that instead of the usual slap-on-the-wrist kind of sentence, an offender was suitably punished.
The penalties for theft are wide-ranging and usually depend on the value of the stolen property. An offender's history may also come into play when sentencing is being considered by a judge. We believe, though, that sending a message to the community is one of the greatest impacts of a prison term.
Encouraging news for farmers
While many criticise the sentence, we believe that for the beleaguered farmers of Jamaica, this ought to be encouraging news because alarming statistics have alerted the country to the dilemma of farmers who have endured loss of produce and livestock worth millions of dollars.
One of the most troubling aspects of this problem is the fact that praedial thieves can find ready markets for their looted items. There is no doubt that some of the people who patronise them at least suspect that the wares they are peddling have been stolen. And the law has made provision for monitoring market produce and punishing those who knowingly enable the criminals. Yet, there is no sense that the authorities are pursuing, with zeal, those who enable the thieves.
Judges follow a sentencing guideline that has been well thought out and is believed to be fair. In this case, the strong sentence will, hopefully, deliver a crystal-clear message to would-be praedial thieves that once they are caught and found guilty of the crime, the punishment will be harsh.
We believe that gently tapping praedial thieves on the wrist does not teach them a lesson and is no deterrent to this evil practice, which puts the livelihoods of thousands at risk. It is time that a resounding message be sent to deter those who persist in reaping where they have not sown.