Sat | Aug 24, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | Solving crime like empty barrels

Published:Saturday | September 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Norman Grindley/Chief Photo Editor A resident of Arnett Gardens, south St Andrew, cleaning the open lot behind the Inner-City for Christ Ministry, where the body of 14-year-old Yetanya Francis was found. She was raped, chopped and burnt to death.

We have an uncanny habit of calling for more draconian punishments to deal with crime and violence rather than actually demanding that the systems work to truly improve citizen safety and secure justice. Seemingly, doing so makes us feel good about ourselves and less complicit where the state of affairs is concerned.

How on earth do so-called 'well-thinking' Jamaicans rationalise excessive sanctions as a way of bringing perpetrators of these gruesome incidents to justice? It puzzles me greatly.

In light of the brutal murder of 14-year-old Yetanya Francis from Arnett Gardens, people like my friend Ricardo Brooks are calling for "mandatory prison sentences for convicted child killers". He made an overzealous appeal on Facebook earlier this week for the society to "rid itself of those who have proven themselves utterly depraved". These persons are, according to him, "enemies of decency" and "enemies of the State".

What a fascinating and strange people we are. This deserves a standing ovation. It's unfathomable the things we conjure sometimes.


Collective punishment


Attorney-at-law Marc Jones explains that "mandatory minimums ... are by nature odious to the very concept of justice. Justice is always personal, it is always in proportion to the unique facts of each case. Mandatory minimums are the opposite: They are a form of collective punishment via legislative fiat.

"Collective punishment is always unjust precisely because it is impersonal and disproportionate. It requires punishing a whole class of diverse subjects in the same way regardless of the facts. Understood in this way, collective punishment is always about vengeance, which you will admit is the chief motive behind your support for mandatory minimums. At the end of the day, mandatory minimums as a form of collective punishment cut against notions of justice, which are of greater vintage than the Constitution itself."

You can almost guarantee that based on the media's framing of a report about and the gruesomeness of a murder - usually those related to children and pregnant women (and in certain communities?) - you will hear politicians, opinion leaders and others bemoan the law and call for us to reinvent the wheel, to set up another committee or police unit to deal with the issue.

Our insatiable desire to be ludicrous and jump on the bandwagon of zealots seemingly has no end.

It doesn't matter how harsh a punishment might be or whether there is a mandatory minimum sentence. That is by no means a deterrent, especially if the surety of justice is so scarce.

As my friend Astley Henry said, "Sentences mean nothing with our appalling conviction rates for major crimes." Think about it. If hanging doesn't discourage people from murdering someone, why on earth do you think a mandatory minimum sentence will?

We have to realise that when we make noise about implementing more draconian sentences to arrest the scourge of crime and violence in our society, we are simply helping those who are in charge abdicate their responsibilities, posture as though they are doing something about the problem, and pretend that the problem is so bad because we do not want to truly punish wrongdoers.

Let us try to focus more on bringing perpetrators of crime to justice. That's where we need to invest our time and energy right now.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to and or tweet @jaevionn.