DAVE BHUJUN,
FORMER ASSISTANT
COMMISSIONER OF
PRISONS

There is no doubt that the rate of crime has taken alarming proportions over the years. Assaults, rapes, murders and larcenies have become the order of the day with the result that nobody feels safe anymore. Lawbreakers act with impunity even in broad daylight and openly flout the law as they know quite well that if ever they are arrested, they will get away, in most cases, with a fine or community service. The duty of the government is to protect the society but unfortunately this is a far cry which is mainly due to the fact that our judicial and penal systems no longer act as a deterrence. Sentences imposed by courts of justice hardly discourage offenders and potential criminals from committing crimes.

The following examples speak for themselves:

(a) A person found guilty of rape is sentenced to community service whereas another one is given remission by the commission of the prerogative of mercy and is set free before the expiry of his sentence.

(b) A reckless driver, driving without a valid licence and under the influence of alcohol, kills a person and maims others. He is subsequently awarded one-month imprisonment. It is only when the relatives of the victim openly contest the sentence that the D.P.P has appealed against the award, otherwise it would have been business as usual. The question arises. Is the one month of imprisonment fair and reasonable and has justice been dispensed in this case? I leave it to your own judgement.

 (c) There are also instances whereby drug offenders have been awarded fine or community service. Will this deter offenders from committing offences of this nature? Community service, in my opinion, needs to be selective and applied in minor cases but unfortunately this has become a common feature. The Mentor Minister has rightly pointed out that sentences passed by courts of justice are too lenient and need to be reviewed so as to meet the ends of justice.

(d) Very often, a person involved in a dozen cases of larceny is sentenced for only one count, sentences passed by courts being concurrent. Had it been consecutive, he would have easily spent a longer period behind bars and society would have felt safer. Yet, provision has been made in the law for consecutive sentences which are hardly applied. A vivid example of consecutive sentences was passed in India last year when someone found guilty of two rapes was imprisoned for twenty years (ten years for each case). Had it been concurrent sentences, the term of imprisonment would have been only ten years. So, it is high time that courts of justice give a thought to it with a view to protecting society.

       Our corrective institutions, on the other hand, no longer act as deterrents, which remain one of the main purposes of imprisonment. There was a time when prisons discouraged law breakers from returning back but this is no longer the case. Too many privileges and interferences have already exercised a negative impact on our penal establishments with the result that many prefer to have a happy time inside rather than facing the hardships of life outside. A survey has revealed that over fifty per cent of the prison population is made up of habitual offenders who are at least at their second conviction. There are even those who have even been imprisoned for over thirty times. As far as the variety of food is concerned it remains a dream for the common people who have to toil hard to make both ends meet. Should anti-social elements be treated better than law abiding citizens out of tax payer’s money? Fortunately, the present Commissioner of Prisons is curtailing unnecessary privileges that detainees have been enjoying in the past but there is still a lot to be done. He needs our support and that of the government. However, many are criticising the measures taken by him to remedy the situation. This is really deplorable.

      If we want a better Mauritius, new laws should be introduced to combat crime and exemplary sentences imposed on drug barons, dealers, importers and consumers, otherwise it will be a lost battle. It is paradoxical that few are openly advocating the legalisation of soft drugs. How aberrating! They can hardly imagine the harm it will have on our youths who are already victim of this scourge. Drugs,  whether it is hard or soft, remains drug and has no place in a society like ours. The government should be congratulated for setting up the commission of enquiry on drugs which was long overdue. We all know that one of the recommendations of the commission is the setting up of a referendum on capital punishment. What is the government waiting for? It should act forthwith. There is no doubt that it will be a golden opportunity to feel the pulse of the population as it is a matter of public interest. Apart from a few pseudo organizations, it is expected that the overwhelming majority will vote for death sentence which need to be applied only if someone is proved guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in order to avoid miscarriage of justice. Many claim that it is a barbarous and backward step. If countries like America, China, India and Singapore, just to name a few, are applying death sentence, then why not Mauritius? Does it mean that these countries are barbarous? This will definitely make criminals think twice before committing heinous crimes as it will be like the sword of Damocles hanging over their head. What is needed is some political will.

VOX POPULI VOX DEI.