(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – Moving to quell public outcry as the government moves to release 388 prisoners from the nation’s prisons, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday assured that all prisoners will be medically checked before any release takes place.
He was speaking during a news conference on COVID-19.
Noting that only non-violent criminals with minor crimes will be released, Al-Rawi said, “We will not release those charged with blood crimes. The court will hear from all aspects of the alleged crime and the crime. The victim’s voice will be heard and factored into by the courts.”
Saying the process of release was not a knee-jerk reaction, Al-Rawi said it will be done in a controlled manner taking into account the input of the Commissioner of Prisons, the Commissioner of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Court Registrar, Public Defenders Division and the Chief Justice.
He said the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecution will provide victim impact statements for all cases, noting that low-risk criminals with very minor crimes will be considered for release. These include those charged with failure to pay maintenance, obscene language, possession of marijuana less than 30 grammes, possession of a smoking device, cultivating marijuana as well as motor vehicle and road traffic.
He noted that in the vast majority of cases being considered for release, the court granted bail but prisoners continued to languish in prison at a high cost to taxpayers because they were too poor to raise the bail.
Al-Rawi explained that there were 3,959 people in jail.
“Of that figure, 3829 are men 130 are women. In that 3959, we also have people that will not be accessing bail in any circumstances. A total of 1,115 are charged with murder. As you know we have 10 prisons, and two child rehabilitation centres and an Immigration detention centre. That centre is handled by the Ministry of National Security and is handled outside of court processes,” Al-Rawi said.
He noted that the government had come up with a concept paper having looked at what was being done in the prisons of several Caricom countries as well as other jurisdictions in Europe, the Middle East and other regions.
Out of this concept paper, Al-Rawi said a careful formula was proposed to allow for the release of prisoners. he said the government already had experience in the release of prisoners noting that in December 516 prisoners “were sorted” after legislation was passed after the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act was passed and proclaimed as law on December 23 last year.
“We are still very firm that serious offences, especially possession of a firearm, automatic weapons and weapons of war…ought to be seriously circumscribed,” he said.
He noted that those on Remand who was awaiting bail will be brought before the court to get bail and those who got bail for minor offences but could not raise the bail will also be considered or release.
Those who are convicted will have to apply to the Mercy Committee of the Office of the President to qualify for release once recommendations are made by various representatives.
Al-Rawi said they have already done the research and have identified 149 people who are on Remand for release, while 239 people who are serving sentences for monitor offences are also being considered for release.
Asked how soon the government will be moving to free prisoners, Al-Rawi said.
“We are potentially going to approach the court today. We have pulled data from respective sources. We have prearranged the information so we have immediate cases before us, the ones mild and innocent in cases. No crimes of passion, no violence, that are not in the initial criteria,” he said.
He added, “If you are convicted and don’t have an appeal then the only entity will be the Office of President, the Mercy Committee comprising of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Minister of National Security and the Attorney General,” he added.
Since the Prime Minister announced that government was moving to free up the prisons, several members of the public have expressed outrage saying that if criminals are sent out into the society without support, there could be social upheaval.