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Judicial CP - August 1994
Corpun file 09909
Inter Press Service, 10 August 1994
The Tamarind Switch Is Back
KINGSTON, Aug. 10 : Barbados began it first, Trinidad came next and now Jamaica has revived the whip as a method of punishing the convicted felon.
On Aug. 8, a high court judge in the northern Caribbean island ordered that 23-year-old Errol Pryce be whipped as part of his sentence for stabbing and crippling the mother of his girlfriend.
Pryce is to receive six strokes with the tamarind switch as well as serve four years in prison at hard labour.
In passing sentence Judge Carl Patterson said Pryce's act was reprehensible and though flogging and whipping were no longer mandatory, he would order it done. No one has been flogged here in 25 years.
The sentence is the most talked about issue in the island with many objecting to the whipping, terming it a barbaric reminder of the days of slavery.
"I am of the view that flogging must be a category of inhuman and degrading treatment," said Delroy Chuck, attorney-at-law.
Chuck said the order was unconstitutional as the island's constitution stated that no person should be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.
Others such as Bishop Herro Blair of the Deliverance Center felt the whipping would do no good. He said the already barbaric environment in Jamaican prisons was "graduating hardened criminals" and that flogging was not going to help the situation.
Many others felt that the court could have found some other method of punishment for Pryce.
Still there were Jamaicans who agreed with Judge Patterson.
"I don't understand what is going on. If hanging is considered inhuman and flogging is considered inhuman, what must society do?" asked one caller to a radio talk show today.
"What can we do when every single method of punishment is being decried as inhuman - pat the criminal on the back and say alright you did wrong but don't do it again?"
The sentence and the reaction to it reflect the debate that periodically has gripped the region as it tries to find ways to halt crime and still appear on the same wavelength as other Western countries which have given up on harsh punishment for criminals.
In 1976 a government-appointed committee in Jamaica recommended that flogging as a form of punishment be removed from the statute books. Although the government accepted the recommendation it made no move to follow through on it.
There is also a growing anti-capital punishment lobby in the region which counts among its members influential talk show hosts in Jamaica.
But the majority of Caribbean people remember days when it was safe for a woman to walk unmolested almost anywhere in any country at any time of night.
"In those days is only duppy (ghosts) you afraid of," says 89-year-old Mirelda Kerr of Jamaica.
They long for a return to those days and the present crime spiral across the region has scared many. Throughout the region the majority of the population believe the death penalty and flogging should be maintained as a deterrent to criminals.
Many blame the "governments' softness on crime" over the last two decades for the increase in criminal activity. They point to the cessation of hangings as proof that the governments are not serious about protecting the region's citizens.
In Trinidad, as murders creep to a record 100 for the first seven months of the year and in the wake of the killings of two suburban mothers, the government ordered the execution of prisoner Glen Ashby. When he died July 14, Ashby had the distinction of being the first convicted criminal to have been executed in this country of 1.2 million people, in 15 years.
In Jamaica, no one has been executed since 1988, but with murders reaching 328 up to mid-June, many Jamaicans have been clamoring for something, anything to be done to help the situation.
The governments and certain sections of the region's judiciary appear to be listening the people. Last year a Trinidad judge ordered a teenager flogged after he was found with several rocks of cocaine.
The government there is currently trying to push through legislation that will ensure that criminals who have been sentenced to be flogged cannot wriggle out of the penalty.
Under Trinidad law flogging must be administered within six months of the sentence being handed down. But the custom for several years has been for the convict to appeal the sentence. The appeal normally takes longer than the six months to be heard and therefore the sentence is not carried out.
In Jamaica, population 2.5 million, the National Security Minister Keith Knight is avidly pro-capital punishment. He said yesterday that his government would end appeals by death row inmates to human rights organizations if the these bodies did not agree to hear the cases at the same time that higher courts were deliberating them.
He said when the cases were heard separately, it only dragged out the appellate process and delayed sentencing.
The Jamaican government has been looking for ways to speed up the appellate process since late last year when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court for the island, ruled that prisoners held on death row for longer than five years should have their sentences commuted to life.
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