Jail for gangs

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Gang members beware!

Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite today served notice that it could soon be an offence punishable under the laws of Barbados for persons to be associated with criminal gangs.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a National Consultation on Crime and Violence, Brathwaite said Government was preparing to take to Parliament in the coming weeks promised Anti-Gang legislation, which gives the judiciary the power to sentence gang leaders and members to lengthy jail terms of 20 years or more.

Brathwaite explained that under the proposed legislation, which is guaranteed smooth passage through the House of Assembly given Government’s majority in 30-member Parliament, offenders could be sentenced to “20 years for being a gang member” and “25 years for being a gang leader, which is in sync with what I have seen in other jurisdictions.

“These persons corrupt many of our young men and women and, from what you are being told, send them into the society to commit some very serious crimes. They are not heroes. They belong behind bars and that is why we want to give specific legislation to deal with them,” the embattled Attorney General, who has been under pressure to take action to stem a recent worrying crime wave, said.

He also sought to assure that authorities were on top of the crime situation, especially as far as criminal gangs were concerned.

“The police have assured me that they have identified many gangs across Barbados. The Criminal Justice and Research Unit, in their own research can point to a number of gangs in Barbados, in particular in the St Michael district . . . . There is no doubt. The question is what do you do to ensure that they are eradicated and I think that the anti-gang legislation is another device with which we could attack this issue,” he said.

As part of a harsh crackdown on crime, Brathwaite also revealed today that an amendment would be made to the country’s Bail Act, requiring gun offenders and alleged murderers to spend at least 18 months in jail before they are released.

“Society has expressed a lot of concern that persons on murder charges and serious firearm related charges can seem to just go into prison for a couple of days and come back out.

“We are placing a window of 18 months that such persons cannot be granted bail. We will be working with the courts, the Director of Public Prosecution and police to ensure that during that 18-month window, these people’s cases will actually be heard,” Brathwaite said.

He also suggested that Barbados may have to go in the direction of other territories in terms of having “a serious crimes court so that these matters are fast tracked”.

“I am actually having discussions with some of partners to see if that is the way in which we need to go,” he said.

Brathwaite, who had earlier announced plans for the introduction of a new Firearms Bill and a civil assets forfeiture regime as part of a multifaceted approach to tackling gun and other crimes, reiterated the need for a tighter legislative regime in the wake of 27 murders, including 21 so far this year which were committed by the gun.

“In terms of the Civil Asset Forfeiture [Act], I keep on hearing about guys who are driving around in Range Rovers and so on, who has no discernable place of employment and who are allegedly linked to criminal activity. We need to go after them. We can’t and should not have a situation where our young people are looking up to them and saying I want to be like them. Look how good he is living and he doesn’t work anywhere,” he told reporters.

Brathwaite also reiterated plans for a widening of the stop and search powers of members of the Royal Barbados Police Force under the Police Act, noting that at present, lawmen could conduct a search in cases where there was reasonable suspicion. However, he said this authority would be expanded in the coming weeks to include powers to cordon off areas and search homes if necessary, under controlled circumstances, taking into account the fundamental rights of citizens and rights to property.

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