Today’s Opinion: Swimming against the tide

POSTED: 06/3/11 7:05 PM

How do you punish criminals who’ve done the unthinkable over and over again? That question keeps tongues wagging in the wake of the Romeijn-ruling that sent three criminals to Pointe Blanche for between 18 and almost 23 years.
The convicts repeatedly robbed and they also killed at least one man in the process – 45-year old Dutchman Wouter-Jan Romeijn. They allegedly also raped, but because that particular crime took place on the French side of the island, it was not part of the package the prosecutor’s office presented to the Court in First Instance.
The prosecution demanded 30 years against the main suspect, 26 against a second man and 22 years against a third. With the verdicts standing at 22 years and 10 months, 19 years and 18 years the convicts ended up with sentences that are respectively 23.9 percent, 26.9 percent and 18.2 percent below the prosecution’s demand. Part of this gap is explained from the fact that the convicts spent too long in a police cell and they received the customary sentence reduction for that.
Has the court been too mild? For the relatives of Wouter-Jan Romeijn that question is probably irrelevant, because even if the defendants had ended up with American-style sentences of several lifetimes, it still would not give them their brother back.
But from a point of view of equality the sentences deserves further scrutiny; it is highly likely (though at this moment not certain) that the prosecutor’s office will appeal at least two of the sentences.
The defendants themselves may also want to appeal, thinking that with such lengthy prison sentences ahead of them, they have nothing to lose. That could prove to be an error of judgment, or a fatal form of wishful thinking, because the appeals court is known to warn defendants who appeal solely because they think that they are entitled to a lower punishment.
Appealing on those grounds is tricky, because on several occasions in the past the Appeals Court has ruled against defendants and sent them on their way with an even lengthier prison sentence.
The fact that this particular gang is off the streets – Richardson, Violenus, and Encarnation-Vargas (the fourth convict, Nelson escaped from prison and is still on the run) – is no guarantee that crime will slow down. While this gang was already behind bars we have experienced the murders of Amador Jones and Hector Miguel Arrindell as well as the brutal (but foiled) daylight robbery at the home of former Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus.
While the two murders smell a bit like retaliation in the criminal circuit (though this has not been definitely established at this moment) the foiled Buncamper-Molanus robbery is a sign of desperation. It signals that nobody is safe and that street punks who want to fulfill a certain need – whether it’s for money to pay bills, to buy drugs, or to impress a girlfriend – will stop at nothing. They seem to act before they think, and many of them never arrive at the stage of thinking.
That is a scary thought. But at the same time we ought to realize that this is the result of years of neglect, and also of the arrogance of a ruling class whose only concern is not to become the next robbery-victim. Desperate people who have no skills, no jobs, no money and basically no future, figure crime is the best way to solve their problems.
And exactly because people in such circumstances have limited abilities to assess the possible consequences of their actions (like a 20-plus years stay at Pointe Blanche), they will keep doing what they are doing until society reaches out to them with a viable alternative.
As long as we ignore the underlying social problems fighting crime will remain and futile and costly exercise in swimming against the tide.

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