Monday, January 26, 2009

Towards a pragmatic approach to crime

The Maldives has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Currently about 1500 persons are sentenced to jail. In the meanwhile there are about 4000 persons under criminal investigation or awaiting trial. Even if half of these cases are convicted that would amount to a further 2000 jail sentences, taking the total of the jail population to 3500. Can the country handle this?

At current rates of expenditure, jailing 3500 people could cost up to 1 billion rufiyaa per year. Even if we manage to spend that amount, there is still the problem of finding space to hold 3500 people. Currently the jails have a combined capacity to hold just 900 persons (this includes buildings currently under construction.) Thus we face an impossible situation. How did we get into this mess?

With a penal code dating back to the 1960s and a drug law enacted in 1997, Maldives approach to crime has been Draconian, with long sentences passed for minor crimes. This strict approach has obviously not worked. It simply filled the jails to over-capacity and has led to the situation where "criminals go in through one door and come out through the other door." Should we continue with the current approach? Actually the question should be, 'CAN we continue with the current approach?'

The alternative to the Draconian approach is one of rehabilitation, or giving criminals the opportunity to turn a new leaf and start a useful life. However, there are many hurdles facing such an approach. One obstacle is legal. The existing laws give too few opportunities for rehabilitation, with the laws ignoring the real situation of criminals. The overwhelming majority of criminals in the Maldives are drug addicts, who have a variety of other associated crimes such as theft and drug peddling. Existing laws preclude rehabilitation chances for addicts with other associated crimes.

Another obstacle to rehabilitation is the difficulty faced by ex-criminals in finding jobs. Without gainful employment most ex-criminals return to jail sooner rather than later.

Thus the new approach to crime should be one of prevention and finding comprehensive solutions to the issues faced by criminals who want to turn a new leaf. This would ease the pressure on jails and give us the opportunity to deal strictly with the hardened criminals.

The time has come to face reality. It is simply not possible to put everyone in jail and forget about them. It's also not realistic to put all drug addicts in an uninhabited island and forget them. A more pragmatic approach is needed.


Shiham said...

To label someone is to encourage them do whatever they do+ acts as an social obstacle to overcome the sickness or habit even if the victim wants to.
No one is born violent, addicted to drugs, extreme thinkings. Human behaviour is mostly a product of the environment/surrounding.
A pragmatic solution would be to concentrate and invest on the root cause of the crimes:
Poverty, Parenting, Social values etc. These seemingly trivial (to our society) are the root causes of crimes. Spend that 1 billion rufiyaa to establish a system that could help us distribute/redistribute the countries wealth more equally and open our society to a more value-based society than myth-based society. We do above, before we can rehab the current victims and then we can rehab the lot.

Anonymous said...

definitively a pragmatic solution will be the legalization of drugs. as hard as it may sound to our delicate sensibility, this is the ONLY reasonable solution.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr W
We can alleviate this problem with greater 'contestability'. The problem we are trying to solve is to basically reduce the prison 'burden' ie incarcerated population and cumulative sentence periods. under no circumstances I find encouraging lenient sentences for crimes as long as they are appropriate to the ill deeds. infact sentence periods can be deterents. Short sentence periods have been a factor in the rampant child sex abuse. Allowing for compromise distorts and dampens the founding principles of our society (how ever corrupt it has become now)
Why I say 'contestability' is that people commit crimes when they feel they can get away with it. To combat this problem we must allow for street justice. We must all accept it as a necesary 'cost' all have to bear (even when mistakes are made). We can pass a law that give legal protection to people who take the law into their own hands for their personal protection or well-defined circumstances. Besides being a deterent it reduce or obviate need for prison time as the culprit has suffred enough.
Prisons are not cost effective. Because of crowding in UK they are paying thausands of pounds to prisoners from other countries to go back to their own country. In fact we are prisoners to our own designs for the society.
Other alternatives worth looking are imposing increased fines/ compensations, out-of-court settlements. In places like Pakistan they have a justice by elders 'panchayat', the japanese yakuza has fingers chopped off for misdeeds. repentence is not a formality. people should feel shame. might just consider imposing Sharia.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:20 am,
If you are one of these guys who keep on parroting 'Islam is the solution' I am sorry to disappoint you. Sharia will not solve the problem either. sharia is actually an incomplete set of vague rules that don't address most problems in today's complex societies. the most famous parts of sharia are stuff like cutting of hands and necks. they are impractical in a civilized society.

Anonymous said...

Actually it is not fair to accuse religion as the root cause of drugs because after all religion prohibits drugs. It is true that 90% of drugs are produced by Muslims and that in South Asia more Muslims take drugs than other religions. In Sri Lanka and Malaysia percentage-wise Muslims take more drugs than other populations. But this has nothing to do with Islam

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5.20,
Government has been trying to be strict on drugs. Do you think it has worked? Do you think they can get any stricter than what they have been?

naimbé said...

Very interesting post, indeed. Your explanations of the two approaches – the Draconian vs rehabilitation approach are in fact very informative. Then you talked about what you called the pragmatic approach i.e; on “prevention and finding comprehensive solutions”. It would be interesting to read your take on what would “prevention” and “comprehensive solution” entail? How could it be done? And why we haven’t tried this so far?

Abdullah Waheed's Blog said...

To Naaimbe,
'Comprehensive' here refers to a client centered approach where solutions are sought for ALL the problems of a particular client - legal, educational, employment etc. - so that he can function normally. Prevention refers to addressing the social root causes of drug addiction and crime.

Anonymous said...

you have pointed out a very serious issue that needs a good solution or 'a pragmatic approach'. my question to you is why did not you suggest a possible pragmatic plan for this problem instead of just telling there is no way to get out of the mess..?
do you think Anni will come out with a pragmatic approach for the growing crime industry? yeah,, the problem is civil pundits like yourself are not doing well your part of the social job or else you guys are stuck in irresponsibiliy.

Anonymous said...


Abdullah Waheed's Blog said...

To anonymous 4:47 pm,
It is not true at all that I am responsible for any of the past policies on drugs. In fact I asked to be transferred when none of the policy reforms I suggested were adopted. Some of these changes include:
1. Revising the law on narcotics;
2. Adopting the drug master plan (it remains unimplemented till today);
3. Outsourcing the drug rehabilitation program;
4. Enhancing salaries and allowances for counselors;