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.