Many law enforcers and prosecutors have admitted that unless rules on bail on the Bahamas are amended, even the suspects of heinous crimes can easily avoid being jailed or even prosecution. Attorney General John Delaney had “ acknowledged that a growing number of people on bail are allegedly committing other crimes.” (Rolle) He said this while he was batting for the amendment of the Bail Act. Among the proposed amendments are the restrictions of the right to bail of those suspects of heinous crimes as well as those that have been repeated offenders.
Certain sectors in Bahamian society and some lawmakers, however, have expressed opposition to the move to amend the Bail Act in favor of more restrictive options. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, for his part, believed that the proposed amendment is valid and urgent. In an article in the Bahamas Post, he said that some believe “ that bail is a right and that there is nothing we can do to prevent persons from being placed on bail.” (May 26, 2010) The Prime Minister, however, vehemently considers this idea as very wrong. Nevertheless, the motion for amending the Bail Act has ignited a new debate within Bahamian society. This author, however, believes that the Bail Act must indeed be adapted to the current situation. In particular, its provisions on repeat offenders should be changed in order to ensure that they will no longer be able to easily apply for bail.
One of the three main points related to this argument is that the soft nature of the Bail Act is no longer suitable to the worsening crime situation in the country. The Bail Act’s leniency was appropriate only during that time when Bahamian society was not yet beset with a crime. It is logical that it be amended because laws are supposed to be changed or repealed when these are no longer applicable to current conditions. Besides, with stricter provisions in the amended Bail Act, crime will be discouraged. Second main point supporting the argument is that previous offenders are the likeliest to commit crimes again. Therefore, those who are on bail and are the real perpetrators are free enough to conduct felony. Since they have not undergone rehabilitation, the chances of repeating the offenses are higher. Worse, they have the opportunity to strike back at their accusers and captors. In response to those who insist that bailing is a right, the right of the public is superior to the individual right to bail. In fact, the law should ensure that suspects who apply for bail should not pose threats to the public. It must also be clear that Bail Act amendments do not violate the right to bail but ensures the safety of the public. The Bail Act must reduce the possibility of abuse committed by bailed suspects.
The lenient characteristic of the Bail Act is no longer suitable for the current crime situation in the Bahamas. This law, which was formulated and passed in 1994, was created at a certain historical context when the peace and order situation in the country was still much better. Since lawmakers normally introduce policies in accordance with concrete objective conditions, it is convenient to say that the Bail Act and all its provisions were suitable to the times. However, when compared to similar laws of other countries, especially the more industrialized ones during the 1990s, this turned out to be very lenient indeed. According to the provisions of the Bail Act, one of the major and more common grounds for denying bail to a suspect undergoing trial is if the court deems it possible that the person in question would “ fail to surrender to custody or appear at his trial; commit an offence while on bail; or interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice, whether in relation to himself or other person.” (Bail Act 1994) In this and all the other provisions mentioned in the Bail Act, the case of repeat offenders is not cited. In the early 1990s, during the time when the current law on bail was still being subjected to debates among lawmakers, Bahamas crime rate was still very low although there were already signs that it would increase in the future due to several social factors. However, laws are not written just based on forecasts. Therefore, the Bail Act’s relaxed nature then was still effective. However, as soon as policymakers and government, in general, sees that a certain law is no longer sufficient or adequate in order to enforce peace and order, they should immediately seek its amendment or repeal. Laws are not permanent and infallible dogmas.
These are changeable and changes must be made in order to satisfy the demands of new situations. Only through the introduction of amendments or of new provisions can the original intent of the law be still carried out under different circumstances. In the case of the Bail Act, only by inserting a clear provision on the restriction of bail rights to those who are already repeated offenders can crime be discouraged. A sterner provision on those who are applying for bail is the only way that the relevance of the Bail Act in this current time can be still upheld.
The reason why a restrictive provision against repeat offenders should be included is that the most potential criminals are those that have already committed various felonies before. This is true to both those who have served prison sentences for past offenses and to those who have not yet been apprehended and put on trial. These are the individuals who are more likely to have the daring needed to commit crimes because they had gotten away with those they had committed before or, based on their experience in the Bahamian justice system they had realized that the penalties of such felonious acts are not severe. On the other hand, those that are truly guilty of crimes but have successfully manipulated bail through the lenient provisions of the law can develop the concept that it is fine to commit crimes. Repeat offenders are the most dangerous of all those who can apply for bail. Recidivism is a worldwide phenomenon. In a study made by the United States Department of Justice in 2002, it was found out that 67. 5% of the prisoners who were released in 1994 were “ rearrested for a new offense (almost exclusively a felony or a serious misdemeanor).” (Langan and Levin 2002) If the commission of offenses again is very high among those who have been penalized, it can be worse for those who have committed crimes but have not gone through any rehabilitative process. They are more prone to commit crimes. Another reason why the Bail Act must be amended in order to become stricter especially to repeat offenders is that individuals who are on bail have the opportunity to strike back at their accusers or captors. All these facts and trends should be considered by the lawmakers so that an improved law on bail is created and imposed.
The proposal to amend or to introduce provisions in the Bail Act that will deny repeat offenders’ motion to bail may be considered as a limit imposed on their rights. However, the right to bail is an individual right, which means that it is of less importance to the right of the public to protect itself. The state or the Bahamian government has the obligation to guarantee the safety of the majority of the people from predators in society such as criminals on the loose because they have posted bails. While suspects indeed may have rights to a fair trial, the public too has the right to be provided with security not just by law enforcement agencies but by the entire justice system. The right to end bail ends when the security and well-being of the greater public are at stake. Government data further explain that crimes are actually being committed by individuals who are out of prison because of bail. In a 2007 press release, national security minister Tommy Turnquest “ cited statistics indicating that in 2006, 35 percent of suspects charged with murder was on bail at the time they committed the offense, and between January and September 2007, 42 percent of murder suspects were on bail at the time of the offense.” (Bail Statistics Show Spike in Releases) The proposed amendments to the Bail Act do not violate the right to bail but it guarantees the right of the majority to be protected from crime. These are not established for the purpose of depriving individual suspects of their wish to be free while trials are still going on. However, in order to maintain peace and security for the public, those who are considered as repeat offenders should waive such rights. It is; therefore, clear that the right to bail will still be respected. It is just that safeguards from abuse of this right will have to be instituted.
The motion to introduce changes in the Bail Act in order to restrict the granting of bail to repeat offenders has met opposition from sectors who remain doubtful about the Bahamian government’s real intent, who consider this as a threat to human rights, and who analyze the problem from another perspective. The political opposition, as expected of their role, has expressed skepticism about the ruling party’s objective with the proposed amendments. However, political disputes should first be set aside in this regard and the welfare of the people should be the primary focus of all parties. The issue here is not who pushes the amendments but what good it brings to Bahamian society. If the improvement of the Bail Act is the solution to the crime wave that is hitting the nation, the political opposition should not block it. If the opposition is truly concerned with the well-being of the people, it should not obstruct attempts even by its political foes to implement policies that would reduce crime. As for those who think that the amendments will violate the human rights of the repeat offenders, they should also consider the welfare of the vast majority. In a democracy such as the Bahamas, the greater good is definitely more significant than those of the few. There are others who also perceive that the problem is the slow court proceedings. This may be a valid concern but this is definitely the angle that should be emphasized on if the objective is to prevent crime. Obtaining justice for the victims is one thing while preventing crime is another. In fact, crime prevention through bail restrictions for repeat offenders will lead to a drastic reduction in the number of people victimized.
If the Bahamas must continue to progress as a nation, one of the key requirements it must comply with is peace and security for its people. High crime rates, however, will hamper the growth of society, badly affecting not only the people but also the economy. Steps must indeed be taken to solve the problem with crime and one these is by effecting laws or amending those already existing in order to prevent the number of incidences. The restriction of bail rights of individuals who have committed criminal offenses repeatedly is therefore not just a minor improvement of the judicial process but a matter of national survival and social stability. If chronic offenders roam the streets of Bahamas because they are on bail, security is definitely compromised. However, if such felons are kept in jail while court proceedings are being hastened, the country will surely be on the path to unhampered development.