Pardons and perils

At the time, Newsday expressed our critical support for the pardons, believing that some prisoners do feel genuine remorse and regret for their crimes, and could rejoin society as productive citizens.

This week a further six inmates were freed from prison under the Presidential Pardons. There has been no explanation why the process, announced and planned in 2012, has been taking so long. Even Commissioner of Prisons Martin Martinez stated that he did not know why it had taken so long for the required documentation to reach him. However, as soon as he received the necessary papers, Commissioner Martinez arranged for the immediate release of the six men—four locals and two from Antigua. The Antiguans were “released” to the custody of the Immigration authorities for deportation to their homeland.

The releases take place within one month of a former Presidential Pardon beneficiary being shot dead by the police in the wake of violent incidents in south Trinidad. The man, who had been serving 25 years for robbery and gun related charges, was one of the persons pardoned by former President George Maxwell Richards last year. However, according to the police he immediately returned to a life of violence and was being sought for arson, rape and murder when he was shot. It should go without saying that something fell short in the assessment of this prisoner when the authorities were examining prisoners for selection for possible pardon.

However, this type of failure in the pardoning process and selection raises valid concerns over releases in general, and many people express the views that former prisoners, especially those convicted of violent crimes, should receive no forgiveness or pardons. And we can understand that point of view, recently reinforced by the incident referred to above.

However, a just and humane society must show a kinder face to its citizens, including those who are serving terms of imprisonment as punishment for breaches of the laws of the land. And we support the demonstration of trust placed upon certain prisoners, whom the prison authorities assess as being capable of rejoining society before the completion of the sentences imposed upon them. And we must bear in mind the Presidential Pardons are not granted on the whim of the President, but rather on the recommendation of the Prison’s authorities who would have had professional assessments done on the prisoners under consideration.

On Thursday Newsday met with one of the beneficiaries of the recent pardons. Lal Seerattan had been convicted of murder in 1986 and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to imprisonment for the rest of his natural life. Seerattan apologised to the family of the man he had killed in 1982, and begged their forgiveness. Welcomed home by his family, including many grandchildren he had never seen, he spoke of the horrors of incarceration, and the tremendous calming sense of relief he felt on walking out as a free man.

Seerattan appears to epitomise the sort of prisoner to whom pardons should be granted. Without celebrating their release, we wish the pardoned men good luck in their adaption to a life of freedom, but without surrendering a valid concern that they remain on the right side of the law.


"Pardons and perils"

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