(Trinidad Express) – Verna St Rose-Greaves, who has been named Special Advisor on Children’s Affairs to Prime Minister Kamla Persasd-Bissessar, is against the People’s Partnership’s current moves to return to the hangman, saying she will not compromise on her views that capital and corporal punishment have no place in a civilised society.
“I am not going to change my opinion on this. Nor am I prepared to be silent on it,” St Rose-Greaves told the Express.
“We cannot say that we are moving forward as a nation but then we go back to barbaric practices like hangings and beating children in schools. Then, in fact, we are regressing.”
St Rose-Greaves’ comment come as some of her political colleagues have touted a return to the hangman—and the whip in schools—as being the most effective balm to immediate and long term solutions to crime.
The issue was first raised by Works Minister Jack Warner recently, when he was acting in the post of Prime Minister in the absence of Persad-Bissessar. Warner noted then that he felt a return to the hangman would help eradicate the crime problem, and asked Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to look into the issue expeditiously.
Seasoned social activist St Rose-Greaves, however, is not prepared to change her mind and feels instead that it may be her purpose to steer the government away from these “barbaric practices”.
It is a complex issue for St Rose-Greaves and one that has always been at the forefront during her years as a social and women’s activist. In March of this year, after being appointed a Senator by then Opposition leader and current Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, St Rose-Greaves made an emotional speech in Parliament on inhumane prison conditions and the lack of reform programmes. Talk now of bringing back the death penalty flies in the face of most of her work.
However, St Rose-Greaves, whose post has still not yet been formalised, said differences of opinion are healthy and she does not see this as creating a split between her and the party, but rather an opportunity for a “dialogue” process to define the People‘s Partnership.
“We have to talk about this,” she said.
“I understand the pain of victims and their families, I do, and the anger from that is what is fuelling this bloodlust, but the death penalty is not a solution.”
St Rose-Greaves and others in her field have for decades, she said, spoken about the need for social programmes that work, better counselling in schools and homes, better family recreation and sex education in schools.
“We continue to build prisons without trying to understand or acknowledge where the people who go in them are coming from,” she said.
“I very recently encountered a family with four generations of illiteracy in this modern time. What does that say? You see where our problems are coming from?”
It also worries St Rose-Greaves that the death penalty is being considered, even as the State and the citizenry admit that the judicial system and police service are faulty.
“When you bring back the death penalty, you have to find people to hang. That worries me,” she said.
“Our system is not even up to modern standards, we do have the tools to gather and sort evidence. We hear about prisoners in other countries coming out of Death Row after decades because new evidence and analysis such as DNA sampling have shown them to be innocent.
“So what could happen here in Trinidad and Tobago, where we don’t have these things? I feel that in this country, if you have enough money, you commit murder or hire someone to commit murder and get away with it. How many innocent people could we end up hanging?”
St Rose-Greaves said she especially does not want to see the death penalty return under a woman’s watch, referring to Persad-Bissessar.
“If we say we are doing things differently, then we can’t go that way,” she said.
“I am also appealing to women of this country not to allow this to happen. When I go to the courts, many people are fond of saying ‘spare the rod and spoil the child”.
“You cannot hand over that kind of power to a teacher or any adult in charge of a child.”
Persad-Bissessar, serving then as Education Minister under the United National Congress (UNC), had in fact banned corporal punishment in schools.