Divergent views on merits of Guam 'two strikes' bill
Divergent views on merits of Guam 'two strikes' bill.
A victims' rights group says a 'two strikes' bill for repeat offenders is a step in the right direction for keeping violent offenders off the streets of Guam.
But the legal fraternity is up in arms about the bill, which calls for an automatic life sentence for anyone convicted of committing a violent or aggravated felony for a second time.
They say the bill is misdirected and will excessively punish those who don't deserve it.
Jamie Tahana reports:
Senator Brant McCreadie introduced Bill 107 as a response to the public's frustration with Guam's criminal justice system.
BRANT McCREADIE: Right now crime is on the rise and I believe we need to fight crime with punishment. I think it's very important as a lawmaker that I take my job seriously in the fact that we not only have to provide a better quality of life for the people of this island, but we have to make sure that we protect them and that's what this law intends to do.
The bill seeks to impose a non-parole life sentence for anyone convicted of committing a violent or aggravated felony twice within 15 years. Mr McCreadie says the bill originally covered 25 crimes, but after consultation, has been reduced to 14. But defense attorney Randall Cunliffe says the bill creates more problems than it solves. He says some people who make stupid mistakes could end up in jail for the rest of their lives, and gives the example of a teenager keying a car after breaking up with their boyfriend or girlfriend.
BRANT McCREADIE: It includes negligent burning, reckless conduct, which includes misdemeanours, it includes a lot of things which are not really violent or intentional acts which anybody could get caught up in and be facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Randall Cunliffe says Guam's prison is inadequate to house the number of people who will get life sentences under the bill. He says the money that will go into housing the extra inmates would be better spent providing more police officers and mental health and drug programmes.
RANDALL CUNLIFFE: We have a major drug problem here on Guam with methamphetamine. So a lot of people aren't getting treated. The government isn't putting any money into trying to solve that problem. So these people commit crimes to support their habit. If we could get some treatment for these people then they could stop committing the crimes.
But Senator Brant McCreadie says it is up to criminals - not the government - to rehabilitate themselves.
BRANT McCREADIE: I do want, more than ever, for these offenders to rehabilitate themselves while they're incarcerated. But I do not want them to use prison as a revolving door. So when you get into prison and you become accountable for your crimes, you either rehabilitate yourself or you take a different path in life, or spend the rest of your life in the path that you chose, which is crime. They're going to have to help themselves become better people.
Carina Fejerang is a member of the victims rights group Random Women's Rally. She says the group is indifferent to the proposed legislation.
CARINA FEJERANG: Well, we're not totally for it, not totally against it, as well. We believe that it's good because they're now taking notice as far as the laws are concerned when it comes to certain issues that have to do with high crime.
Ms Fejerang says it will keep the worst offenders locked up. But she says Guam's justice system is in disarray and needs a total overhaul.
CARINA FEJERANG: About 50 percent of people that are going into the corrections facility tend to come out and then go back in again. So, what we also ask is that the government figure out ways of making it better by providing more outreach to them and also separating the jails. You know, having a high-crimes jail facility versus a lower-crime facility.
Carina Fejerang says politicians need to work together to create a system that prevents crime happening in the first place.
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