By Somapala Gunadheera –
It is reported that the President has drawn public attention at an annual session of a Prison Reforms Activists’ Group, to the problem of over-crowding of prisons due to the presence there of prisoners who were hanging on in them, consequent to their inability to pay up petty fines, imposed on them. The solution proposed is the appointment of an advisory committee on the issue. Despite my disappointment with the productivity of such committees, I wish to place the following possible updates of the law before them:-
- Establish farms and small industrial estates for such prisoners under strict security and technical supervision in suitable places
- Transfer all short-term prisoners who are stuck in prisons due to their inability to pay their fines, to them
- Pay these prisoners at the daily market rate for their work, less the cost of their food lodging and charges out of the income from their produce
- Release them as they earn enough to redeem their fines
This would give them an honourable and early release from prison, sparing public cost and sympathy. That way they would not have to depend on the tax-payer for their subsistence in prison or on the kindness of the powers that be for their release. They would buy their way out of prison respectfully, without languishing or getting out of prison on uncertain charity.
I understand that most of those who are stuck in prison for their inability to pay the fines imposed on them have been convicted of traffic offences. I can think of another way of helping them but that scheme would be cumbersome. I state it below for consideration, for whatever it is worth:-
- Let it be made compulsory for all drivers to take out a fine-redemption insurance policy at a reasonable rate, before they are issued with a driving license or allowed to retain one
- If and when, they are imposed with a fine, Insurance pays the fine, gets the client released but suspends the policy. The suspension is intended to prevent making driving a gamble
- A suspended licence can be renewed on payment of a higher premium, proportional to the gravity of the new offence and past record
- Renewal will be allowed on a graduated scale up to four times
- No renewal will be allowed on the fifth application and thereafter, as by then, the applicant would have demonstrably proved his disqualification to possess a driving licence through his own misconduct
Drug addicts and homicides
It has been revealed by the President that more than 47% of prisoners languishing in jail are convicts for drug offences. As far as I am aware, normally most drug offenders are sentenced for life. As the death penalty has become more a joke and illusion, than a remedy, in this country, some other method has to be devised to avoid these prisoners spoiling the others with their drug habits by living alongside with them for a lengthy period. The ideal solution would be to segregate them into separate rehabilitation camps where they also work to earn their board and subsistence. Thanks to the failure of our pious rulers, they might someday or other return to our midst along with those who are standing in the never ending queue to the gallows for murder and similar offences. For that reason, their rehabilitation would accrue to the benefit of the society at large. This comment pertains to prisoners who are not covered by the above recommendations
Yet another problem that has created a dilemma for the Government is how to create a new Constitution bringing out reconciliation between the majority and minorities by reassuring both sides. Some elements on the majority side are genuinely worried that efforts at reconciliation would lead to the extermination of the majority and they are prepared to lay their lives and those of many others down, to sabotage such a ‘Sirisangabo’ act. Their fear is that the more that is given to the minorities the more they will ask Oliver Twist-like until they themselves become the majority.
The minorities are suspicious that the majority is trying to take them for a ride with their siren songs of promises. They need concrete action to have faith in what is promised. They have been deceived in the past. This mutual distrust stands in the way of reconciliation, as it had for the last half century. What is needed in this situation is fair exchange on both sides. Each of them must give and take the optimum possible. Let us apply this approach to Constitution-making.
Activists on the majority side are not asking for more through amending the existing Constitution. They will be happy if it is left as it is. Provided what is granted to them by the document is unchanged and guaranteed by the amended Constitution, they do not mind any equality rights granted to the minorities. For instance, if the eminent position given to their race and religion is left intact, they do not mind equality rights given to the minorities. They want to be primus inter pares – leader among equals. The Minorities should have no objection to this arrangement provided their rights of equality are not limited to mere words, given today and violated tomorrow. Their new rights like freedom of language, should be entrenched provisions in the new Constitution, supported by maximum penalties against their breach.
If so much can be guaranteed in the new Constitution, it would be foolish and unrealistic for the minorities to cry for an exact pound of flesh. The trend of intellectual and cultural developments taking place in the country at present due to expansion in education and habitat, is such that the minorities would get their exact , sooner than later, without spilling any blood.
May all beings be happy!