VISION on Mission (VOM) CEO Giselle Chance on Monday said “the ease of doing business” is something which lures people into criminal gangs and hampers their rehabilitation into society after they are released from prison. She made this point to member of the National Security Joint Select Committee (JSC) during a virtual public inquiry into organised criminal gangs in TT.
Chance said, “The number of persons who come to us post release that would have been involved in gangs are very small.” She estimated that between five to 25 per cent of the people who interact with VOM after being released from prison had some interaction with gangs “during the tenure of their criminal career.”
Chance described rehabilitating former gang members like trying “to put an egg back together once it’s been broken.” She explained the “ease of doing business” for gang members in terms of the ease of being able to make money and being integrated into a gang, makes it difficult for many of them to adjust to finding and working in legitimate jobs.
“It is extremely rare that some of them would deliberately seek out the assistance of organisations like VOM unless their lives are in danger. We have clients like that currently.” She added that three to five per cent of the people in VOM’s residential facility fall within that category.
VOM chairman Gerard Wilson said, “The gang leader is not the person who gets involved in the actual crime.” Wilson explained this was the job of the foot soldiers.
He added that in prison these people’s loyalty can be bought with something as simple as “peanut butter and milk.” Wilson also claimed that drug trafficking can involve law enforcement officers working with people inside and outside of the prison. He said the United Kingdom is usually the preferred destination that drugs are trafficked out of TT to, since no visa is needed to enter that country.
Chance also said many former prisoners are afraid to say they were gang members because of anti-gang legislation. Asked by JSC chairman Fitzgerald Hinds and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland whether the anti-gang legislation now before the Parliament would prevent gangs from luring young people to join them, Wilson and Eye on Dependency director Garth St Clair agreed it would.
Wilson said, “I totally agree. This is something we must look at.” St Clair added, “Like yesterday.” The Anti-Gang Bill 2021 was passed by the Senate on March 16 by a vote of 24-six. The House of Representatives will debate the bill on April 9. Wilson and St Clair also spoke about a short-lived “prison radio” initiative under the former People’s Partnership government.
Explaining it was a rehabilitative initiative to get prisoners involved in radio broadcasting, St Clair said former justice minister Herbert Volney supported it. But he added that the initiative collapsed not long after Volney was fired from the Cabinet in September 2012, as a result of the then Section 34 controversy.