The report of the Joint Select Committee to review the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, 2014, commonly called the anti-gang legislation, was adopted in the Senate on June 4.
The report was previously adopted in the House of Representatives, on May 27.
In his remarks, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, Hon. Matthew Samuda, said criminal gangs continue to pose threats to the vision of a prosperous and secure Jamaica.
“The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is reporting that at the end of 2019, there were 389 criminal gangs operating in Jamaica. This represents an increase of eight gangs when compared to the 381 in 2018. Of this number, some 250 were deemed to be active,” he noted.
The Minister added that the Corporate Area continues to account for the largest proportion of these gangs.
Senator Samuda pointed out that in many communities across the island, gang members enjoy strong community support, which makes it difficult to isolate them.
He further noted that over the last three years, there has been a significant increase in the number of gang members identified, apprehended and prosecuted.
“Over the period 2017 to 2019, the security forces arrested and charged 595 gang members for various serious and violent crimes.
During 2019 specifically, 55 per cent of murders were attributed to gang activities,” Senator Samuda said.
“In order to disrupt, suppress and ultimately dismantle the operations of criminal gangs, the strong legislative support will need to be present. This is why the work of the committee is so important,” he added.
The recommendations in the report include removing “serious offence” in Section 2 and replacing it with the term “applicable offence”.
This amendment will afford for the First Schedule of the Act to be amended to include offences related to simple larceny and receiving stolen property.
“This change was considered since criminal gangs are known to engage in simple larceny and receiving stolen property as primary criminal enterprises. The term applicable offence in place of serious offence will, therefore, facilitate the inclusion of offences that may not classically be considered as serious offences. This will enhance the work of prosecutors,” Senator Samuda said.
Also Section 6 (3) of the Act is to be amended to include any identifying signs and symbols (including gang tattoos and paraphernalia) that the Court may take into account when determining whether a person is a part of or a participant in a criminal organisation.
The Committee also recommended the expansion of benefit as it is now provided for in Section 11 of the Act.
“This would deal with persons that had not professed to be a participant of a criminal organisation but may indicate or otherwise suggest that they were acting on behalf or on instruction of a member of a criminal organisation,” Mr. Samuda said.
The Committee also recommended expanding the list of aggravating factors to be considered when sentencing a person convicted of certain offences under the Act. These factors, which will attract an additional 10 years’ imprisonment, include: if a person uses any premises in furtherance of gang activity similarly to what obtains in the Lottery Scamming Act; if a person is involved in aiding, abetting, inciting or inducing an act of violence as part of the process of recruitment of a child; and if a person has in their possession any item of dress, designation or description of a law-enforcement officer.
The Joint Select Committee also made recommendations to consequentially amend the Criminal Justice Administration Act to make it an offence to disclose any information in relation to an investigation being conducted or about to be conducted in respect of an offence under any legislation.
Additionally, a recommendation is made to amend the Constabulary Force Act to allow for a search and seizure provision.