Aside from community involvement, reforming policies and reducing recidivism are needed in the CNMI to be able to further fight crime, according to Department of Public Safety Commissioner James C. Deleon Guerrero.
Speaking at the Rotary Club Saipan’s meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan on Tuesday, the DPS chief said that public policy laws such as the Criminal Code and the Vehicle Code need to be updated and rewritten.
“A lot of our laws are significantly outdated. Some of our laws, unfortunately, were written as far back as 1962 and were carried over when the CNMI became a commonwealth in 1978,” Deleon Guerrero said.
According to him, “serious changes” have to be made in some of these laws.
Deleon Guerrero said they are working on a project with the Office of the Attorney General to have the opportunity to rewrite these outmoded codes.
Focusing on crimes such as burglary, Deleon Guerrero said they are hoping that a bill now pending in the Legislature that amends mandatory prison terms will be passed.
“The problem here in the CNMI is how the criminal justice system works is simply this: serve one-third of your sentence and you’re eligible for parole,” Deleon Guerrero said. “The bottom line is this: we need to be able to put away people much longer.”
However, Deleon Guerrero also noted that putting criminals in jail is not the only way to solve crimes.
“Incarceration is not the only answer. The other part of this is that the Department of Corrections still has to have an active rehabilitation [program] in place in order for us to succeed in this fight to be able to reduce crime overall, in the long term,” Guerrero said.
He noted that a high 79 percent recidivism rate prevails in the CNMI.
He said programs such as vocational training, basic education courses, and more importantly, employment opportunities when they are granted freedom must be offered and provided for those in prison.
“We can’t really expect robbers and thieves to stop what they are doing if we don’t offer them employment at the end of the cycle,” Deleon Guerrero said.