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Former archbishop Joesph Harris

SHALIZA HASSANALI

Former Archbishop Joseph Harris is praising Government for recently releasing 121 low-risk prisoners, stating that it was long overdue.

“The only thing I would say, is that, I thank God that it is happening. I am happy that they are being released. I am happy that justice is being served,” he said.

In 2016, while serving as Archbishop, Harris petitioned the Government to free from prison petty offenders who remained on remand for an inordinately long time.

“I thought that people who had been in jail for a longer time than the maximum sentence they would have received for the crime alleged to be committed that those people should be released,” Harris said.

This was the point Harris hammered to the Government in his fight to have the prisoners freed.

Harris said the Government promised to deal with the issue.

He said he had no idea what delayed the matter for four years.

“I am not going to get into that. I don’t know. I am not part of the Government. I don’t know the stresses that they had.”

Harris said keeping prisoners incarcerated without a trial, for a longer time than their maximum sentence was a grave injustice.

Last month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said it was important for society to understand the risk associated with the transmission of the COVID-19 disease in prison which was a vulnerable area, as Government was considering reducing the prison population.

Days later, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi announced to the country that 957 prisoners within the prison population had qualified for release.

So far, 121 low-risk prisoners have been released.

How does he feel about the Government’s change of heart arising out of the coronavirus?

He said, “Let me put it this way, God writes straight with crooked lines. So whether it (discussion) took place three years ago or it takes place now. I am happy that it has happened.”

The phrase “God writes straight with crooked lines” expressed the standard Christian doctrine that though God is perfect people are not.

With these former inmates now reintegrating back into society, Harris appealed to the Government to offer them programmes where they can educate themselves and make a valuation contribution to the nation.

Harris said one avenue these former inmates can tap into was the agriculture sector, stating that the country needed to ramp up its food production to become self reliant and self sufficient.

He said, “There is a lot of land that we can use to produce food for the country. I have been saying this for many years. Let us sanctify agriculture once again,” Harris said.

He said planting the land can allow these individuals to be productive and learn a trade.

“The issue is, I think that agriculture should become a part of our education system. As I tell people all the time, agriculture is the only discipline that has never had an island scholarship of its own.”

Harris, who is assisting a religious group in Jamaica which recently saw a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, said he has been taking all the necessary precautions and practicing social distancing as he pleaded with our citizens to do the same.

“Trinidadians have to be careful. We can no longer say God is a Trini so everything will be okay. Everything will not be okay unless we take the right measures.”