FORMER minister of justice Herbert Volney believes there is much to be learnt from the findings of Prof Selwyn Ryan in his report on young males and crime in Trinidad and Tobago, which was tabled in Parliament on Friday.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Volney was asked to comment on Ryan's observation that gang lords, even from behind prison walls, are controlling the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) and the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP).
"I think that there is much to be respected within the Ryan findings," Volney said. "In other words, there is much truth in what he says. I do not, however, believe that the CEPEP has been corrupted in the way that he claims because of the systemic safeguards that have been put in place to ensure control (by those who ought to have control).
"I do, however, believe that there is some truth to the control by gang leaders, those in and out of prison, of the URP."
Volney admitted he is aware of the existence of ghost gangs in several constituencies, particularly along the East-West Corridor and the Port of Spain area.
He said the problem exists even in Region Four, which falls within his constituency of St Joseph. "I have been working assiduously with the programme manager and the Minister of Local Government to cut it out, if not completely, then to bring it within manageable proportions in the constituency of St Joseph. That has been one of my projects on the ground since I have been at the constituency office on a full-time basis."
Asked to elaborate on what steps have been taken to tackle the problem head on, Volney said an insistence has been made on seeing "live bodies".
"In other words, when the ghosts cannot come out, we move them from the pay list.
"One of the problems we have to address, though, is persons drawing pay from both CEPEP and URP."
He said gang leaders have always been finding ways of getting lucrative contracts under the URP.
"What happens is that the gangs have had, over the years, companies fronting for them. For example, I met over 150 companies registered for work in my region. I have cut that down to ten companies that I know exist in the constituency of St Joseph and it is easier to manage these ten companies from a management point of view rather than 150 front companies."
Volney said up to his "demise" as Minister of Justice, he had been working on a package of legislation aimed at transforming the prison service and which potentially was capable of removing some of the power being held by gang leaders behind bars.
"I had travelled overseas and witnessed how prisons operate. Cabinet had considered some initiatives coming to it from the Ministry of Justice. One of the things that was being addressed was a more humanitarian approach in dealing with prisoners who could have been rehabilitated in order to allow for a more permissive release as opposed to a mandatory release without rehabilitation.
"We were developing the policies behind the restorative justice approach and the National Offender Management Authority (NOMA) Bill was being drafted when I lost office.
"One of the initiatives there was parole as well as the early release with electronic monitors and also allowing prisoners to go out to work and return in the evenings in order to allow them to come back out as reformed people. They would have had exposure to the outside world."
Volney said he is unsure, however, of how many of the initiatives were being pursued by his successor, Christlyn Moore.
"You will have to ask her, you know. Because I have not heard her saying anything other than about the construction of a prison in Tobago. I will have to ask her. I know we were on a roll up until my demise."
Contacted yesterday by the Express, Moore said she needed to read the Ryan report before commenting. See Page 5.