Fact: prison is anything but a rehabilitation service and most people get out of there even less inclined to live a law-abiding life than they were before.

Fact: a first stint in prison rarely stops there and former inmates, mostly thanks to a society that is already stacked against them, wound up with second and third sentences.

Fact: those who do make it out of prison almost never manage to resume a functioning role in society, no matter how determined they are.

Fact: few drug addicts succeed in kicking the habit and making a 180 degree shift in lifestyle. Fewer still go on to open their own business and to actually start helping others who were in their same situation.

The above are all reasons why, from a human perspective I was one of the many rooting for reformed drug addict and trafficker William Agius to not be given a prison sentence, even though the offences he was accused of were pretty serious.

I can’t say I am surprised at the three-year prison sentence that was still meted out by the law courts. Although every instinct in me rebels against the injustice, reality is that it would have been very difficult for any judge to disregard the punishment specifically laid down by the law by not giving a prison sentence.

Justice must be seen to be done with everybody and the precedent that a humane sentence would have created would have created havoc with future proceedings of a similar nature. There is also the fact that the crimes Mr Agius pleaded guilty to were not trivial.

Yet, it is clear that justice has not been done. And I believe that the authorities can still do a better job of helping Mr Agius and of sending the right message to the community.

If the law cannot be ignored, neither can the fact that this man has - against all odds - become a valuable member of our society and is not only productive, but is also in a position to help people. 

Moreover, let us not forget that he has been waiting to be arraigned for 14 years. Is such a lengthy waiting time even legal from a human rights perspective? I suspect that the European Court of Human Rights would have something to say about that. 

So no, no matter how enthusiastically Justice Minister Owen Bonnici tweets that this three-year sentence is sending a positive message to those who genuinely want to rehabilitate themselves, reality is that it gives the opposite message.

Offering Mr Agius a presidential pardon will correct a wrong that will probably ruin a young man’s life for nothing.

Yet, something can still be done to put the situation right without undermining the justice process. It’s called a Presidential Pardon. The constitution empowers the President of Malta to pardon anyone for whatever crime. There is not even a need to offer a reason. 

The solution is so obvious in this case. Offering Mr Agius a presidential pardon will correct a wrong that will probably ruin a young man’s life for nothing. It will also send the right message to society, in line with government policy re rehabilitation. And it will convince those who need conviction that yes, there is hope for those who are really willing to change a dodgy lifestyle.

The pardon can be offered with or without conditions. If anyone’s conscience balks at the idea of allowing a self-confessed drug trafficker scot free, why not attach a condition related to community service?

This can be anything from educational to functional. I believe that Mr Agius’s natural inclinations already run in that direction, so it’s not like we are unleashing an unwilling maverick unto society.

President Coleiro Preca prides herself in her social conscience and we have seen evidence of this many a time. Here’s hoping that she will do the right thing in this instance too.


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