IF people divest themselves of their political blinkers they will agree with Opposition Leader Andrew Holness that England’s grant of £25 million towards the construction of a new state-of-the-art prison in Jamaica is money that could be better spent.
Mr Holness, we feel, was the only one of our parliamentarians brave enough to make that point in the legislature on Wednesday morning when British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed a joint sitting of the Parliament.
“The key lesson here is that educating our people, especially as it relates to skills training, is the best way to spur human development, support a growth agenda, and keep them out of prison. Indeed, schools contribute more to economic growth and human development than do prisons,” Mr Holness said.
If we are to be totally honest with ourselves we will admit that Mr Holness articulated what many of us were thinking after Mr Cameron’s announcement.
That, however, does not take away from the fact that what Jamaica now has as a prison system is totally unacceptable. We all know of the problem of overcrowding. For instance, the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, more popularly known as General Penitentiary, was built to accommodate 850, yet it has a population of almost 1,700. And the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, which was also designed for 850 inmates, has a population of just over 1,000.
Add to that the other harsh conditions under which inmates, an indeed workers, exist in the island’s prisons and you can appreciate why rehabilitation efforts are not as effective as we would wish them to be. Indeed, some ex-convicts have, in the past, admitted publicly that they have been hardened by their experience of being incarcerated.
No one, therefore, is denying that there is great need for improvement in the correctional system, as the infrastructure is ancient and inefficient.
Our question, though, is from where will the Jamaican Government divert the remainder of the funds needed to construct this state-of-the art prison? After all, the last estimate made public two years ago was $25 billion to build a new 5,000-capacity prison. And if the Administration does find the money, who will manage and maintain the facility, given that our own people have presided over the deterioration of what now exists?
The idea of private prisons has been raised before, and it should, we believe, be examined again with more purpose. There are examples of privately run prisons in other jurisdictions that provide humane treatment to incarcerated individuals and where correctional staff work in comfort.
These are issues that the Government must address before it starts clicking its heels in glee at Prime Minister Cameron’s grant.
Published By: The Observer
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