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Editorial: Wrong debate on prison

Published:Sunday | October 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM

On August 25, in these columns, this newspaper made the following statement: "A commitment to basic decency and universal human rights demands this new facility. Yet, its need is not only for the satisfaction of altruism. It would be an investment in social stability."

The facility to which we referred was a modern prison and was in response to National Security Minister Peter Bunting's indication that one was on the drawing board, although, given its hefty price tag, he wasn't certain it would be built. We didn't know then, and Mr Bunting didn't disclose, that the Simpson Miller administration was close to the deal with the British government for them to finance a prison here as part of an arrangement in which some Jamaicans in jail in the UK would complete their sentences in this country.

Sillily, the scheme is now at the centre of a controversy because of British Prime Minister David Cameron's supposed insult of attempting to assuage Jamaica with a jail rather than engage in negotiations over reparations for slavery. And the Opposition leader's snide and cynical counterpoint that building schools would be better. Which all adds up to a one-dimensional, monochromatic view of the world and Jamaica's place in it.

While Jamaica should not forget the evils of slavery, the ancestors of whose majority bore its pain, this newspaper does not believe that our society ought to be constrained by the past. Nor are we convinced by the logic of reparations. There is the danger of the country being lulled into an even worse funk of underproductivity.

 

achieving sustained stability

 

In any event, it ought not to be beyond the capacity of Jamaicans to engage a serious discussion on reparations, if it is on the agenda, and at the same time maintain a serious policy dialogue aimed at achieving sustained macroeconomic stability aimed at fashioning an environment for investment, growth and job creation.

Mr Cameron's Jamaica-Caribbean agenda would help to facilitate these things: £300 million in grants for infrastructure projects in the region; £30 million to support export promotion by the Caribbean; £100 million in export-finance guarantees for UK firms doing business with Jamaica. And more! The Jamaican Government and the country's firms should urgently be crafting projects to be financed through these facilities.

These developments are not disconnected from the need for a modern prison to replace the overcrowded Dickensian workhouses - at Tower Street in Kingston and Spanish Town in St Catherine - that pass as correctional centres, which are more likely to breed among their inmates resentment and recidivism than reform. Jamaica spends around J$3 billion annually for the upkeep of prisoners, which is likely to be more efficiently utilised in a new facility.

It is hardly surprising that most entrepreneurial and

economically successful societies are not those with little respect for human rights and where punishment of crime translates to inhumane degradation of the kind that slaves were made to suffer. Cruelty and inhumanity sap creativity, which is the basis of entrepreneurship.

Rather than attempting to create a false symbolism over the prison, a better debate would be one that ensures that Jamaica gets the best deal possible from the Brits in the exchange agreement.