Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Seek best prison deal

Published:Monday | October 5, 2015 | 10:00 AM
David Cameron
Peter Bunting
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National Security Minister Peter Bunting argues that the desire of the Portia Simpson Miller administration to build a new maximum security prison with part proceeds from the British Government demonstrates political leadership and fortitude.

For more than two decades, successive Jamaican governments have been hoping to build a new prison but have feared the backlash from doing so.

After all, there will be some who would argue that money used to build prisons is better spent building schools, or hospitals, or skills training centres. Just the thought of using scare resources to build prison seems wicked and uncaring.

But we have a problem. Jamaica has a prison population of 3,900.

Despite the State having spent more than $750 billion on education in the past 10 years, including building new schools, the country is overrun with criminals, many of whom the police say hone their skills from operating gangs in schools.

This, however, means we should be spending less on education. The fact that we are not getting the desired outcome from this massive investment means we should now have to find new and innovative ways for our people to understand the value of education. We also have to get greater efficiency from the spending on education.

 

GREATER EFFICIENCY

 

Similarly, we must seek to get greater efficiency from the spending on the correctional services. To begin with, there should be a mandatory 'eat what you grow' programme in the prisons. Jamaicans have been overburdened with the cost of paying for prisoners' meals.

It costs taxpayers an average of $90,344 to feed each of the 3,900 men locked up at the island's two maximum security prisons. At that rate, if 300 returned prisoners are added to the system, it would cost Jamaicans $27.1 million per year just to feed them.

Based on the 2015-2016 Budget passed by Parliament in March, Jamaicans are paying $122 million for prisoners' meals at the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, up from $79 million two years ago.

At the Tower Street prison, the cost to feed prisoners is $140 million, up from $119 million two years ago.

One notes an advertisement put out by the Department of Correctional Services which claims that the rehabilitation of the returned prisoners will not be a charge on the public purse. If the proposed MoU for this prison deal cannot be released, at the very least, the security ministry should tell us what costs will be borne by Britain and for how long.

Bunting and company should not get carried away with the offer by Britain to give £5.5 million for the first four years under a prison-transfer deal. The proposed prisoner-transfer deal will be with us longer than that.

Before the Cabinet gets to the point of even laying a bill in Parliament, issues such as the impact deportees have been having on Jamaica's crime rate must be fully studied and understood.

Jamaica is currently the beneficiary of a grant from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office that goes towards the rehabilitation and reintegration of local offenders and deportees. The programme started in 2008, and when it ends next March, Jamaica would have received $507 million under the programme, which, among other things, aims to reduce the rate of reoffending by persons such as deportees.

A progress report on the success of this programme must be laid in Parliament to help legislators make up their minds on this issue. Britain is obviously anxious to rid its prisons of Jamaicans, and in the same way they were glad to give us money to build 40 per cent of a prison, they could be persuaded to offer more, and over a longer period, for rehabilitation and reintegration.

The Government hopes to sell the 50-acre Tower Street property for about $3 billion and get the remaining $3 billion from the Consolidated Fund over the next five years.

 

POPULAR SENTIMENT

 

Unlike what appears to be the popular sentiment that Britain is disrespecting Jamaicans by giving us money to build a prison, I think we are having the wrong discussion. It is clear from Bunting's utterances, that Jamaica attached the prison money as a condition of the transfers. It is such a pity it is not 100 per cent the cost of the prison and a cap of 20 prisoners.

It would also have been good if we were able to get money to build a public morgue, which is also of critical importance to crime fighting and health promotion. But again, do we want to appear like panhandlers, holding caps and begging money for our every need? Some of these gifts sometimes can be a source of embarrassment, a typical example being the grand total of $57 million donated by the Government of Japan this week to buy equipment for the Institute of Jamaica.

Let us not fool ourselves into believing that this £25 million prison money or the £300 million regional grant is our reparations money. That is to come. We must resolve that David Cameron cannot bribe us to "move on" from the wicked and evil deeds his ancestors inflicted on our people.

The prison grant will go a far way in helping us deal with a major problem we now have - that of crime and violence. The correctional services says the recidivism rate is 37 per cent, which means that nearly four out of 10 persons who are incarcerated will go back to prison. A new, purpose-designed prison should assist in rehabilitating offenders. This should, hopefully, reduce levels of conflict within society, and ultimately lead to increased productivity.

But the fact that we need a new prison does not mean we must accept this deal from Britain. Cameron, who springs from a bloodline of enslavers, has shown he is not anxious to give Jamaica the best deal.

He said that starting in 2020, Jamaicans in British prisons who have been sentenced to at least four years and have 18 months or more left to serve will be sent back.

This, however, is inconsistent with the Eligibility for Transfer that has been set out by the Home Office, which states that the convicted inmate must have six months, or less, of the sentence to be served and has been accepted for transfer by the receiving state.

Those rules also state that the offence for which he is convicted is a criminal offence in the receiving country; he has no pending case in any court in the sentencing state; he has exhausted all avenues of appeal; and the convicted inmate has served one-third of his sentence in the sentencing state.

It seems that at the very least, a select committee of Parliament should examine the MoU as well as all relevant studies on deportees in Jamaica. Additionally, the provisions of other prison-transfer agreements must be examined to ensure that Jamaica is getting the best deal. We should, too, check to ensure that the MoU, or its attendant documents, does not have words to the effect 'full and final payment for the dark deeds of slavery, now move on' because our claims for reparations should go all the way to the International Criminal Court. It is such a pity Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller did not use the Parliament to indicate this fact.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com