Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Politics and prison - just deal with it

Published:Sunday | October 11, 2015 | 10:00 AM

The explosion of murder, up by some 22 per cent year over year, keeps the country on edge. Any efficient investigation and successful prosecution will lead to the need for more prison space. As is, the clear-up rate for serious crimes is abysmally low. What do we do if we ever get proficient at solving crime?

The prisons that house convicts are dangerous, dilapidated and overcrowded. Seventeen hundred people at Tower Street in a slavery-era-type facility that is crumbling and was originally built to house 850. The Spanish Town facility is fabled more for the gallows than being fit to house the incarcerated.

These places have had negative comments from Amnesty International, the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights and the always-quoted US Department of State Report on Human Rights, et al. This problem has been festering for years and possible solutions offered by all and sundry over the years have come to nought.

On February 17, 2013, Senator Mark Golding was reputed to have told the Senate on the prior Friday: "The Government is looking at the potential of a public-private venture to fill the need for a new, modern facility in the Kingston Metropolitan Region." This was in response to Senator Tavares-Finson saying, "The remand area at the front of the General Penitentiary (the old name for the Tower Street prison), residents of Kingston and St Andrew would not keep their dogs in those conditions in which the young men are held."

But nothing happened. Nothing ever does on the real things that matter to the development and civilisation of this country.

On November 9, 2010, the national security minister, Senator Dwight Nelson, stated, "Deportees cannot complete sentences in Jamaica." He was forthright and bold. "In the first instance, we would have to give permission for the landing of any such aircraft," presumably bearing prisoners from elsewhere. Senator Nelson was asked if compromise was probable. He waffled. He let it be known that the vast number of deportees come from the United States, not from Great Britain, "and yet it is Great Britain that is spending over $400 million to assist us in ensuring the proper rehabilitation of these deportees in the Jamaican society". Bingo, the penny drops. Great Britain has been financially supporting the Government of Jamaica for the rehabilitation of deportees. Deal with it.

On November 24, 2013, I wrote: "The Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning needs to be renewed with a mission: Teach the prisoners to read and write."

The education system has been found to easily accommodate those who drop out and end up being incarcerated disproportionately to those who complete the course of schooling. These are the facts of the society in which we reside.

 

STRAPPED FOR CASH

 

It is also a fact that, at this time, we do not have the finances to build a new prison. We cannot provide for humane treatment, rehabilitation, halfway home-type reintegration, yet it is urgently needed. Our relatives are housed in these degrading prison facilities. They will be released, most of them within three years. Who are they coming home to? We cannot ever separate those who are incarcerated for less-serious crimes from those hardened, career repeat offenders. We cannot control the gang leaders who exercise life-and-death control from within the prisons. The Department of Correctional Services is reported as having among its members persons who are caught smuggling contraband into the prisons.

Jamaica has a totally unacceptable prison system. I am aware of prisons which have so much surveillance that every move within their walls is recorded. Prisoners are made to sweep the cell blocks with toothbrushes. It is so clean, I would be tempted to pick up and eat ice cream if I were ever allowed to take one into its space and it fell on the floor. Deal with it. That is how far removed we are from the prevailing best standards for prison facilities.

Here comes Great Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, who has ancestral ties to slave owners who created wealth that he today would be listed as being worth £50 million. He is white. He represents the former coloniser of our people. Here, I will contribute 40 per cent of the cost of a new prison facility, but you must take a number of your Jamaican compatriots, who are in my prison back into your country.

Oh, the indignity! He won't give us schools. He won't give us hospitals. He wants to perpetrate his dominance over us. Lock us up. Send his rejects to us. Guess what? We have no other option. For 53 years we have avoided the issue to satisfy the notion that our people only end up in prison because society has wronged them. Rubbish. A house with 10 inhabitants is set ablaze after gunfire. Six dead, four lay critical in hospital. Dog-hearted, cold and callous. Brutal. Our people. Deal with it.

We need help. Too poor to build a prison. Too poor to educate our people. Every malady in the region impacts negatively on our people. We need help. Deal with it.

Our political tribes jettison promising youth in favour of the old defenders of the 'licky-licky' mentality with new phrases like welfare agent. The gangs of Gordon House do not know the word 'collaboration'. No consensus except to meet at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and walk out when they feel like. Shameful. Useless, but that is who we are. Deal with it.

Work out the details and welcome the new prison from the colonisers. Deal with it.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.