Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Don't mix prison and reparation claims

Published:Tuesday | October 13, 2015 | 10:00 AMLinton Gordon, Contributor
Linton Gordon

The debate regarding Britain's offer to assist with the construction of a prison in exchange for us accepting Jamaican convicts here to complete their sentence has gone astray.

There is no doubt that our existing prisons are dungeons designed for detaining and incarcerating the poor and the dispossessed under the most demeaning, humiliating and cruel conditions.

Those of us who have had occasion to visit our prisons are appalled to see small rooms, sometimes as small as six feet by eight feet, in which up to three male adults are housed.

Many of these cells, if not all, are still without ablution facilities. Instead, there is a pail for the inmates to relieve themselves, and this pail is sometimes taken out of the cell only once per day.

The harsh reality is that our prisons were never designed with the intention of rehabilitating inmates. They were designed primarily to punish, to dehumanise and to remove convicts from society as long as possible.

Currently, our prisons are factories for manufacturing more criminals. There is, therefore, consensus among all those involved in the debate that we need a proper prison designed primarily for rehabilitation rather than for violating the human rights of citizens.

The other factor that is not in dispute is that the country cannot, at present, afford the cost of constructing a proper prison. For some time now, the physical structure at our prisons, the buildings, cell blocks and administrative blocks, have all been deteriorating rapidly and falling apart. We do not have the funds to fix them, and it, therefore, seems that nothing will be done in the near future to address this situation.

The offer by the British to assist with the construction of a new prison must, therefore, be looked at carefully. It should not be tied to our legitimate demand for reparation. After all, we have in the past accepted aid from the British in just about all areas of our society.

We have had a long and beneficial relationship between security forces in Britain and security forces in Jamaica. Personnel from both security forces train together and exchange intelligence in appropriate cases. We should not become emotional with this matter, but should seek to discuss it objectively and ask ourselves how best we can make the deal.

Rather than outrightly rejecting the offer, we should seek to have a consensus among all the contending groups, but especially between the JLP and the PNP.

 

Nothing wrong with consensus

There is nothing wrong with the ruling party and the Opposition arriving at a consensus on an issue which is of national importance. Senator Robert Montague, the chairman of the JLP and shadow minister for mining and energy, in September called for a national summit on the country's goals.

Senator Montague must be seen as brave, forward-looking and a nationalist who is prepared to put the interest of the nation above party issues. The PNP should invite the JLP and, hopefully, Senator Montague to be part of a team of negotiators to meet with the British and to settle the terms on which we will agree to accept Jamaican convicts to complete their sentence.

The issue of the offer from Britain should be similarly treated. We should treat the matter of a new prison as a national solution worthy of being elevated above emotionalism and political contention.

Our prisoners in Jamaica are being kept under the most inhumane conditions. Any effort that can assist in ameliorating their condition should be pursued with determination.

- Linton P. Gordon is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lpgordon@cwjamaica.com.