Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Misplaced prison priorities

Published:Tuesday | October 13, 2015 | 10:00 AMPatria-Kaye Aarons, Contributor

I can't put this prison thing down. It's the first time since writing articles that I've dedicated two weeks to the same topic. However, I feel I must.

The minister of national security had a live question-and-answer session last Thursday in an effort to open up the conversation about prison reform. Sixty minutes later, and I have six questions that remain insufficiently answered.

1. Are Peter Phillips and the PM in agreement that this £37.5-million spend on a prison is a priority over education and health and water and better crime-fighting measures?

2. The outcry has been far greater against the prison than for it. Considering your job is to carry out the will of the people, how does that affect the minister's decision to proceed?

3. I'm unclear about the maths. Tower Street and Horizon are to be sold to offset construction costs of the new facility. The numbers were muddy about capacity at first, and then last week, the justice minister announced that some inmates would be transferred out of maximum security and 1,200 would be transferred to the new prison, along with 300 deportees. That suggests the facility will be filled to capacity. If we convict new criminals (as we should, since murder numbers are climbing), where would we put them?

4. The minister admitted that we would have to pass new legislation to accept and incarcerate those who have committed crimes in other countries. When the mighty US makes a similar request to send us their prisoners, how will you tell them no?

5. Can't we transfer the inmates that are less of a threat to Tamarind Farm, etc., close and sell the smaller of the two maximum-security facilities and use those funds to renovate the other?

6. The US model is for prisons to be profit centres, generating significant revenue to keep down operational costs. Are we considering something similar, and when will it be implemented? I want a date.

Perhaps I watch too much TV and am making unfair comparisons, but I just don't get the feeling that our lawmen and women are aptly armed to fight crime. Were I the police force, I would be offended and concerned. Someone would have to explain to me why a new prison is more important than arming me with better tools and more training to do my job.

Murder is up, but the number of crimes solved are not. To save our country, our crime fight must be first world. The force needs more advanced tools than notebooks and fingerprint-dusting kits. How often does fingerprint evidence convict a Jamaican criminal?

Citizens aren't reporting crime because they don't have confidence that the police can protect them. In the absence of reports, we can't just throw up our hands and say, "Oh, well." That makes as much sense as Robert Pickersgill saying, "I don't make the rain."

We do not need fancy TV campaigns reminding us that we are on the same team. Is that the best use of funds? Take that money and send three people away to train in blood-splatter analysis.

I feel as if one day, everybody at the Ministry of National Security and at Police High Command should sit down and watch Law and Order, CSI, Dexter and ask along the way, "Wah dat?" "Why don't we have that?" "Who can we train to do that?" "Where can we learn that?" And then we throw £35.7 million in that direction.

Let's throw £37.5 million at getting 119 to work.

Let's throw £37.5 million at justice reform. Taiwo McKenzie and Jhanel Whyte were murdered in November 2007, and only last week was someone sentenced for the killing. Kentucky Kid was murdered all of six years ago, and still no one is paying for that crime. What's happening with the X6 murder case? The time it takes for justice to be served is a much bigger priority than a new fancy prison.

Time for us to prove that our brains are sharper than the cutlasses 'massa' gave us. Realise the urgency of the situation, cut the academic crap and the everlasting press appearances, and get on with the job of making Jamaica a safer place where justice is seen to be served. Keep the Third World prison. It's a small price to pay for First World crime fighting.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.