Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Sam Carty: State-of-the-art prison gift: insult or opportunity?

Published:Saturday | January 23, 2016 | 1:00 AMSam Carty

The Jamaican society is notorious for missing opportunities, then lamenting the flubbed chance. We take pride in miring ourselves in self-pity and pass on this legacy to succeeding generations as if failure must be the hallmark because the excuse for it is always there.

Since the decline of some of our major export commodities like bananas, coconuts, citrus, coffee and, lately, bauxite, the only commodities we have unabatingly been exporting are skills and education via the brain drain.

The private sector, Government and a largely miseducated and misaligned society have, for the longest while, paid lip service to the business of productivity. We self-destruct, talk, smoke, "dance vigorously and drink copiously", as the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore put it, "but hard work they left behind with slavery".

For four or more decades, this has been our condition, so naturally, we would evolve into the consumer state that we have become.

Let me address the matter of a new prison part-sponsored by the British government. The two major prisons are a disgrace. Accept the prison, but let some conditions also attend this arrangement that will have implications for our society for the foreseeable future. Attach the minuscule element of reparative justice that will be implicit.

The prison, first and foremost, must be sited on a land mass large enough to accommodate factories - large, high-security areas of production. Such factories would be securely built on to the prison blocks, facilitating exit from cells, to corridors, to production areas.

The visiting prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, did vow to assist Jamaica in the areas of trade, productivity and overall economic development. Can a fraction of it emerge here? The new prison system, apart from it ushering in new technology for the purposes of manning and surveillance, should also have educational prospects for all inmates. The activity of a manual staff, I submit, can never be isolated.

 

OUTREACH

The new state-of-the-art prison should be constructed in sync with a notion of work, education, earning and health behind bars, if we are serious about the idea of reform. Outreach suggests that a prison production area should naturally be like a wheel that never stops turning. Civilian workers who need jobs should be a part of this field of production as long as they will work for the available salary. The health centre that is also built on the facility-along with a gymnasium, would expel the drama and drudgery of police and guards having to whisk inmates off to the public hospitals for minor complaints. The doctor and dentists would be right there on the compound or called in, as the infrastructure is already in place.

The working inmate could sustain his/her family to some degree so that the child who may be a potential miscreant would be kept in school so that he/she does not go down the same path.

The working inmate would see a part of the earned income held back for the time of his/her release.

The income, which would be non-negotiable, would not be forced labour, as it would see the inmate taking care of his 'tenure' in the system, with part of his earnings going to the State. The rest would be repatriated periodically to his/her dependents.

If I were in government, I would start lobbying business interests, locally and abroad, along this concept of a vibrant prison industry, as I think we could begin to change the society from behind bars". First World countries, as we know, which had economic superiority, did not have the Goliath of an ailing economy to mend. Our approach has to be different and must conform to our peculiar circumstances and realities.

 

PASSION

This phenomenon of the prison gift or prison deal, which also includes an arrangement for the transfer of prisoners, will no doubt invite profound and impassioned discussion over the ensuing months and years, leading up to 2020, by which time the presumed completion would have happened. We hear of a non-binding MOU to this effect. I would urge discussants in the wider public sphere, here and abroad, to weigh their passion somewhat, and look at things practically. I would further advise the body politic - wherever your loyalties lie - that this undertaking is not fickle.

It calls for perspicacity and the rallying of numerous state agencies to the bargaining table and, for once, to sit down together and take a reasoned, informed approach.

I would fully support the call for the demolition of such a cursed relic as the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, and the property converted to more useful, aesthetic purposes. The British themselves are advising on the sale of the curse to the highest bidder. Are we listening?

When we divest ourselves of some of the psychological baggage of "mental slavery", we would put ourselves in a better position to advance our argument for reparation. We do not do this by clinging to every last discernible vestige of such an experience.

The prison industrial complex should be a sterile one, with no trade union interference. However, watchful human rights advocates would be welcome. Part of the 60 per cent remaining cost for building the prison could be defrayed, over time, by part of the income generated by the prisoners. Such a process would naturally ease much of the direct cost burden on the taxpayer.

- Sam Carty is a classroom teacher. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.