Wed | Jan 24, 2018

Give jailbirds chance to be fathers again

Published:Wednesday | June 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer A four-year-old girl is a bundle of joy as she got some leisure time with her dad during a Christmas treat for the spouses and children of inmates of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in December 2014.


A significant number of our Jamaican males are locked behind bars year after year and, in some instances, with no hope of ever seeing their children again. Most troubled children are negatively affected by the absence of their fathers.

Some years ago, I conducted research to ascertain the impact that the absence of fathers has on families, particularly the children. Results show that most children whose fathers are absent tend to have anger problems, become depressed, experience low self-esteem, drop out of school, and demonstrate disruptive behaviour.

There are currently seven adult correctional centres across the island with a population of 3,443 males. Approximately 80 per cent of these males are fathers.

I watched a video recently on YouTube depicting children whose fathers have been imprisoned, These kids were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with them for a day. It was most heartfelt to watch the emotional meltdown as the fathers interacted, hugged, and cried before their children. Some of them apologised for being such a disappointment to their families. The children also cried. I was so moved that I had to send the link to the minister of national security, with a request for our Jamaican fathers and their children to have such wonderful, needed experience.

Many Jamaican households are headed by females. In a number of these homes, the fathers are behind bars for years. The cycle of trauma will continue unless there is positive intervention. The anger that some students experience will cause them to get into gangs, misuse illegal drugs, and, of course, to become disruptive at school, hence missing out on their educational opportunity.

Mr Minister, is it possible for the correctional services of Jamaica to adopt the concept of 'One Day with Daddy Behind Bars'? I think there is great merit in this. Let's give our children the opportunity to bond with their daddy even once per year.

As a school counsellor, I am aware of the numerous psychosocial challenges that our children undergo on account of the absence of a father in their life. The fathers behind bars are also saddened and disappointed with their own actions, which have caused them to be locked away from their families.

However, while punishment is being administered, their children are suffering, and we should not be creating additional criminals. We should seek to stem these unacceptable behaviours and train the future of Jamaica to be productive citizens.

We are told that those behind bars are being reformed. May I ask what is in the reformation package? Are they being prepared how to reintegrate in their families and society? Will they become employable after serving their time so as not to repeat the offence? We are well aware that poverty is one of the causes of crime and violence.

Fellow Jamaicans, do we really need more prisons? No, we need more factories so as to beef up the productivity of our country.

Mr Minister, please consider the 'One Day with Dad' concept. I am sure that this will help to build a continuous bond between fathers and their children, as well as foster psychosocial therapy for the nation. If we are going to have a healthy nation, we must have healthy families.