Tue | Sep 22, 2020

Dacia Leslie | Ease prison overcrowding

Published:Friday | February 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I was quite pleased to see in The Sunday Gleaner dated January 22, 2017 that Food For The Poor (FFP) continues to effectively accomplish the biblical mandate of "proclaiming freedom for the prisoners ... and setting at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18)," at least in the interim.

Previous research has shown that re-entry without within-individual change and an enabling community environment helps to perpetrate the revolving-door syndrome or recidivism. Recidivism contributes to prison overcrowding, which has serious implications for sustainable development and is a key concern in correctional systems worldwide.

Overcrowding limits the ability of correctional services to provide appropriate settings in which interventions aimed at promoting positive behavioural change might have a realistic chance of success. Jamaica's experiences tell us that preventing inmates from escaping and engaging in self-injury, controlling the movement of contraband and quelling riots might also be more difficult to achieve in an overcrowded setting.

We all remember the Armadale tragedy, where seven girls died in 2009 from injuries sustained as a result of fire at the overcrowded juvenile correctional facility, and the infamous condom prison riots, which led to the killing of 14 male inmates and the serious injury of more than 50 others.

While the archaic design of the facilities, homophobia, and failure to forecast and prepare for the potential negative responses of the prison population were to be blamed for the casualties in the case of the condom prison riots, overcrowding also played a role.


Steps taken


Various steps were taken to prevent the reoccurrence of the Armadale tragedy, including improved infrastructural design in juvenile correctional facilities, and the discontinuation of mixing adult and female adolescent clients.

However, not much has been done to rectify the challenge of overcrowding in male maximum-security facilities that continue to operate above their capacity.

One facility currently operates at 77.3 per cent above the number of prisoners it was designed to house.

Therefore, the pre-emptive act of benevolence on the part of FFP provides a second chance to these individuals who are likely to be part of a future Jamaica, "the place of choice, to live, work, raise families, and do business."

(Vision 2030-Jamaica's National Plan for Development).

FFP's act also helps to:

- ease the strain on the correctional service;

- reduce the time of separation between imprisoned caregivers and their children;

- prevent the hardening of non-violent offenders; and

- draw policy attention to alternatives to imprisonment for low-risk offenders who can perhaps be better managed in the community.

The charity of FFP also implies that the realisation of Vision 2030 is partly dependent on heightened public awareness that persons are sent to prison "as punishment not for punishment". Therefore, a sentence of imprisonment should not, by design, occasion the restriction of human rights other than the deprivation of the basic right to liberty.

These are some things we may want to consider alongside the practicability of a 'deal or no deal' vis-a-vis the building of a maximum-security prison to house involuntary, removed migrants. We also need to better understand the dangers of overcrowding and the difficulties faced by individuals who wish to lead productive lives after completing their prison sentences.

- Dr Dacia Leslie is a research fellow at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social & Economic Studies, UWI. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and dacia.leslie@uwimona.edu.jm.