Devon Dick | Accept the prison gift
On Sunday, there was a newscast that Philip Hollobone, a United Kingdom Member of Parliament from the Conservative Party, writing in a British newspaper, expressed disappointment that Jamaica did not accept the gift of PS25M to help build a modern prison which would have good living conditions and which would accommodate Jamaicans convicted in Britain to serve out their time in Jamaica. The government refused the gift apparently on economic grounds, perhaps saying that the budget cannot afford to find the balance of the money required to build the facility as well as to fund the recurrent expenditure. The government should try and make accepting the gift a win/win situation.
The government's posture, based on economic grounds, is very telling and frightening. It means that the only way we could accept these billions of dollars, is if the British government funds the entire project. We are more self-respecting than that and would want to make a contribution towards the project. Furthermore, if there is no fiscal space now, when will we be in a position to afford a prison? At what rate of economic growth would we be able to fund the total project? It would not be for many years, even if we started to have five per cent growth in five years' time, and for the next 20 years thereafter.
Having the fumes coming from Cornwall Regional Hospital is not good for patients and health workers. This condition has been going on for 10 years and now needs $100m to fix it, and we cannot afford. So tell me when we will be able to afford to build a modern prison? Next to never, based on this trajectory. The prison condition cannot continue for so long. In 1985, I encouraged the members of the Baptist church in Sandy Bay, Hanover, to visit the lock-up at the police station and I froze when I saw the conditions. We helped and then the men and women in uniform told us to have a look at their living conditions and that, also, was bad.
We are told that the conditions have already been condemned at our maximum prison. Our slave master could find money to build prisons and we cannot. We are worse than they. All who support a modern prison should make a one off gift towards its construction. The government should never have said no. A better strategy would have been to try and negotiate a better deal or let the British government take it off the table because we were asking for more concessions.
The government should accept the gift and try and get some other European nations to make contributions. There are countries like Iceland that have modern facilities and I hear that even Trinidad has a modern prison facility. This British gift is nothing to sneeze at. The USA administration has just announced that it will be cutting its aid budget. Furthermore, many faith-based organisations have an inbuilt bias towards prison ministry and therefore by faith we could expect to them help with the recurring expenses.
It is said that the practice of transferring prisoners is not novel and it is done in Europe. Furthermore, it could be a business opportunity to accept prisoners from other countries because we could provide rehabilitation services at a cost - cheaper than other countries. There would, however, be need for safeguards in the arrangement because we will have to be convinced that the prisoners are Jamaicans. The appropriate legal process would have to be followed, and that would allow us to be able to refuse prisoners. In any case, Britain could terminate the prison sentence of convicts and deport them to Jamaica and they would be on the streets instead of being in prison getting further rehabilitation.
There is a passage in Matthew 25 which states "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me".
Let us accept the gift and supplement it so that the least can be treated with dignity.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.