Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Peter Espeut | Repatriating devalued human capital

Published:Friday | March 10, 2017 | 3:00 AM

I have a friend (retired school principal) whose son - born and raised in Jamaica - was sentenced in 2002 to 15 years-to-life in a British prison. I know the young man; he is not a bad fellow; he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and maybe had a little too much to drink, got into a fight, and a life was lost.

While in prison, he completed his high-school education (which he didn't do in Jamaica), and then - still in prison - he did a bachelor's degree in the social sciences, majoring in economics, including statistics. Every week, lecturers and tutors from a nearby university came in to teach and to give assignments to him and his mates. With research on the Internet and in the prison library, he not only completed his BSc, but went on to do his master's degree, which would have been impossible in Jamaica. All this was free of cost to him and his family!

Since then, he has been teaching mathematics and statistics to other inmates in his prison, while taking short courses in various topics that have piqued his interest. That's the British prison system for you!

He will be eligible for parole this year or next, and since his behaviour has been exemplary, his mother hopes he will be deported to Jamaica soon. If and when he does return to the land of his birth, he will be much better educated than when he left - and than all of his Jamaican contemporaries - and will be in a good position to make a positive contribution to the development of his country. That's rehabilitation!

Britain has offered the Jamaican Government 40 per cent of the cost of building a new prison here, on condition that we allow 300 Jamaicans serving time in British prisons to complete their sentences locally. More than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica's poor prison conditions. Even though they are convicted felons - some for murder, rape, and other heinous crimes - the UK is unwilling to subject them to Tower Street or Spanish Town. Britain cares more about their Jamaican lawbreakers than we do about ours. Clearly, our standards and values are different.

Even after spending the money to help to build a new prison here - and flying the 300 Jamaican prisoners here - and covering the cost of their incarceration here, Britain would still save itself £10 million (US$12.2 million) per year. Part of that, I'm sure, is because they are not going to pay for tertiary education for their prisoners at UWI or UTech! Even with a spanking new prison, the prisoners the Brits will send here will be much worse off in terms of rehabilitation than in a UK prison.

 

NGOs TO THE RESCUE

 

Convicts who go into our prisons illiterate are likely to come out no better off. If it were not for certain NGOs (often led by non-Jamaicans) which volunteer to work in the Jamaican prison system, there would be no educational programmes offered at all.

Quite frankly, the 600 Jamaicans are much better off in prison in the UK than being incarcerated in Jamaica; they will be deported back here at the end of their sentences, and they will come back home much more prepared for the world of work than if they had never left Jamaica.

Jamaicans with bachelor's and master's degrees who migrate to the UK and the US are welcomed, and contribute to the economies of their new countries. In fact, the developed world recruits - no, poaches - our trained teachers and nurses, and other professionals and semi-professionals to build their countries.

They value them more than we do. Undereducated and under-socialised hustlers and scamps who survive in the illegal and informal economy are just as troublesome and problematic there as here, and Britain after Brexit, and the USA, with Donald Trump, intend to repatriate them all.

We at home brace for the impact of these 'returning residents' rejected by others, who may increase our already escalating crime problem. We cannot escape the fact, though, that they are our creation: they were produced by our excuse for an education system, inculturated by our ghettos, and educated at our dancehall universities. We bask in the successes of the elite segment of our educational architecture - which is quality, indeed - yet continue to ignore the run-down substandard schooling to which the majority of Jamaicans are exposed, which devalues Jamaican human capital in our eyes, and in the eyes of the rest of the world.

We cannot export our national problems, expecting others to solve them; they will only come back to haunt us.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com