Mon | Dec 18, 2017

David Abrikian | Another look at UK prison offer

Published:Sunday | August 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMDavid Abrikian

Recently, through its departing high commissioner to Jamaica, Britain once again opened up the discussion relating to its prison proposal.

Examining this initiative further, is it possible that Britain could entirely fund a prison in Jamaica with a 1,200-inmate capacity, on the basis that, of this capacity, 600 prison spaces would be reserved for convicted Jamaicans deported from Britain?

Given that the projected cost for 40 per cent of a 1,500-capacity prison in the original British offer was £25m, a 1,200-capacity prison should cost in the region of £50m.

Could the arrangement also be such that Britain not only maintain their prisoners in Jamaica, but send personnel, maybe three or four prison management staff, to oversee their half of the prison (600 spaces), with all the other prison guards for their section coming from Jamaica?

The Jamaican-managed section would be entirely staffed by Jamaicans.

Given that the estimated annual maintenance cost per inmate in the UK is £25,000, the current cost for maintaining 600 prisoners per year in Britain would be about £15m.

On the other hand, a fairly current estimate for annual inmate maintenance costs in Jamaica was recently given as J$730,000 per inmate per year (J$2,000 per inmate per day), but a somewhat more realistic figure would possibly be closer to J$1,250,000, that is J$3,425 per inmate per day.

Using this latter figure, the current annual maintenance cost for 600 inmates in Jamaica would work out to J$750m, or about £4.55m (using a rate of £1 to J$165).

If the above arrangement were to become a reality, it is reasonable to assume that the British cost per inmate in Jamaica would decrease to some extent (by, say, 30 per cent) down to £17,500, compared to the £25,000 cost currently in England. Conversely, it is expected that the Jamaican cost per inmate would increase somewhat to, say, J$5,000 per inmate per year equivalent to J$1.8m (that is £10,091) per inmate per year

Assuming that there is some credibility to the above arithmetic, from the British perspective, under this arrangement, they could end up saving 30 per cent in inmate maintenance costs, or about £4.5m per annum. On this basis, their initial outlay of £50m would be recoverable in about 12 years, after which, savings would continue to accrue.

Further, if convictions of Jamaicans in Britain were reduced to the point that British cells in Jamaica become vacant, Britain would surely welcome this, in spite of their original financial outlay.

Still further, in this arrangement, Britain would be saved from the responsibility of having to accommodate the inmates once they were released at the end of their detention time.

 

From the Jamaican perspective, the disadvantages would appear to be:

 

Financially: The inmate maintenance cost in the new prison would need to be increased based on the implicit obligation to upgrade inmate maintenance to a level that is not too disparate from that of the inmates in the adjacent British section.

Socially: Jamaica would have the responsibility of having to accommodate the inmates from the British section of the prison once the sentences were over, with potentially deleterious social effects. However, once the Jamaican prisoners finished their sentence in Britain, it is almost certain that they would, in any case, be sent back to Jamaica, which nullifies this as a disadvantage of having the prison here.

 

The advantages for Jamaica would appear to be:

 

Jamaica would obtain 600 additional prison spaces of a presumably state-of-the-art prison.

There would be practical shoulder-rubbing between British prison-management staff and their Jamaican counterparts, one benefit of which could be the facilitation and encouragement of an upgraded approach to local prison management.

Prison spaces in the two major prisons in Jamaica, namely, those at Spanish Town and downtown Kingston, could be possibly freed up, which could significantly assist in the improvement of the conditions at these institutions.

The overall venture could help to promote an effective prison-reform programme in Jamaica in terms of accommodation and treatment, among other things, which is long overdue. In fact, a commitment on the part of the Jamaican Government to upgrade the Jamaican prisons could be one of the conditions of the arrangement.

The process of familiarisation/reintegration of the inmates into Jamaica, in spite of their being behind bars, would be more effective than their being sent back immediately upon completion of their sentences in Britain.

I believe that an arrangement similar to that outlined above is worth further consideration by both the UK and Jamaican governments.

- David Abrikian is a civil engineer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and dpabrikian@yahoo.com.