Tue | May 21, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | Prisoners have rights, too

Published:Saturday | December 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It is absolutely no secret that the conditions in our prisons, including the food served, abuse meted out to inmates, and inadequate rehabilitation programmes offered are a major human-rights issue in Jamaica.

One would think that policymakers do not subscribe to the view that though incarcerated, inmates still have rights. Earlier this week, I had the great fortune to visit the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre and spend some time listening to the inmates there share concerns about the problems they face.

Three of the main concerns they had are: conditions in prison, lack of legal representation, and robustness of the rehabilitation programme.

The issue of rehabilitation came up quite often. Every inmate who spoke raised concerns about this. They expressed their gratitude for the educational and other programmes they were offered, but they moaned how insufficient they were and that they were sometimes denied from participating in programmes.

One inmate asked: "Are we moulded into the right citizens?" when our human rights are being trampled upon and the condition is inhumane. "It is a waste of money," he said. "We are not going to be ideal citizens if you continue on this path."

He argued that correctional facilities should be agents of social engineering in that they are supposed to be about rehabilitating every inmate. We're supposed to leave here, he argued, "not with anger or stress" or other problems, but with a determination "to be better and perfect citizens", having served time.

They did not, however, leave the conversation there. They ventilated about challenges faced by persons who were formerly inmates. This is something that has been raised on several occasions nationally, but so little seem to have been done to make things better. Why are they punished after serving time? Rehabilitation does not begin and end with the programmes offered in prison. This only encourages recividism.

It was most shocking to hear that they have not seen even one justice of the peace visit the facility though this is part of their duty. The custos for St Catherine and minister of justice should look into the matter and ensure that those who have so sworn to duty will desist from abdicating such a critical responsibility. They asked for bathrooms to be fixed, and space for people of other faiths to pray.




It was the presentation from the Rastafarian who spoke about the situation with juveniles that stood out most for me, though. He lamented that we are moulding them to take his place.

"Mi heart bleed fi dem, cuz when mi look pan di yute dem, dem just a breed dem fi come tek mi place," he said. We do an awful job to care for our children who come into conflict with the law. Jamaicans for Justice has done tremendous work in this regard to highlight the plight of our children in lock-ups and remand centres.

As a country, we have to learn to do more for our children and youth. We have to take better care of them. Many of the inmates the Rastafarian met and interacted with in the 20 years he has been incarcerated were previously in facilities for children. Our correctional facilities and remand centres cannot be training grounds for more hardened criminals.

On Monday, December 10, when we celebrate International Human Rights Day, let us remember the rights of those who are incarcerated. While some of their rights might be curtailed, that does not, in any way, suggest that they should be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. The public defender and her team should pay a visit to these facilities and defend their rights and dignity.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human-rights, social and economic-justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn.