Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Hunting for a Difference: One 'Correction' at a Time

Published:Monday | November 2, 2015 | 11:00 AMKrysta Anderson

The swaying of lush green trees, peace, tranquillity, fresh air and strong ties to family and community are what make Ina Hunter-Fairweather the woman she is.

"The rural, rustic setting is really the underpinning of who I am today - one of calmness, serenity and having a sound relationship with God," she said. In her lifelong pursuit to make a difference in lives of the forgotten, she accomplished more than she ever anticipated when she became the first female commissioner of corrections at the Department of Correctional Services Jamaica (DCS).

Rising from humble beginnings, she made it all the way to the top, serving in the department for more than 15 years as the superintendent of the Juvenile Centre (1990-2000); educational coordinator of the DCS (2000-2008); director of planning, research and evaluation of the DCS (2008-2014), before taking on the greatest responsibility of them all - commissioner.

 

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD

 

Born and raised in the community of Barracks River in St Mary, Hunter-Fairweather recalled the good old days when the community actually helped raise children.

"It was a place where you felt comfortable and safe, responsible for sound character-building and integrity. It was fun growing up there," she told Flair. Her parents - Eve and Cyril Hunter - ensured she was independent in character and thought and made education the focus in their household.

Hunter-Fairweather is no stranger to making history, having been among the first set of students to sit Common Entrance Examinations. She attended the all-girl Marymount High School in her home parish before moving on to St Joseph's Teacher's College (an all-female college). She described her educational experiences as extremely important, offering not only exciting learning opportunities, but complementing her Christian upbringing as well.

 

EDUCATION AND ITS IMPACT

 

She taught at the primary school level for 14 years, and even in the education system, she was particularly passionate about and drawn to those students who could not find lunch money or pay for extra lessons. So for her, going into correctional services, she said, was a natural transition in addressing the needs of a vulnerable group.

She never imagined herself at the top of the profession, but rather in a supporting role. She recalled an encounter with a past commissioner who was leaving the department, saying that she would go far. It is a statement she reflected on when she was offered the job. She gives credit to past commissioners for their contribution to her development.

Even with her extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the correctional system, and with training in leadership management and psychology, she confessed that her job is not without its challenges.

"People were initially concerned and wondered whether or not I made the right decision. Those who have worked in correctional services know the challenges inherent in the organisation. They also know the passion I have to serve. With commitment and dedication, working with people over time who would be there to support you, I could not turn down this offer."

Despite the obstacles, she is focused on what the department can do to be recognised for its work and worth, and how it can improve rehabilitation, first and foremost.

"We can be unforgiving even though we profess to be a highly Christian society. We also need to look at those persons behind bars; look at the needs, the criminogenic factors. The difference in why some of us are on this side and how it is that some of them end up over that side. Some of us are more self-controlled; some have better support systems in place; some of us believe in prayer more than some," she said.

She is by no means condoning criminality, but wants to analyse behaviour; the factors that contribute to criminality - genetics, the whole debate of nature versus nurture, and how that translates into a person's behaviour.

She made special mention of the non-custodial side of the department, managed by the probation service. When a person goes to court and gets a non-custodial sentence, the person serves the time outside of prison but is monitored.

"Understanding behaviour, understanding change, is important, trying to see how best we can rehabilitate them, because 70 per cent of them return to society. National safety hinges on the quality of persons who return to the society."

She plans to pay special attention to capacity-building, utilising the inmates' skills and competencies in a more strategic way on a larger scale.

"We are creating a database out of this. We have woodwork and tailoring, we want to expand that. We want them to get more involved, more productive to see how they can contribute significantly to their upkeep by creating businesses. I want to look at expanding the education programme. We want to look at expanding our community service and advance on the Unite for Change platform," she said.

 

REPOSITIONING EXCELLENCE

 

Hunter-Fairweather revealed that she wants to look at capacity-building for staff as well, so they can tackle the issue of suicide, and become better equipped to handle the behaviour of children.

"In this our 40th year, we are repositioning excellence, making it a habit. I know it won't happen overnight, but we want excellence to translate into all that we do over time."

The department is currently in the rebranding process, from the mission statement, to the logo, and even a name change to the Jamaica Correctional Services (instead of just adding Jamaica at the end) for international recognition.

"When you hear the stories, from inmates and wards, with the common thread that persons didn't listen to them, I believe we need to go back to the family and listen to our children when they become adolescents and even when they establish themselves in adulthood. Listen, because the common theme is that nobody listened, and those who listened were not necessarily the ones with the positive influence."

She spends her down time helping others with their schoolwork, editing writings, or counselling. She prides herself on giving back to her community.

 

IDENTICAL TWIN

 

When she is not engaged in any of the above, the mother of one can be found returning to her hometown for some well-needed rest and relaxation, reading, writing, listening to gospel music or spending time at church, and with her family - parents, sisters, brothers, cousins, daughter and grandson.

Hunter-Fairweather is an identical twin, and her sister Ena, who also works in corrections, often receives salutes because they continue to have many confused.

Her advice to anyone wanting to work in corrections: "Pursue it because you are passionate and want to make a change. You serve in an area that needs to be reached. Somewhere along the line, some end up on the wrong side of the law and they need rehabilitation. They are not well liked or appreciated, they are angry and slow to show remorse. But if your job is done correctly, you will see that transformation - them taking full responsibility for their actions and moving in a positive direction. That, to me, is the most rewarding feeling in the world."

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com