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The real prison boss! - Superintendent brings change to St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2015 | 5:00 AMEdmond Campbell
A warder stands just inside the entrance of the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre.
Senior superintendent of the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre Reuben Kelly.
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REUBEN KELLY walks with an air of confidence as he leads a touring party through various sections of the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre.

The senior superintendent in charge of the correctional facility is not six feet in height, but he stands tall in the eyes of hundreds of inmates who hail him as a transformational leader.

While on a tour of the correctional centre last week, our news team captured some of the comments and salutations from inmates who were expressing their gratitude for the dramatic changes that have taken place under Kelly's leadership.

"A di best super that!" shouted one inmate. "A him a di real boss; a di real general," another chimed in.

Paying tribute to Kelly's life-changing strategies, one inmate declared: "You nuh si nuh war nah gwaan again? It tek a real man fi do that."

While on tour of the 30-acre property, there were at least two disgruntled inmates - one complaining about roaches at a lavatory while the other is said to have psychiatric problems.

Kelly, a 39-year veteran in the Department of Correctional Services, was assigned the tough task of taking charge of the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre on August 5, 2013.

Armed with a wealth of experience in rehabilitation strategies, Kelly started out on day one by hitting the ground running.

"One of the things I realised is that the institution at the time was under a great deal of tension no doubt because of the period that inmates used to spend under lockdown. I always take time out to listen to the complaints that the inmates have," he said.

Prior to Kelly's entry to the St Catherine facility, inmates had to endure 18 hours in lockdown each day.

This was changed in short order, with the new prison head introducing a new shift system that saw inmates being let out of their cells for 13 hours each day. "And one of the things we recognised is that the inmates were being fed three times within six hours and no time in 18 hours."

According to Kelly, with the additional time out of lockdown, the inmates were able to be engaged in more purposeful activities.

This forward-thinking approach, said Kelly, has helped to contribute to a significant reduction in violent incidents, moving from a high of 15 cases per week to one over a three-month period.

 

Incentives for good behaviour

 

Under Kelly's leadership, the stick has been traded for the carrot and incentives are given to inmates whose behaviour accords with the rules of the institution.

"If I consider that your behaviour is acceptable and you make a request, as superintendent, I can grant you that privilege, and I would only do that for inmates who are behaving exceptionally well. This approach helps in the whole process of behaviour modification," said Kelly.

He said there were inmates who used to behave boisterously but who have now come on board. "And, they also recognise that in order for them to be paroled, their behaviour must be at an acceptable level, and they are working towards that."

The veteran correctional superintendent also introduced a family fun day during which the children of those incarcerated are given the opportunity to spend a little time with their fathers and interact with them and take photographs with them.

"This has helped to soften them up so they once again can feel attached to their loved ones and children."

Kelly said the inmates have complained about the issue of overcrowding at the facility.

He said there was very little that the authorities could do to address the overcrowding because of the limited holding capacity at the correctional centre.

Kelly said that the changes taking place at St Catherine can be replicated at other correctional facilities, noting that National Security Minister Peter Bunting had signalled that the Government intended to move in that direction.

Demonstrating the level of camaraderie between some inmates and correctional officers, Kelly took the touring party to the chapel, where music was blaring from a band comprising inmates.

Kelly was given a guitar, and moments later, the band struck up a familiar note and some members of the touring party chimed in to Spanish Harlem by Ben E. King. The band then closed with an old reggae hit by the Melodians, Oh what a Sweet Sensation.