Letter of the Day | Remove job barriers to ex-cons
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The concept of rehabilitation appears to be lost on us collectively. While progress has been made to improve the treatment of prisoners, the orientation of our system and the mindset of the security apparatus continue to be focused on punishment rather than creating meaningful change in the lives of inmates so that they are less prone to reoffend when they are released from prison.
If inmates struggled to join the labour market before incarceration, any hope that they can become employed is utterly obliterated when they are released because of the stigma and discrimination attached to imprisonment.
With a 30 per cent recidivism rate that continues to increase, it is time for society to take steps to break the cycle of reoffending by removing the barriers to employment for inmates.
Work reduces recidivism, with the important caveat that the sooner ex-offenders are employed, the less likely they will commit future crimes resulting in further jail and prison time. It also costs the State much less to keep an ex-inmate in a job than to keep them in prison. This has been demonstrated by numerous studies across various countries.
Through the Jamaica Reducing Reoffending Action Plan and the educational and skills training programmes offered by Stand Up for Jamaica, a number of prisoners have been equipped with the tools to make meaningful contributions to the workplace.
Given the difficulty some business owners may have in being first movers in regard to employment of ex-inmates, it would, perhaps, be helpful if the Government could provide some sort of incentive, either through a tax credit or tax deduction, to employers so that they would be encouraged to employ ex-convicts. This proposal was raised by Senator Kavan Gayle in 2013 during debate on the Omnibus Tax package but has not been given serious consideration by the Parliament.
TAKE THE LEAD
Such a programme of incentives could be modelled on the Work Opportunity Tax Credit programme, the Job Training Partnership Act and the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative in the United States.
Government has to also take the lead by offering employment to ex-inmates through its various roadworks and skill-based work programmes. Through the CI programme proposed previously, policy could be introduced which stipulates that a particular percentage of labour on all government contracts should be reserved for inmates and ex-inmates.
The Ministry of Justice should also take steps to share the results of the JRRAP with the public so that there can be increased awareness of the positive impact of rehabilitation programmes on the lives of both inmates and ex-inmates.
This would go a long way in helping to drive a culture change in the public's attitude to those who have been incarcerated.
CARLA MARIA GULLOTTA
Executive Director, Stand Up For Jamaica