Mon | Nov 19, 2018

Letter of the Day | Prison snub an affront to human rights

Published:Tuesday | January 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM


The Holness administration has taken the retrograde step of rejecting the very generous offer made by the United Kingdom government to assist in building a modern penal facility that would improve the living conditions of prisoners and propel us into conformity with domestic and international human-rights laws. It remains to be seen what the alternative will be.

The minister of foreign affairs, Kamina Johnson Smith, said the basis for rejecting the $5.5-billion deal was that its terms, which include the proposed transfer of 300 Jamaican prisoners serving time in the UK jails to our facility, would not be beneficial to Jamaica as a whole.

Holness had stridently opposed this proposal in September 2015 while he served as opposition leader, yet, to date, he has not advanced any viable alternative to house prisoners in more humane and acceptable conditions.

Since the deal was rejected, Holness should now declare whether there were attempts by his administration to negotiate a mutually beneficial offer for us to get somewhere.

Johnson Smith fuelled the fire of the administration's disregard for the rights of the prisoners, and for a state-of-the-art facility with rehabilitation mechanisms that are required for their productive reintegration into the society, by stating that she was prohibited from answering certain questions because of national security concerns.

In a context where we desperately need more space to house the rising number of criminals, what type of national security concerns could be raised by the reasonable questioning of the justification for rejecting this deal to improve not only the deplorable conditions of our penal facilities, but the lives of the prisoners?

On the contrary, the only national security concern is their rejection of this offer, which would be the precursor to recidivism, with the concomitant rise in crimes by these prisoners who have been subjected to the horrible conditions and degrading treatment.




What would prevent a convict from furthering his criminal acts after being subjected to the unwholesome conditions which the State enables, which they have been forced to accept as the standard? He is likely to be in the same or even worse position than he was when he was imprisoned. Rejecting this prison deal is a recipe for disaster.

Successive governments have talked about improving the state of affairs. But none of them have effectively demonstrated the political will needed to fix the justice and law-enforcement systems.

While the Government searches for a 'perfect' deal, and pontificates about the money being put to better use, the prisoners are suffering, and their morals and dignity are being further eroded.

Holness and his team overused the phrase 'we care' during their election campaigns last year. Is rejecting the prison deal caring for the prisoners' human rights? Is rejecting the prison deal beneficial to Jamaica?