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Live to be locked up - Annual national survey on prisons shows mega increase in career criminals

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Lt Col Sean Prendergast
The maximum-security Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre.

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Even though Jamaica's two maximum-security prisons barely have breathing room, a new national survey has revealed that more repeat offenders are returning to prison.

Data contained in the latest edition of the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica (ESSJ) showed that recidivism increased in 2012 when compared to 2011 with most of these repeat offenders sent to either the Tower Street or the St Catherine adult correctional centres.

There were 567 repeat offenders in 2012, up from 500 in 2011.

Approximately 74 per cent of the repeat offenders were sent to the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre.

Using the sheer numbers, the national survey painted a dismal picture of life inside the nation's two maximum-security prisons.

"The adult custodial population as at December 31 was 3,450, which is a 2.4 per cent reduction compared with 2011. Nonetheless, the Tower Street and St Catherine Adult Correctional Centres continued to operate at 95.9 per cent and 42.6 per cent above capacity, respectively."

"A total of 1,926 persons (1,766 males) were incarcerated compared with 1,937 in 2011," read another section of the survey. Tower Street's ideal capacity is 850, but as at December 31, 2012, the total population was 1,665.

Over at the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, during the same period, there were 1,212 inmates housed at the facility that has an ideal capacity of 850.

It appears that some of the repeat offenders could be classified as career criminals as almost half of the reoffenders admitted to an adult penal institution in 2012 were going back to prison for a second, third, or fourth time.

"First-time reoffenders accounted for 51.1 per cent of recidivists, 17.1 per cent reoffended twice, 11.6 per cent reoffended three times, 18.9 per cent reoffended at least four times and 1.3 per cent was unknown," the report said.


"I don't want to label anybody [as being] beyond redemption. We try to provide programmes to rehabilitate them, but ultimately, it will have to be a personal decision for each of them. We are trying to do our bit to aid the process," said Lt Col Sean Prendergast, commissioner of corrections and head of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS).

Prendergast told The Sunday Gleaner that recidivism is "one of those indicators" that the DCS is trying to reduce through its various programmes.

"We wish to bring that down, which is why we have rehabilitation programmes active in the different institutions," said Prendergast.

However, the ESSJ reported that the DCS was still in the process of implementing its anti-recidivism programme. "Implementation of phase two of the Jamaica Reducing Reoffending Action Plan, which commenced in March 2011, continued.

"The main objective of this phase was to ensure that key initiatives that started in phase one were entrenched within the Department. As a result, there was a reduction in the number of infrastructural projects in operation and a greater focus on consolidating processes and procedures developed," the survey said.

Prendergast agreed and pointed out that despite his department's best efforts, the rehabilitative programmes are not reaching every inmate.

"We don't have the capacity to reach all of them. The physical space is not there," he said.

Prendergast argued that the recidivism rate is impacted by many factors, some of which are outside the remit of the correctional services.

"There are other socioeconomic factors at play. If we train an inmate and the stigma of being an ex-convict prevents him from getting a job, it can have a significant impact on whether he will commit an offence again," Prendergast reasoned.

He reiterated his appeal for the public to give persons who have paid the debt to society a second chance.

"We recognise that this stigma exits, which is why most of the trade training is designed to create self-employment," said Prendergast.