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Letter of the day: Modern prison must rehabilitate, not agitate

Published:Thursday | October 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM


"Reparations indeed!" No need, says the British prime minister. Repatriation he prefers, but of what nature? The money being donated by the British government for expanding our prison population is a many-sided coin.

The indication from David Cameron is that there will be no money for past sins. What we will certainly get is money to build a prison, take care of present sinners, remove them from the front burner and return them to the backwaters from whence they came. But such provision for those who went astray (or were caught) in the motherland may be a blessing in disguise.

There has been much debate as to whether our prison system, as it exists, serves to rehabilitate those serving time behind prison walls or whether it contributes to more crime. In recent times, the experiment undertaken by Superintendent Kelly at the St Catherine District Prison, where conditions were alleviated to the limited extent that the current system and facilities allow, brought positive results in terms of the management of inmates. Hopefully, this will also be reflected in their reintegration into society upon their release.


reducing crime

Perhaps a model prison built on the concept of rehabilitation, where opportunities for learning and training are maximised, where contact with family is emphasised, and the social and psychological dysfunctions leading to crime, are addressed will help in the reduction of crime providing a model for other institutions. We could also take the opportunity to set up a proper facility for persons who the court has found to have been suffering from mental illnesses but for whom we do not have adequate facilities for their treatment while in custody.

Statistics show that Norway, which has a remarkably humane prison system that emphasises rehabilitation, has one of the lowest rates of crime and an equally low rate for repeat offenders among the larger countries. This supports the theory that society, as a whole, benefits from a rehabilitative prison environment. Persons imprisoned there are kept in a clean physical environment of relative comfort with emphasis on vocational training. As one prison governor said, "If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals." (Business Insider - December 2014)

It is said that many of the social problems we experience have their root in slavery. There is no doubt that truth is there, but almost 180 years on, while we cannot ignore our history, we must take responsibility for our own development. Our leaders must lead, and I am not limiting leadership to politicians. So as we continue the fight for reparations, let us put this drop in the bucket, this self-serving generosity by the former colonisers, to good use.