Tue | Nov 28, 2023

Rehabilitation for incarcerated should be top priority

Published:Monday | January 30, 2023 | 12:20 AMOlufemi Sowande/ - Guest Columnist
Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre
Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre

“The crime situation in Jamaica and how it affects our daily lives including the elevated risk we all have as a result of prisoners not being rehabilitated whilst incarcerated.”

Law-abiding citizens continue to bear the brunt of a poorly coordinated and synchronised correctional system that neglects the significance of a comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Despite efforts made over the past decade to improve in-prison services aimed at supporting inmates through rehabilitation and reintegration initiatives the outcome remain limited as they lack the prescriptive and coordinated delivery of support services for inmates.

In fact, the absence of this approach to successful rehabilitation leads to relapse of inmates or a gravitation toward deviance and results in both negative monetary and non-monetary outcomes to the government and increases the risk of the average citizens being subjected to random incidence of crime, especially gun-related ones.

This absence of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme results in high levels of recidivism (re-offending). In addition to the absence of this programme, the poor detention and prison conditions add to the woes. The monetary costs and outcomes involve direct expenditures by government, businesses, and individuals through taxation to address crime-related matters and procedures and the need for various forms of costly private security systems and guards. On the other hand, the non-monetary costs and outcomes relate to victims and non-victims including the psychological effects of victimisation incurred by the victim and their families.


The Planning Institute of Jamaica, through its Economic and Social Survey, (ESS) estimates that at the end of 2021, the nation’s prison population under the care of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) was 3,565, 41 people more than in 2020. Both the Tower Street and St Catherine Adult Correctional Facilities, built over 400 years ago for housing enslaved people, and can be said to be not fit for purpose, were overcrowded. Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre operates at 200 per cent above its established 850 inmate capacity, while St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre operates seven per cent above its 850-inmate capacity.

The ESS survey found that males accounted for 97.2 per cent of the total adult custodial population. The top-five reasons for admission to prison are:

Illegal possession of firearm/ammunition – 23.5 per cent

Larceny/break-in larceny/larceny of motor vehicle – 12.1 per cent

Sexual offences – 10.6 per cent

Offences related to murder/manslaughter – six per cent

Breaches of the Dangerous Drugs Act – 4.6 per cent

*Of the 903 people admitted in 2021

Additionally, it was highlighted that approximately 48.6 per cent of those admitted were unskilled, 27.2 per cent were self-employed, 15.3 per cent were skilled workers, 2.7 per cent were professionals, 1.6 per cent were security sector professionals, and 0.2 per cent were students. With regard to the data analysis on re-offending, the survey reported that males accounted for 100 per cent of re-admissions, and 94.6 per cent of new admissions. The analysis of the re-admissions data showed that 53.8 per cent were first-time re-offenders, 15.4 per cent had re-offended twice, 8.3 per cent had re-offended three times, 19.4 per cent had re-offended at least four times, and for 3.1 per cent the status was unknown.

This results in a re-offending rate of 41 per cent, which indicates to us that approximately one out of every two prisoners is a potential re-offender. Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20 per cent due to its focus on restorative justice and rehabilitating prisoners rather than punishment. The US ranks among the highest in the world with a recidivism rate of 44 per cent close to 41 per cent of Jamaica.

Undoubtedly, these statistics and other research that have been published over the years suggest that while investments are being targeted to social intervention and education programmes, more focus must be deliberately given to young men before they fall into the abyss of the system and become unskilled, untrained, and untamed. In addition, they should receive individual and specialised support if they become incarcerated, as well as post- incarceration treatment and intervention. This is to avoid their potential engagement in criminal activities to support themselves or their families.

While there is still a lack of solid empirical research that disaggregates the cost of crime and the rate of returns on social investment and recidivism-reducing programmes in Jamaica, the government must be willing to invest in preventative and curative programmes in order to reduce the potential burden on society if a re-offending criminal commits a subsequent gun, sex, murder-related crime.

In countries where the recidivism rate is high, prescriptive cognitive-behavioural therapy and mental-health programmes grounded on needs and evidence-based design estimates a 21-per cent reduction in recidivism. This includes the case management and monitoring of adolescents within a particular year. Additionally, numerous studies have illustrated evidence that basic educational programmes like literacy classes, while common in correctional facilities, have shown inconclusive results to its direct and sustainable impact on recidivism citing methodological issues and monitoring. However, vocational education programmes reduce recidivism by 12 per cent.


In the local context, in a recent study published by Dr. Dacia Leslie titled, Reassessing Conditions of ‘Prison’ in Jamaica, where she interviewed 55 inmates and nine correctional staff, advanced the argument that current rehabilitation programmes within Jamaica’s correctional facilities lacked the necessary evidence-based programming assessment of risk, design, and evaluation. She also argued the deficiencies and shortages of specialised staff to design, implement, and monitor the improvement of inmates’ lives while incarcerated. For instance, not all adult inmates are assessed for risks, and the DCS does not largely engage in mandated follow-up assessments of offenders; therefore, inmates’ exposure to support programmes and release decisions is not always linked to risk-assessment results. Under these conditions, rehabilitation is unlikely, and the expectation of “successful” reintegration is unrealistic.

Consequently, improving prison conditions and in-prison rehabilitation services play a key role in reducing the rate of re-offending. As a result, rigorous and evidence-based correctional programmes must be proposed to break the crime cycle, reducing future criminal activity, and lowering incarceration expenditures by facilitating more successful re-entry upon prison release.


It is also argued that it’s impracticable to achieve rehabilitation in inhumane, anachronistic, and poor prison environments that is inhabitable by inmates and staff. As a result, it’s important that the government use the new year to deliberate and advance more than just an argument for the need for a new prison, but take deliberate actions to engage the academic and private sector communities to design more comprehensive and coordinated rehabilitation initiative.

Future articles will seek to broaden our understanding of the conditions of the prison-built environment and the treatment of prisoners.

Olufemi Sowande is former chief executive officer of an inner city organisation training young adults displaced by the formal system including rehabilitated former prisoners. Send feedback to olufemi1106@gmail.com