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Gov't not addressing island's prison problems - minister

Published:Friday | March 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

PRISON FELLOWSHIP Jamaica (PFJ), an organisation which has been working with inmates in correctional centres across the country for more than 15 years, is claiming there is no political will to address a myriad of problems in correctional facilities.

Reverend Mark A. Hardy, executive director of PFJ, has pointed to "systemic" problems affecting the correctional centres.

"It is not getting rid of any particular leader or any aspect of the leadership that will solve the problem. Jamaica has to take a decision in respect of how we are going to treat with those who are entrusted to our care by the State. We need a new correctional facility," Hardy told
The Gleaner

Commenting on growing calls for the resignation of head of the Department of Correctional Ser-vices, June Spence-Jarrett, in the wake of the damning findings of the commission of enquiry into the Armadale tragedy, Hardy argued that "if there was no fire at Armadale", the leadership of the department would have been commended for their "creativity".

He said Spence-Jarrett's passion for the rehabilitation of juveniles was unquestionable.

"She loves the juveniles. She considers them her babies. I know that she would move Heaven and Earth to help in the rehabilitation of these juveniles," he stressed.

Lack of space

Hardy said the lack of space and inadequate sanitary facilities were daily challenges faced in the penal institutions.

"It is a major challenge to operate an archaic system in today's modern world," he said in relation to facilities such as the Tower Street and St Catherine adult correctional facilities.

He said the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, which was built to house about 650 inmates, now accommodates nearly 1,700.

Negative impact

Hardy warned that a mishap at this facility could impact nega-tively on the wider society.

The PFJ executive director is also suggesting that the courts hand down more non-custodial sen-tences, particularly for minor offences, as custodial sentences only worsen the situation at the already overcrowded facilities.

On the matter of the construction of a new correctional facility, Hardy argued that there was no urgency on the part of Government to deal with this matter.

"Can I say something? Frank and forthright, prisoners don't vote, and, therefore, there is no need to place them on the top of the pile."

He contended that it was not politically expedient to provide proper correctional facilities.