Prisons - places of reform or universities of crime?
Stabroek News
November 1, 2001

Dear Editor,

The ex-prisoner whose offer of help with rehabilitation programmes for the incarcerated was recently published (Willing to help with rehabilitation of prisoners [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ], 29 October 2001) makes some important points.

If any meaningful impact is to be made on crime reduction, prisons must not simply be human warehouses. They must also be places of reform, where genuine efforts are made to tackle offending behaviour and prepare those who will be released to return ready, willing and able to make a positive contribution to society.

And who is better equipped to help in this process than someone who has been through the system?

In Jamaica, a country blighted by violent crime, the Commissioner of Corrections has had the foresight to implement some ground- breaking rehabilitation programmes. Some of those to participate in these initiatives are prisoners who were once condemned to death and who many people would have wished to see hang. However, their sentences were commuted and they are now among those involved in a project called the Reverence for Life Foundation. One of its functions is to go out into local communities, where prisoners use their own experiences to counsel vulnerable young people and encourage them to reject a life of crime.

This project has meant that prisoners and prison staff have had to work together in a spirit of mutual co-operation so it has had the added benefit of fostering better relationships between them.

Other Jamaican prisoners are receiving education and skills training. Some have had work release placements, leaving prison during the day to work with local employers and gain valuable experience in holding down a job, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

These programmes are limited because resources are scarce but where they have been tried, they have been a success.

There are, of course, those who will say those sent to prison are there solely to be punished and do not deserve these opportunities, which do not come without cost. But the alternative is for prisons to remain at best places of containment and exile and at worst, universities of crime. The cost of that in social terms is far higher.

We very much hope your correspondent's offer of help receives a favourable res-ponse and we wish him well.

Yours faithfully,
Shelagh Simmons
Caribbean Justice
PO Box 216
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)23 9275 6730