More rehab courses for prison inmates
By Kim Lucas
Stabroek News
May 12, 2003

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The Guyana Prison Service (GPS) has introduced two new programmes at the Georgetown Prison in an effort to further aid in the rehabilitation of inmates so that they can return to the society as productive and law abiding persons.

Inmates are currently participating in the Sex Offenders programme, which started in March, while the Ceramics and Visual Arts programme, is now coming on stream.

This was announced on Friday during a meeting with the Prison System Review Committee (PSRC) at the Woodbine Hotel in New Market Street during which the Officers-in-Charge of the Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Mazaruni, Lusignan and Timehri Prisons presented individual reports on training available to inmates.

The rehabilitation of inmates has taken on added significance in light of high recidivism rates and continued disgruntlement at conditions in the prison system. The February 23 jail-break last year has also focused attention on the circumstances of prisoners.

The objectives of the visual arts course are: to develop an understanding and use of shape, lines, colour form and space value; and to develop an understanding of language and related concepts, among other things.

Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine reiterated the department’s interest in providing more opportunities for prisoners, who, upon their release, would then be able to contribute meaningfully to the stability and order of the country. Samuel Small, Chairman of the PSRC and head of the University of Guyana’s Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE), pointed out that jobs today were scarce therefore it was important that inmates learned skills so that they could be self-employed. He was high in praise for the Ceramics/Visual Arts and Music programmes, but said support was needed to ensure continued success.

Erskine, in his report, said the current administration of the GPS had the responsibility, not only to provide a positive environment/ regime that would encourage prisoners to acquire the appropriate attitudes and skills to assist them to reintegrate properly into their respective communities, but also importantly, to ensure that the staff was committed to make all programmes successful and rewarding to inmates.

According to the director, this commitment was often frustrated because prison officials had to take into consideration both aspects of their responsibilities - custody and care of the inmates. Erskine said though many persons in society would accuse the Prison Service of providing too many opportunities to prisoners, very often when former inmates returned to a life of crime, those very individuals ridiculed the system for not providing enough constructive opportunities to prisoners during their incarceration.

“Our understanding of this dilemma should therefore inspire us to justify that our programmes are effective and are beneficial to inmates. To do so, the approach to our tasks of providing retraining opportunities for inmates must be characterised by a corporate culture,” the director stated.

He explained that the GPS was aiming to ensure that all programmes were structured, indicating objectives, resources required, expectations/outcomes and are monitored and evaluated. This approach, Erskine said, will allow officials to analytically develop programmes with appropriate curricula to target “criminogenic influences” of many of the inmates; select the right prisoners to participate in programmes in which they can discover their true potential/interest; develop strategies to deal with challenges which would affect the positive outcomes of the respective programmes; and, most importantly, give them a sense of satisfaction of what they are doing within the prisons.

According to the director, it is also important to recognise that the efforts of the Prison Service alone cannot ensure the efficacy of the programmes.

“It is mutually dependent on all major stakeholders - government, other arms of the criminal justice system, civic groups and the general public - playing their respective roles in an effective manner... the efficacy of [these] retraining programmes has a direct correlation to the reduction of recidivism rates in prisons. We are aware that throughout the world, recidivism rates in prisons are high and this definitely indicates a high level of crimes in the society. Therefore, if our programmes are effective and we reduce the level of recidivism, we would have contributed to the effective fight against crime and fulfilled our statutory responsibility of retraining prisoners to be responsible citizens”, Erskine added.

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