Editorial: Happy with HAPI

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There has not been a lot of good news regarding the prison recently. In fact, things have been pretty bad for the last few months. There was the prisoner escape that captivated the nation for weeks, and then there was the collapsed roof of the kitchen, and, most recently, concern over a possible outbreak of scabies. And these are just the incidents that immediately come to mind. So, suffice it to say, the prison has been taking some licks recently.
That said, there was some good news coming from the prison that has not received the attention that it deserves and needs to be highlighted. In the most recent Post-Cabinet press briefing, it was reported that the Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Prison was invited to Cabinet to address the contribution of prisoners to the HAPI programme. For those not familiar with the programme, HAPI, which stands for Home Advancement Programme for the Indigent, is described as a programme that “allows the government to build homes for the indigent when the housing conditions are deplorable.” According to the Post-Cabinet report, the government will leverage the carpentry and home-building skills of prisoners to support the programme. Bravo!
For a very long time, we have pushed the debate surrounding the purpose of our prison. Historically, it has been viewed as a facility geared towards punishment, but we have argued that rehabilitation should be a key component of its purpose. It is for this reason that we were overjoyed to see that the administration has seen it fit to include the prisoners in this HAPI effort. Not only does the programme get the benefit of the prisoners’ skills, but also prisoners get some satisfaction in learning new skills and contributing positively to society.  
While we see this as a win-win situation, we are well aware that there are many people who are locked in time and do not see the benefit of ‘rewarding’ prisoners in this way. What this group fails to see is that rehabilitation programmes such as this can help build prisoners into positive contributors to our society, and give them a path to a crime-free future. The strict, punishment approach only tears down a person’s humanity and helps to etch a path toward becoming a hardened criminal. Which character would they prefer to see leaving the gates of 1735, a reformed person with a positive outlook or an angry criminal who has conceded to a life of crime?
Sure, there are some who will be so traumatised by the conditions of the prison that they would not seek to return, but there are countless studies that show that prison conditions and the possibility of returning to prison have little to no influence on the hardened criminal when he or she is contemplating the next crime. So, let’s not put a lot of faith in the ‘scared straight’ approach to prisoner reform.
The Post-Cabinet report reveals some of the benefits of the programme, beyond the obvious. The prisoners are glad to keep their skills sharp. “They find the work outside of the prison walls to be fulfilling and clearly superior to the lock-up conditions in Her Majesty’s Prison daily,” and they receive a small sum daily that will be saved and handed over to the prisoners upon release. That small sum alone could be the difference between a former prisoner immediately returning to a life of crime or using the money and time as a buffer while finding gainful employment. Leaving with something rather than nothing makes a difference.
We hope that the HAPI programme is just the beginning of a greater focus on rehabilitation. As a small society, we need to create processes and an environment that rescues as many souls as we can, because eventually, prisoners are released. Do we want someone who can build and repair houses or someone who breaks into houses to steal? We vote for the former.
One last thought on this subject. Considering the conditions of the prison, maybe the prisoners can be given the opportunity and support to improve their conditions utilising their skills. Again, this seems to be a win-win situation, and the caved-in kitchen roof comes to mind.
 

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