Editorial: In search of a better prison system

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Prisoners get very little sympathy in our society. Most people seem to have the attitude that “if you do the crime, you do the time”. Further, when prison conditions are mentioned, the response is typically, “dey know what de prison is like so why dey complaining now”. Meaning, if they do not want to be incarcerated in our hell-hole of a prison, then they should not participate in criminal activity.
These emotionless responses are brought about from the traditional view that prisons are punishment and not houses of rehabilitation. Our culture has fostered a particular point of view that people that commit crime should be housed in an establishment that is harsh and unforgiving. This, by design, is supposed to serve as a deterrent to them even giving thought to participating in any future crime.
Obviously, there is logic in those arguments but in many cases, the arguments are dated and do not reflect the options available to societies to reduce crime and break the cycle of repeat offenders. There cannot be a one size fits all solution and we, as a small society, need to ensure that we do not make bad situations worse.
One of the key arguments against the concept of prisons as punishment is that it tends to make hardened criminals out of persons incarcerated for petty crimes. This has the greatest impact on young people who make silly mistakes that get them sent into an environment that does nothing to show them an alternate path in life. Rather, they are cast among a hardened lot and must adapt to that way of life simply to survive.
We could wax on for a very long time on this subject but the reason we have raised the issue is because of the news that efforts are currently under way to make running water available in all areas of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) by early next month. Superintended of Prisons Albert Wade noted that the lack of running water has negatively impacted the efficient functioning of the prison for years and added that there is still much to be done to improve the condition for the staff and inmates.
We know that there is a good percentage of people who will suck their teeth and express how little they care about whether prisoners have the comfort of running water but what does that say about us, as a society? Clearly, it shows that we cannot be considered a caring society. Even if you want to be harsh and show little care for the prisoners, what about the staff that work in those conditions and keep the prisoners behind the walls of HMP?
What is required is prison reform. We have to decide on what we want from our prison and, more specifically, what do we want from our prisoners when they return to society? Regardless of how you feel about the prisoners, we presume that you want reformed individuals that can re-integrate themselves into society and become productive members of the community. Individuals that have learned hard life lessons and have been shown that there are options to a criminal career.
If those are your expectations, then they cannot come close to being met with our current system. How can we hope to rehabilitate and produce productive citizens from a system and environment that deprives them of one of the fundamentals to life – something as simple as running water? Who can hope to return to society as a better person, when that society has not seen it fit to treat them with basic human dignity?
The transition of our prisons from places of punishment to houses of reform is long overdue. This is not to lobby for prisons to become resorts because one of the key deterrents to crime is the curtailing of freedoms and the longing for a better life outside of the four walls and bars of a prison cell. Instead, our lobby is for a system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Sure, some people only respond to harsh punishment but we venture to say that most people would prefer to live outside the walls of HMP and would welcome alternatives – especially the youth.
One needs only look at our neighbours to the north, the United Sates, to see how their “tough on crime” focus from the eighties and nineties did little other than to expand the prison population; to the point where over two million people are incarcerated and close to seven million people persons were supervised by US adult correctional systems (according to 2015 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics). Among that mix are the mentally ill, first offenders and hardened criminals.
The United States has realised that the move from a focus on rehabilitation to punishment did not fulfil the promise of a better society and they are currently attempting to find a better solution; we should do the same.
Prisoners get very little sympathy in our society. Most people seem to have the attitude that “if you do the crime, you do the time”. Further, when prison conditions are mentioned, the response is typically, “dey know what de prison is like so why dey complaining now”. Meaning, if they do not want to be incarcerated in our hell-hole of a prison, then they should not participate in criminal activity.
These emotionless responses are brought about from the traditional view that prisons are punishment and not houses of rehabilitation. Our culture has fostered a particular point of view that people that commit crime should be housed in an establishment that is harsh and unforgiving. This, by design, is supposed to serve as a deterrent to them even giving thought to participating in any future crime.
Obviously, there is logic in those arguments but in many cases, the arguments are dated and do not reflect the options available to societies to reduce crime and break the cycle of repeat offenders. There cannot be a one size fits all solution and we, as a small society, need to ensure that we do not make bad situations worse.
One of the key arguments against the concept of prisons as punishment is that it tends to make hardened criminals out of persons incarcerated for petty crimes. This has the greatest impact on young people who make silly mistakes that get them sent into an environment that does nothing to show them an alternate path in life. Rather, they are cast among a hardened lot and must adapt to that way of life simply to survive.
We could wax on for a very long time on this subject but the reason we have raised the issue is because of the news that efforts are currently under way to make running water available in all areas of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) by early next month. Superintended of Prisons Albert Wade noted that the lack of running water has negatively impacted the efficient functioning of the prison for years and added that there is still much to be done to improve the condition for the staff and inmates.
We know that there is a good percentage of people who will suck their teeth and express how little they care about whether prisoners have the comfort of running water but what does that say about us, as a society? Clearly, it shows that we cannot be considered a caring society. Even if you want to be harsh and show little care for the prisoners, what about the staff that work in those conditions and keep the prisoners behind the walls of HMP?
What is required is prison reform. We have to decide on what we want from our prison and, more specifically, what do we want from our prisoners when they return to society? Regardless of how you feel about the prisoners, we presume that you want reformed individuals that can re-integrate themselves into society and become productive members of the community. Individuals that have learned hard life lessons and have been shown that there are options to a criminal career.
If those are your expectations, then they cannot come close to being met with our current system. How can we hope to rehabilitate and produce productive citizens from a system and environment that deprives them of one of the fundamentals to life – something as simple as running water? Who can hope to return to society as a better person, when that society has not seen it fit to treat them with basic human dignity?
The transition of our prisons from places of punishment to houses of reform is long overdue. This is not to lobby for prisons to become resorts because one of the key deterrents to crime is the curtailing of freedoms and the longing for a better life outside of the four walls and bars of a prison cell. Instead, our lobby is for a system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Sure, some people only respond to harsh punishment but we venture to say that most people would prefer to live outside the walls of HMP and would welcome alternatives – especially the youth.
One needs only look at our neighbours to the north, the United Sates, to see how their “tough on crime” focus from the eighties and nineties did little other than to expand the prison population; to the point where over two million people are incarcerated and close to seven million people persons were supervised by US adult correctional systems (according to 2015 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics). Among that mix are the mentally ill, first offenders and hardened criminals.
The United States has realised that the move from a focus on rehabilitation to punishment did not fulfil the promise of a better society and they are currently attempting to find a better solution; we should do the same.

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