Society has a role to play in rehabilitating prisoners, consultant asks for help

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An appeal is being made for access to space to be used as classrooms where academic education and skills training would be provided to offenders, as the authorities work on an initiative to help increase rehabilitation efforts.

Josephine Doyle, Criminologist and consultant on a parole programme for prisoners, said Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) lacks the proper facilities to execute the rehabilitation plan which would make offenders productive individuals upon release.

“Current conditions make it extremely difficult. The conditions at the prison are dire in the most extreme terms. The prisoners are living in the most vile of circumstances up there. There aren’t facilities, there aren’t classroomst teachers aren’t willing to come in there. So we need to work with what we’ve got and that would mean we are looking all over the island for other classroom facilities; so we are asking anyone who can donate classrooms,” she pleaded during an interview on OBSERVER AM yesterday.

While she did not specify exactly when the classroom space would be needed, since the programme is now being developed, she added that society and the offenders stand to benefit from the rehabilitation initiative.

She said precaution will be taken when prisoners are being considered for rehabilitation programmes outside the prison.

“These guys will be risk assessed and transported to other locations to have some kind of rehabilitation programme because we are not going to get people to go into the prison in its current situation,” she said.

It is no secret that Antigua and Barbuda’s lone penal facility, HMP located on Coronation Road, is badly overcrowded with almost double the 150 capacity it was re-purposed to accommodate. The conditions have garnered international attention in recent years, and at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, Antigua and Barbuda’s representative was chided over the poor prison conditions which have persisted for over a decade.

The officials had lamented that conditions were worsening, including overcrowding, inadequate food and hygiene, and gang violence. They also criticised the lack of adequate rehabilitation programmes.

Yesterday, during the radio interview, Doyle concluded that if the inmates are not rehabilitated the authorities would not be able to reduce the recidivism rate.

Doyle is one of five members on a steering committee working to develop a parole programme unique to the needs of Antigua and Barbuda. Law Reform Director Adlai Smith heads the committee and is supported by retired Justice Keith Thom, Yori Nichols who has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, and Smith’s secretary, Orincia Drew.

Doyle said the programme for Antigua and Barbuda “will not be a copy and paste” of any other programme elsewhere as it is being developed based on the findings when they investigate and evaluate the situation in the twin island.

The country has never had a parole system or board in place. According to the consultant, when this is achieved, it will provide the authorities with important information that should help to further develop the programme and target the specific needs of each prisoner.

“For the first time ever, we will have a baseline, we will have figures, we will know how to judge if we are reducing crime. Until we have some measure, we don’t know if we have repeat offenders. The records aren’t quite accurate, so we don’t know if somebody is coming into prison for the third time or the fifth time. So this foundation of a new parole board will, in five years’ time, give a better understanding of the triggers behind crime, how we have reduced crime, the reoffending rate,” she elaborated.

The consultant, who has been working on and off in Antigua and Barbuda for the past five years, said she has observed that “the minor criminals” take up the most time, constantly re-offending, and this needs to be addressed.

 “They take up court time in and out, and what we do know now is that short prison sentences don’t really work, they are counterproductive and we need to do a different type of work with this type of offender … repeat offending is a drain on society’s resources,” she stressed.

Smith, who was also a guest on OBSERVER AM yesterday, stated that sentencing reform, which is on the horizon, will provide a wider range of sentencing options and rehabilitation opportunities for people who commit petty crimes and other types of offenders.

Meanwhile, anyone who has ideas on how to help develop the parole system for offenders in Antigua and Barbuda, and who wishes to share those ideas with the committee, is asked to send those recommendations to [email protected] or [email protected] Smith said individuals will also get an opportunity to share their ideas when wider townhall meetings are held in the future and when the committee participates in more media outings.

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