I thank the Commissioner of Corrections for your kind invitation to address this fundraising dinner of the Committee for the Inmate Public Work Programme. Lady Allen and I also welcome the opportunity to share with you in promoting the positive initiatives which are being undertaken by the Department of Correctional Services. This and other programmes such as your Client Welfare and Client Aftercare Services, address the treatment of persons in our penal institutions and create opportunities for their rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation is the core function of officers in the Department of Correctional Services. It is important that persons who have lost their way in civil society, and who are remanded to serve time, be given the opportunity to
- Develop discipline,
- Recover their self worth,
- Access skills training and
- Return to the society as “productive and law abiding” citizens.
This is at the heart of your mission which is to, contribute to the safety and protection of our society by:
- Keeping offenders secure
- Facilitating their rehabilitation and reintegration as law-abiding citizens, and
- Developing a professional and committed staff.
Inmate Public Work Programme
Tonight‘s focus however, is on the Inmate Public Work Programme. I wish to commend the members of the National Committee who are responsible for coordinating the programme and selecting approved projects for implementation. I also commend Senator the Hon. Arthur Williams, for the role that he played in helping to initiate the programme in 2007. as well as the officers of the Department of Correctional Services, for the tremendous effort that they have made and are making to keep this rehabilitation programme on stream.
In the past two years since its inception, approximately 50 inmates have participated in the Inmate Public Work Programme and completed more than 20 major projects. These include, the refurbishing of public buildings, schools, hospitals and police stations. Inmates recently participated in the clearing of overgrown shrubs along the Mandela Highway, and this created a welcoming and refreshing sight for the motoring public.
As I have been reliably informed, the inmates who were involved in these projects have benefitted significantly from the work experience, as part of their rehabilitation. Some already had skills which they brought to the penal system and these they have further developed and improved upon as they prepare for their re-entry to society. Others have learned new skills from their participation in the programme. I believe the skills they learn or perfect in the programme will empower them to do positive things with their lives upon their release. It will also create opportunities for their employment later, as skilled labourers or professionals.
I anticipate that through its Client Aftercare programme, the Department of Correctional Services will be working with the families of these inmates, as well as corporate Jamaica and civil society, to create avenues for their constant reengagement in the society. If they lose the skills which they have acquired, the likely result is a feeling of frustration and further exclusion from mainstream society and the potential for a worsening of behaviours that will derail our development.
Jamaica is at a point in its development where it needs the services of all its citizens including our tradesmen, all of whom must be given the opportunity and means by which they will contribute to the development of our society. I believe inmates who have been trained and rehabilitated should have an opportunity to achieve self-actualization and realize their potential.
Too often we believe that if someone has been incarcerated and served time, that should be “the end of the road” for that person. However, thankfully, there are those among us and within the Department of Correctional Services who believe that redemption is possible for those who have lost their way in society, and that they can be rehabilitated to the point where they can make amends and “right the wrongs” that they have done.
The experts on crime and criminal behaviour tell us that a key factor in the lives of persons who run afoul of the law, is oftentimes the loss of self-respect. In other words, once someone becomes insecure and believes that others are against him or her, or that there is no real purpose for living, that person could eventually become a threat to society and a danger to himself or herself.
There are many different circumstances that contribute to that state of being. It could be:
- Lack of education,
- Absentee parents,
- The inability to secure employment,
- Peer group pressure or,
- The lure of making “easy money” without the benefit of a work ethic.
Against that background, when we examine the level of crime in Jamaica, the gang syndrome, the reprisals and seemingly senseless shootings that result in the loss of innocent lives, it is clear that there is a loss of self-respect and respect for life in general.
Respect is a core value that defines how people feel about themselves and how they expect others to relate to them. If respect or the lack thereof is a factor that gives rise to criminality, then we should make a serious effort to assist persons who lose their way and end up in the prison system, to regain their self-esteem, and find their way home.
I believe our people must understand that to “be Jamaican” is to have “self-respect,” and believe that they can use their innate resilience to “be the best that they can be“…and avoid the path that leads to criminal activities and incarceration. While this may sound like a pipe dream, the history of the rehabilitation of criminals in other societies show us that, it is indeed possible to restore self-respect, and reduce the propensity for persons “on the edge” to pursue criminal activities.
The Inmate Public Work Programme bears some similarity to the Criminal Rehabilitation Reform and Crime Prevention programme also known as Criminon, which has been implemented in over 35 countries. The programme is based on the objective of restoring inmates “self-worth,” self-esteem and pride. In countries where it has been implemented including New Zealand and the United Kingdom, crime has been significantly reduced because of efforts to eradicate the factors that create criminal behaviour.” Criminon has achieved success, in that, “it rehabilitates individuals so criminal behaviour is laid to rest-permanently.”
I believe that the Inmate Public Work Programme that is being pursued in Jamaica, has the potential to achieve a similar success as the “Criminon” programme. Having developed the work ethic of persons in the criminal system, we could go on to provide training to:
- Improve literacy,
- Assist prisoners to cope with negative influences, and
- Place a continuous emphasis on the elements required to be good citizens, elements such as respect, integrity, discipline and ethics.
Work Ethics in the correctional services
The majority of persons who enter the penal system are themselves victims of the moral turpitude that threatens to destroy the core values and principles upon which our nation was established. Many are from families that are dysfunctional, with no one to help them seamlessly chart their lives from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood. When they enter the penal system, we should not lose what may be the last opportunity to give guidance and direction to persons who could make a difference, but for the lack of the right kind of support.
This is why so much is hanging on Correctional Officers to bring the highest level of integrity, respect, fairness and good work ethics to bear on the performance of their duties. We have courageous and hard working Correctional Officers whose professionalism is beyond question. But as in all professions, there are a few “bad apples” who seek to destroy the whole bunch.
Every officer should recognize that he or she is a part of the justice system and be reminded that any attempt to pervert the course of justice contravenes the terms of their employment and robs inmates of the opportunity to be properly rehabilitated.
Bridging the gap
Our society is faced with extremes in the behaviour patterns of our people. On one hand, we have brilliant young people and adults who excel. Our athletes, our musicians, our academics, and our entrepreneurs, among others, are outstanding achievers and became known as “world beaters,” in that they achieved world class standards. They stand out as role models for others to emulate. However, the message of self-worth and self-respect that comes with their achievement does not filter through effectively to the general population.
Thousands of Jamaicans danced in the streets as our athletes captured gold medal after gold medal in Beijing and Berlin, in recent times; and the euphoria of those achievements was not lost on the majority our people. How do we, therefore, help those who need it most, to draw inspiration from the drug-free performance of our athletic team, their hard work and tremendous discipline?
Many prospective athletes, and I believe scientists, artists, teachers, are locked up in our penal institutions. They are there because they were not inspired to believe in themselves. I believe that the Correctional Services Department should at all times be guided by a framework that ensures continuous interaction between inmates and the society to which they will return. It is clear that more people in our society need to hear more about this particular rehabilitation programme and be influenced to lend their assistance in unique and positive ways to enhance the programme, in order that more people in the correctional system can benefit from it.
In closing, I congratulate the Correctional Services Department for taking a 21st century approach to rehabilitating persons who enter the penal system. By promoting academic and vocational training, external work projects, as well as the traditional activities that are available, while also instilling a reverence for life, you are opening doors to a more meaningful future for the many inmates.
This new approach will certainly assist them in the penal system to take a second and third look at their situation and hopefully develop a better understanding about their behaviour. I urge participants to recognize that they also have a responsibility not to betray the trust of the organizations and people who are contributing to this programme.
I hope they will respond to counselling and chart a new and positive approach to their lives and regain their own self-respect, as a means to finding their way back to being respectable citizens of Jamaica.
I commend those companies and organisations that have already come forward to support initiatives being undertaken through the Inmate Public Work Programme. Let us give it our full support and hopefully it will address some of the many concerns we have about resolving the plight of citizens who lose their way. I trust that many through this initiative will become productive citizens.
I thank you.