Click here to print page

After COVID-19 passes...

Monday, March 23, 2020

Inevitably, there will be criticisms at the speed or choice of actions taken by the authorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

For example, was the decision to block incoming passenger flights delayed for too long?

But, as has been explained by Government spokespersons, there was the felt need to maintain “balance” in order not to unnecessarily burden the national economy.

For, as is readily accepted, life will have to continue after COVID-19.

Also, it would seem that, in many respects, the Jamaican authorities have been ahead of the game in terms of their response to the crisis compared to some highly developed countries.

Of course, as the experts keep saying, the society should prepare itself for worse to come.

We were reminded in yesterday's Sunday Observer of one element that could go horribly wrong — Jamaica's grossly overcrowded prisons.

No doubt the health ministry and related authorities have taken note of concerns from an inmate regarding conditions at his location and which, we suspect, may be similar to other correctional facilities.

He tells us that some encouraging efforts are being made by those in charge, including moves to establish quarantine facilities for new inmates.

But we sense his fear as he speaks of inadequate supplies and facilities to ensure proper hygiene and sanitation in what is an archaic, chronically overcrowded environment.

We sense his fear as he speaks of how correctional officers conduct searches:

“[W]hen they come to search they throw out all of your stuff, including clothes and food, everything, and drop it on di dirty ground dat dem a walk pon, and sometimes you have up to three inmates in a cell… After dem finish search, dem lock you down so you don't get di time to clean back yuh cell. So there is a lot of bacteria and germs now. Sometimes it is the same gloves they use to search is the same gloves they use to touch your food.”

Much of that, we suspect, has to do with tradition and culture. Those who have sinned against society can't expect to be cuddled or given special privileges. Indeed, many Jamaicans have no patience with talk of prisoner rehabilitation, humane treatment, or of modern facilities to replace infrastructure which may well date back to the days of slavery.

Quite apart from the self-serving nature of the offer at the time, a large part of the reason for the outright rejection a few years ago of a British proposal to help build a modern prison in Jamaica was public antipathy.

But think of the disastrous consequences should COVID-19 or any other similarly infectious and deadly disease take hold in Jamaican prisons.

We are certain the authorities will do all in their power to ensure it doesn't happen. Well-thinking Jamaicans will be praying and hoping it doesn't happen.

But surely all reasonable people must understand that action to modernise and humanise the prison system is an urgent imperative.

COVID-19 will pass. And, when it does, among the many matters Jamaicans must look to deal with is such a project. It is enlightened self-interest.

Further, as they are learning on a daily basis in this ongoing health crisis, Jamaica's political leaders should consider that, while it is prudent to listen to potential voters, sometimes leaders simply have to lead.