Ex-cons deserve a chance too


Ex-cons deserve a chance too

Monday, January 13, 2020

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Such is the level of crime and its devastating effects on society it is hard for most Jamaicans to show much sympathy to convicted prisoners.

And even after they have served their time and are back on the streets, ex-convicts are faced with unforgiving attitudes — precisely because of the effects of crime.

It's the reason Jamaicans and their leaders show scant regard to the obvious need for upgraded and new prison facilities.

The feeling that those who have committed crimes — especially of a violent nature — are not deserving of special consideration, is largely the reason the British offer of assistance in building a prison, a few years ago, was roundly rejected.

Why, many Jamaicans asked, should hundreds of millions be spent on a prison when there is such clear and pressing need for schools, health facilities, etc?

However, knowledge of rocket science is not needed to recognise that proper rehabilitation of the incarcerated is very important if behaviour change is to take place, prior to their return to the streets.

To do otherwise is akin to spitting at the sky. In many respects this is precisely what this country has been doing for many decades in terms of its approach to incarceration and rehabilitation.

And yet, this newspaper's understanding is that despite extreme overcrowding and woefully outdated and inadequate facilities, virtual miracles are being worked in Jamaican prisons through rehabilitation programmes.

We hear that notwithstanding the negatives, a considerable number of people exit prison far better human beings than when they entered — some having earned significant educational and skill-related qualifications.

This has been made possible in large measure by the work of forward-thinking and progressive administrators within the correctional system as well as social activists in the private voluntary movement.

Against that background comes the sad story of ex-convicts having done the time and turned their life around, finding on the outside, the hard, pitiless approach of so many Jamaicans who want nothing to do with them.

We hear, and we know it's true, that most such people are being turned away from potential employment the moment it's realised that they have spent time in prison.

We can't help but agree with the sentiments of social activists Mr Andre Schwab and Ms Carla Gullotta that Jamaican employers need to be prepared to give those who have been punished the opportunity to redeem and support themselves.

As Ms Gullotta told our Sunday Observer interviewer, if someone who has been to prison and back can't find the means to live independently and support a family, that person is very likely to return to crime.

What choice would there be?

Here is something not just those with the capacity to employ, but the Government, and Jamaicans as a whole, should address in a thoughtful and structured way.

As the Jamaican economy improves, there may even be value in providing tax breaks to encourage the employment of ex-prisoners.

Like it or not, making sure that those who have done time are given a chance to make good, is enlightened self-interest.

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