News

$12m for 'short pants' and T-shirts

Putting prisoners in uniform proves costly

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 16, 2012    

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THE Correctional Services' decision to put the island's just under 4,500 prisoners in uniform is costing taxpayers at least $12.4 million.

And even though the prison population has not warmed to the idea of wearing khaki trousers and white T-shirts, the majority of the outfits have already been purchased by

the authorities.

"We have purchased 8,000 trousers at a cost of $10 million; we paid $5 million and we have a balance due of $5 million," Commissioner of Corrections Lieutenant Colonel Sean Prendergast told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"We have also purchased 8,000 T-shirts at a total cost of $2.4 million. We have a total population of 4,500 roughly, and it's two suits per inmate, so that's 9,000 suits to get everybody in uniform. We are 1,000 uniforms short, but we will deal with that in another phase," Lieutenant Colonel Prendergast said, adding that the total outlay should not be much more than the initial $12.4 million.

"By the end of September we should have Tower Street and the St Catherine adult correctional centres up to speed," he added. "The process we are going through now is just to make sure inmates are first issued the uniforms and we withdraw the civilian clothes they now hold, hand it over to their families so the families can take them out of the institutions and back to their homes."

Traditionally, the term 'wearing short pants' was used to indicate that someone

was imprisoned.

Yesterday, Prendergast said the decision to suit the prisoners in uniforms is not novel, as it is actually provided for in the 1985 Corrections Act. However, it has not been adhered to for the most part.

"It is not a new idea. It is in the Act, so at all times the intent was to have inmates in uniform, but over the decades the system broke down and we have had inmates out of uniform for several years. There have been, however, some of our institutions that have managed to have their inmates in uniforms because they have smaller populations," the corrections boss told the Observer.

"We have been sensitising them for months, so they are well aware this is coming and it's not if, it's when. As you can imagine, many of the inmates are resisting the change, they would much prefer to wear the kinds of clothing they have been wearing, but this is a security issue and we are going to make sure it happens," Prendergast told the Observer.

According to the Corrections boss, having the inmates in uniforms will help to minimise the opportunities for the system to be breached.

"The implications are obvious; if you have an inmate in normal civilian clothes that looks just like a worker inside the institution there is an obvious risk of you confusing who is staff and who is inmate. The uniforms help in monitoring what is going on," Prendergast said.

He, however, acknowledged that the uniforms on their

own could not act as the

only safeguard.

"They are an aid to make sure that first we can identify the inmates easier, and if there is a breach we can identify them more easily than now," he said. "When you allow inmates to have expensive items of clothing it can be a source of conflict, so we are extracting it so that everybody looks the same and so there will be less stress."

In the meantime, he said female inmates have been making their own uniforms.

"We purchase material for them routinely to make their own uniforms," he said. "For the male institutions, however, it was a challenge to get funding and to have the capacity to do it. So we took a decision back in December of last year to start the process of trying to source the funding and get these things made."

In the future, to make sure this is sustainable, some of the uniforms will be made within our institutions, but where there is a gap in capacity we will look outside," he added.

The corrections boss said that while all inmates would be provided with white T-shirts initially, the plan was to colour code the uniforms later.

"Ultimately, both for the adults and juvenile facilities, we are going to go with different colours for different categories of inmates and wards, but that is for the future. But for right now, the urgency is to get everybody in a similar uniform and that is what we are pushing to do," he said, adding that if an inmate is going to be assigned to a work party outside the institution they will wear a different colour.

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