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'I just want an opportunity'

Inmates pass CSEC exams, but worried about employment after release

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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TEN women from the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston were yesterday celebrated for their achievements in the recently concluded Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.

However, they fear it will be difficult gaining employment after release due to their conviction.

“When I go out I want a job,” one of the inmates, a 23-year-old who obtained five CSEC subjects during the eight years she has been behind bars, told the Jamaica Observer.

“Well, to tell you the truth, anything comes [I will accept] because I am so desperate... I don't have a mother as she died while I was in here, and so going outside, I will only have my brother,” the woman said. “It would be nice as mi reach (released) to get a job, knowing that I have my subjects. I know that nuff people out there have subject and don't have a job, but I don't want to be one of those persons as I want nothing to reach me and I have to come back.”

The woman, who was adamant that she would not be returning to prison, said that although she had also obtained cosmetology skills while incarcerated, she was still worried about gaining employment after release.

“I can braid, I can creme hair, but the point is, when wi reach out there, how are we going to start it [business]? Meaning, getting the things you need to start. You know wi just a come from prison, which come like when you get deported from foreign, you are just there on your back,” she said. “I just want an opportunity.”

Encouraging others not to let their circumstances define them, the woman said when was convicted she never thought she would have obtained any CSEC subjects.

Stand Up for Jamaica coordinator Carla Gullotto, however, sought to ease the inmates' concerns.

Gullotto, while noting that she is aware of the challenges convicts face in trying to secure employment after they have been released, said she was in dialogue with a number of corporate companies.

“I opened a channel with the private sector and I am asking them to reconsider the stigma in terms of the people going back to society, and the same people which live next door to you. I have asked (some of our businesses) to start to take in some inmates, at least some of the 2018 and more from the 2019 batch. We are waiting for answers, but I got very positive feedback and there is a commitment,” Gullotto stated.

To combat some of the challenges, the coordinator said entrepreneurship was recently introduced as part of the educational programme at the female penal institution.

Acting superintendent at the prison, Joycelyn Roach-Spencer, said 29 inmates sat the examination in mathematics, English language, electronic document preparation and management, principles of business, food nutrition and health, office administration and principles of accounts.

According to Roach-Spencer, 16 women were successful in the exams, with 100 per cent passes in food nutrition and health; 75 per cent passes in office administration; 66 per cent passes in human and social biology; and 60 per cent passes in electronic document preparation and management.

One inmate passed all six subjects.

In addition, a male inmate who is serving time at St Catherine Adult Remand Centre also passed six subjects, receiving three grade ones, and three grade twos, while another inmate at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correction Centre passed four subjects.

Minister of state in the Ministry of National Security Rudyard Spencer had encouraging words for the Fort Augusta inmates yesterday.

“If we are able to succeed in making each boy and each girl that is coming from behind these walls leave here a much better person than they came in, who is better able to contribute to the society, then we would have fulfilled our mandate. So… I don't want you to feel that being here is a stigma,“ he said.

“These results show that we are dispelling the rumours that nothing good can come from behind the bars. I want us to, as of today, mash down that lie that nothing good can come from behind bars and we are about to show them that everything good can come from behind these bars,” Spencer said.

He argued that the Department of Correctional Services is breaking the cycle of crime and violence by creating productive men and women through transformational, educational, vocational, and practical programmes.

“I need, by next year or the other year, to have a number of students here who will be going on to tertiary institutions, which tells us that they are on their way to be successful men and women garnering a profession of their own,” he said.

“It happened; while you made a mistake and you are here, probably if you were outside it would not have happened. I want you to remember that being here is an opportunity to fulfil the potential that you have and that God has given you, and we want you all to realise that potential,” Spencer said as he urged the inmates to not get caught up with old habbits.

At the same time, Spencer promised to pay the tuition fee for inmates who matriculated to tertiary institutions.

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