Government improving prison conditions, says Montague

Monday, January 16, 2017

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Robert Montague admits that Jamaican prisons need upgrading. In fact, the national security minister will tell you that he believes the island deserves a new state-of-the-art correctional facility. But the Government, he says, does not have the money to construct one.

So, having rejected a £25-million offer from England towards the building of a new prison here, Montague, when pressed on what the Jamaican Government intends to do, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the Administration is "moving to rationalise and improve the prison conditions in the country" while reducing the number of incarcerated individuals.

According to Montague, an audit of all prisoners has been completed, therefore, "No one will be lost in the system again."

In addition, a reclassification of inmates "will be completed in another week or two" allowing the authorities to fit low-risk prisoners – those serving time for minor offences – with electronic bracelets and have them serve their sentences under house arrest.

An upgrade of the South Camp Correctional Centre, he said, is near completion and the plan is for the inmates now housed at Fort Augusta to be transferred to South Camp, after which Fort Augusta will be closed.

"We are about to open a new 300-bed facility at Tamarind Farm. The JDF (Jamaica Defence Force) is putting in the finishing touches. The bulk of the residents there will be the reclassified prisoners from Tower Street (Adult Correctional Centre)," Montague said.

The national security minister said that by law judges can only send convicts to two prisons – Tower Street, more popularly known as General Penitentiary, and St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre.

"That is why there is the overcrowding," he said. "So we’re moving to amend the law to allow the judges to send convicts to all of the penal institutions... those orders will be brought to Parliament and gazetted in very short order."

According to Montague, Richmond Farm Adult Correctional Centre in St Mary and New Broughton Sunset Adult Correctional Centre in Manchester, where men 55 years and older are incarcerated, are housing less than half their capacity. That, he said, will change with the reclassification programme and the amendment to the law.

At the same time, Montague said that a social intervention programme that exposes inmates to literacy, skills training and the board game chess, has been implemented.

"We’re trying to give people the skills that they don’t come back, because 47 per cent of our inmates are returnees," he said.

"So, while we know we need a prison, we’re taking short and medium-term steps to rationalise the prison population. The key is to have less criminals, and that is why the prime minister will be announcing shortly a major unattached male intervention programme that will treat with that problem to stem the flow of young men getting into crime," Montague said.

"We’ve done work at almost every prison and police lock-up to improve the conditions – ventilation, cell conditions and equipment – but we can move only as fast as the resources become available," he said.

"We’re not unmindful of the conditions, but the taxpayer is overburdened, and we are moving with haste to correct the situation; but we urge every Jamaican to speak to members of their family, to stay away from a life of crime," Montague said.

– Vernon Davidson

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