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Minister Chang, please increase support for Parole Board and parolees

Carla
Gullotta

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

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The following is written as an open letter to Minister of National Security Horace Chang:

Parole is a vital element of the programme of rehabilitation to which the Ministry of National Security has committed itself. The expression of this commitment through the work of the Parole Board should be a key consideration for you as you prepare to meet with the board this week.

In this respect, we are hoping that the review which was conducted of the parole system was not designed to curtail the parole granting powers of the board, but rather to strengthen the board and provide it with the resources it needs to carry out its work.

The suspension of parole hearings for potential parolees during the review process has been a blight on the Department of Corrections (DCS) and is an injustice that you should seek to rectify immediately.

The parole process as an instrument of law has been well established in Jamaica and stands out as one of the more effective tools of rehabilitation. Studies continue to show that parole increases the chances of successful rehabilitation, but only when parolees are provided with adequate support and resources that will aid their re-entry into society.

This is precisely what your discussions with the Parole Board should focus on — how best to improve the support and resources for the parole system.

Any intimation towards an outlook which would seek to make the parole system a punitive one, out of fears regarding the potential release of inmates deemed as dangerous, is one that should be avoided. The fact is that the parole system should not discriminate in terms of which prisoner should be eligible for parole. If the aim of the parole system is to bring about rehabilitation, then even the most dangerous of criminals deserve an opportunity to be reformed and rehabilitated. This, after all, is the aim of the correctional system.

The guidelines for parole eligibility are clear in the law, and if the Parole Board applies these standards consistently, as they have in the past, then we should not deny potential parolees the opportunity to make their case for parole, because of the misgivings we have about their past. Many so-called dangerous criminals have done a lot of personal work behind bars and have come a long way in the rehabilitative process.

The circumstances which triggered a review of the parole system and the consequent suspension of parole hearings remain a concern, and it is for this reason that we are asking for the full report produced by the review team to be released publicly. The terms of reference and bona fides of the members of the review team should also be released. The secrecy with which the review has been carried out is deeply concerning and one can't help but feel that it portends an ominous outcome for potential parolees and their families who have been left in limbo since the suspension of the parole hearings. Transparency and public accountability were severely lacking in the review that was undertaken as there was no consultation with stakeholders and this has served to reduce our confidence in whatever recommendations have come out of the review. Given, however, that only you as minister have been privy to the review report, we are unable to assess the impact of the review.

While we understood and welcomed the need for a review of the parole system, this should not have come at the expense of human rights and natural justice. Parole is a legal right enshrined in law, and as such every effort should be made to ensure its availability to inmates.

We continue to be concerned that the circumstances which triggered the review will lead to outcomes which will disadvantage inmates seeking parole in the future.

According to media reports, the review was initiated after the release of a former member of the Gideon Warriors gang. The reports indicated that the security forces were concerned that parole is being granted to “offenders whose release has been assessed as being contrary to the public interest, given the magnitude of their criminal antecedents”.

It is indeed reasonable to be concerned when someone who has committed a heinous crime is released back into the society. If, however, the person has met the conditions of parole and has engaged in the rehabilitation and restorative justice processes concomitant with release then we should give them the benefit of the doubt and allow the parole process to take its course.

There is a sense, given the circumstances which triggered it, that the impetus of the review of current parole provisions will see more stringent conditions being imposed for parole to be granted. This should not have been the raison d'etre of the review.

Jamaica has operated a very successful parole system which was held up as a model of best practice at the 12th conference of the Association of Caribbean Heads of Corrections and Prison Services (ACHCPS) held in June of last year, and as such the outcome of the review should be to build on the gains of that success.

A move to make the system more stringent, because of fears about the release of a single inmate, will disadvantage numerous other inmates waiting to be paroled and would also violate the principles of natural justice. Every parole case is unique and must be judged on its own merits. Using a single case to judge all the others would rob us of the opportunity to fast-track the reintegration of offenders into the society and make our correctional facilities more humane through the reduction of the level of overcrowding in these institutions.

A move towards stringency will be in contradiction to the efforts now being pursued by the DCS to find alternatives for inmates who are deemed low risk and the concept of rehabilitation promoted by the Ministry of National Security.

We do hope that you will take these points of views into consideration when you meet with the Parole Board and that your instructions to them will be in respect of increasing support and resources for the parole system rather than curtailing it. We also look forward to the release of the review report and the terms of reference which guided said review.

Carla Gullotta is executive director of Stand Up for Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or carlajamaica51@gmail.com.


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