New 'prison'?Monday, March 01, 2021
Dr Horace Chang, minister of national security, needs to use the word prison with care.
Prisons are built to get specific results. And, as the late Professor Bernard Headley pointed out, they are for meeting “two separate objectives — the first is for safety and protection [of the rest of us], the other to encourage and enable rehabilitation [of the imprisoned].”
But, under the same roof?
No, not normally, Headley insists. Mass incarceration does not rehabilitate.
A good model of the first kind can be found in the US's Marion, Illinois. A high-security prison of this kind could, for us, house the 300 to 400 psychopaths, gang overlords, habitual murderers, repeat rapists, the five per cent of our population who must be kept away permanently. For-profit occupations inside the prison would help warders manage them — not drive them over the edge — and lower costs. This is Dr Chang's prison.
But there is another type of institution — places of correction, they are now called, better still of learning, of training. These we need to build for the other 95 per cent. They are not hardened; not committed to lives of crime. Typically, they are jobless youth who do illegal things not directly to harm another person for selfish benefit, but to escape a major hardship, to say yes to an old but wrong-leaning pal, or out of moral weakness. Upbringings and circumstances play critical roles in their crimes. These offenders can be changed if they are given literacy, good instruction, persistent care, the opportunities they never had to learn a skill, do meaningful craft or academic work.
Stand Up for Jamaica is doing exactly this. Two or three small institutions of this kind would work wonders, said Professor Headley in 1917. To them we would need to add halfway houses and, with civil service and private sector input, some job security.
A lower rate of recidivism than the present 40 or more per cent would go a long way to a reduced crime level, as well as police and prison costs.
The Gleaner's editorial of February 26, 2021 is right. We need to know Chang's thinking. Going back to renegotiate a deal with the British, if they're still willing, would not be a bad idea, making it very clear, of course, that they must deal with their convicts in their country, not ours. A backtrack, yes, but an honourable one. It is likely to draw more praise than shame, since anything to improve our murder rate would be welcome. Nuh true, Doc?
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