Advocates bemoan cold shoulder given to ex-inmatesSunday, January 12, 2020
BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
REPRESENTATIVES from local non-government organisation Stand Up For Jamaica (SUFJ) are bemoaning what they describe as disinterest displayed by Jamaicans towards rehabilitative programmes and the lack of opportunity available to people after they leave correctional facilities.
“The problem is the society as a whole generally does not want rehabilitation, and it is very difficult to even get people to come into the prisons... trying to get anybody to come into the prison is impossible. Once you say to somebody, I have a job for you but it's in the prison, they say 'I don't want to be involved.' Nobody wants to be in the prison,” Andre Schwab, director of SUFJ, said.
He was speaking with the Jamaica Observer following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of National Security, Department of Correctional Services (DCS), University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC), and SUFJ last week. The MOU will see four inmates and a correctional officer pursuing associate degrees in business administration at UCC. This will be done online over the course of two years.
“There is a stigma attached to the prison. Prisons, as you know, are not the greatest places to go, they are not the cleanest, but the DCS do their best within their limited resources to keep things going and improving as they go along. However, generally, society isn't interested in prisoners at all,“ said Schwab.
“Once they are in there, forget about them, throw away the key. We are trying to help them that when they do come out, they have a useful purpose because that's another problem they have. When they do come out, nobody wants to hire them,” he added.
Subsequently, Schwab said SUFJ is focused on ensuring inmates leave with a skill, so they can create their own opportunities in lieu of landing jobs with established companies.
“We are trying to find ways they can get a skill that they don't need to go and get a job with company A. Even this venture (university scholarship)… we have been trying to get this off the ground for years and it's only because of UCC why it has come to fruition. I know through Mrs Gullotta's efforts I would say easily three, four years we have been trying to get something similar to this programme off the ground,” Schwab said.
Founded in 2007 by volunteers from Group 105 of Amnesty International Italy, SUFJ's main purpose is to provide practical help to Jamaicans regarding court-related costs and basic necessities for inmates on death row in the island's prisons.
Meanwhile, Carla Gullotta, executive director of SUFJ, expressed disappointment with the lack of opportunities for individuals after they leave correctional facilities.
“It is very frustrating. Over the years we have focused on education — CSEC subjects and professional skills training through HEART so they achieve a diploma, a good education and a skill. It is very disheartening to me. The more they are well-prepared, the more they have expectations to serve once they are finished.
“They achieve five subjects, two diplomas with HEART, computer diplomas and such. Once they apply for the job, as soon as the person who interviews them discovers that they are coming from a prison, it's a no-no. It is really sad because those coming to prison with nothing but refusing to learn or refusing to get rehabilitated, they go back to society exactly as they were — not good people,” Gullotta said.
“But there is a huge number of them who went through the process, which has been teaching them, training them, giving them psychological support — support about awareness, control of their emotional side, anger management and all of that. When they do all these pathways, once they are finished, they are really different people. They have done something wrong, fine. They will need to be punished for that, fine, but they paid. So once they come out they should not be punished all their life long for something they paid for. If they achieved all these instruments and can't use them, it becomes really rough for them,” Gullotta shared.
She stated that when recidivism occurs, organisations that could have, but refused to give opportunities to former inmates, must shoulder some responsibility.
“They come to my office — lots of them. I try to find them a job. Sometimes out of 10, I can find one, but what about the other nine? If they don't get anything to do, if they keep coming and saying they don't want any money, they want a job… if no one gives them an opportunity, somehow, they are responsible for sending them back to do crime,” Gullotta said.
She added: “They are in prisons achieving, come out and want to work, want to send their children to school — but they don't have the money to pay for books or bus fares. After a time you should not be surprised to know that they are doing something wrong because all that they have been trying have been unsuccessful.”
She made an impassioned plea to businesses to consider hiring a set percentage of ex-inmates whenever they are seeking employees, and to put them through a probationary period to ensure their efficiency.
“Why not make a commitment to say I am employing X number of persons and X per cent of spaces go to ex-inmates? I am not saying to take jobs from others, I just want them to be included in the chance to get a job. During my dialogue with several companies, my proposal is to take them in on a probationary period for six months. In the next six months you evaluate two things — their professional ability, because if they are not capable there is no chance for them to continue and their behaviour; are they honest, committed? If they are not at the right level, then send them back because nobody wants to employ someone who is not up to standard,” she said.
But the biggest thorn for Gullotta is that no one is paying attention to such proposals. However, she urged civil society to realise how their refusal to engage ex-inmates contributes to crime and violence.
“When we speak about fighting crime and violence, civil society should know that crime and violence has a target of 6,000 inmates. Unless you assist those incarcerated to be rehabilitated you cannot complain too much if they do recidivism as they do not have any other alternative,” she said.
Gullotta maintained that she remains committed to advocacy for inmates as it is more than a job for her.
“It's a commitment to people who are considered to be the lost of the lost ones. There's no sympathy towards people who have committed a crime. Few can be habitual delinquents, but the majority are rehabilitated, and if given an opportunity they take it and really try,” she said.