NEW and incoming members of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) Board of Visitors (BOV) are being urged to carry out their duties with moral courage, unwavering commitment, and a sense of fairness in upholding the principles of justice.
The charge came from state minister in the Ministry of National Security Juliet Cuthbert Flynn at the BOV's orientation and sensitisation session held last Thursday at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.
The board has responsibility for monitoring the operations of correctional centres across the island to oversee the care of inmates and the state of the facilities.
It is required to make reports to the minister with responsibility for the DCS and has the power to make unannounced visits and inspections at the centres.
The state minister urged the BOV members, in undertaking the duties with which they have been entrusted, not to shy away from difficult conversations or tough recommendations.
"Your mission is a calling that demands moral courage and unyielding commitment to justice. You must have the courage to confront the truth and to question the status quo when necessary. The pursuit of justice demands that you venture into the darkest corners armed with a light of accountability. Your duty is to be the voice of the voiceless, to shine a light on any injustice or any wrongdoing that might be found to be present in the shadows of our correctional facilities," she pointed out.
The board members, she said, are part of a larger team committed to the improvement of correctional facilities and the rehabilitation of inmates and urged them to carry out their duties with integrity and respect.
"I urge you to remain unbiased and impartial. Let the scales of justice be your guide and let your actions reflect integrity and equity. Remember that those that have been incarcerated are still human beings and they are deserving of respect and the opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration," she said.
"Your work has the power to shape policies that can transform lives, reduce recidivism, and also create a safer Jamaica for all of us," Cuthbert Flynn added.
Permanent secretary in the ministry, Ambassador Alison Stone Roofe, in a message read by Chief Technical Director Shauna Trowers, said the BOV acts as the eyes and ears within the walls of correctional centres.
"You have the power to bring to attention any abuses or violations of human rights that you encounter. The power of your findings cannot be overestimated; they have the potential to bring about necessary changes within our correctional system, ensuring that accountability and transparency are upheld," she noted.
"Through your work we aim to create an environment that respects human rights and the inherent dignity of all inmates, regardless of the context. Treating inmates with respect is not just a policy but a fundamental principle of justice," she added.
Ambassador Stone Roofe implored BOV members, as they execute their duties in relation to inmates, to also bear in mind the welfare of the DCS staff.
"Your role also includes promoting their well-being, as a well-supported team can contribute significantly to the rehabilitation process," she said.
BOV members may interview inmates, hear complaints, and report these to the commissioner of corrections and, if necessary, to the minister of national security.
Other duties include investigating potential harm to an inmate's mind or body, scrutinising diets, and assessing conditions within facilities.
The board may also recommend actions that are in the best interest of all stakeholders in the administration of justice.