Minister Bunting’s Statement to Parliament on Modernizing Jamaica’s Correctional Services

Photo: JIS Photographer Minister of National Security, the Hon. Peter Bunting in parliament. (FILE)

Story Highlights

  • The past week has been one of heated debate in the media, and social media, pertaining to the Non-Binding MOU between Jamaica and the United Kingdom for a critically needed, new Maximum Security Prison for the island.
  • This matter has been enmeshed in the narrative of Reparations for Slavery occasioned by the official visit last week of the Prime Minister of the UK.
  • It is understandable that this issue would have overshadowed the facts governing this MOU and proposed Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

Modernizing Jamaica’s Correctional Services

A Matter of Human Rights, International Reputation and National Security

 

Introduction

The past week has been one of heated debate in the media, and social media, pertaining to the Non-Binding MOU between Jamaica and the United Kingdom for a critically needed, new Maximum Security Prison for the island, facilitated by a proposed Prisoner Transfer Agreement Proposal by the British Government.

This matter has been enmeshed in the narrative of Reparations for Slavery occasioned by the official visit last week of the Prime Minister of the UK.

Given the strong feelings held by many Jamaicans on the matter of Reparations in the context of the agitations from several quarters in our society, and across the Caribbean, it is understandable that this issue would have overshadowed the facts governing this MOU and proposed Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

This matter of reparations runs deep in the Jamaican psyche, and this Administration and this Parliament has joined the call for reparatory justice. We support, and indeed are a party to, the decision by CARICOM to use the 10-point action plan as a basis for negotiations on the issue.

Communication from the UK Government, which has been carried in British media, may have left an impression in the public’s mind that Jamaica has signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). This is not the case. The fact is that we have agreed to commence a process, which may, or may not, result in a Prisoner Transfer Agreement. We have brought these inaccuracies to the attention of the British High Commission locally, and trust that it will be corrected.

The proposal of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement has been on the table for about a decade, long before the recent round of reparations discussions.  Former PM Golding stated over the weekend that the proposal was offered to his administration in 2008 and he rejected it.  There was no concrete offer of financial support to build a new prison at that time.  Golding went on to criticize this current offer of 25 million pounds and 5.5 million pounds for rehabilitation and reintegration as insufficient, even though it is 30.5 million pounds more than he negotiated at the time.  Therefore almost three thousand Jamaican men continued to languish for another seven years in degrading conditions and arguably in violation of their human rights in our two maximum-security facilities.  While PM Golding forgot about the human rights of these three thousand Jamaicans, he shortly thereafter was willing to champion the “human rights” of one Jamaican currently serving time in the USA.

The former Prime Minister is on record in this very House as saying — March 2, 2010,

“If I have to pay a political price for it, I am going to hold a position that constitutional rights do not begin at Liguanea.”

Where are the Rights for the nearly 3000 of our fellow citizens living below Liguanea at Tower Street and also at the St. Catherine Correctional Centres.

 

It is a Human Rights Issue!

Building a modern, maximum-security prison for this administration is first and foremost an issue of Human Rights for our inmates right here in Jamaica!

It is about securing our global reputation by establishing correctional facilities that meet international conventions and standards.

  • The island’s two principal correctional facilities, the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre and the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, were built in the1600s and 1800s respectively. These institutions are literally falling apart. They are outdated and dilapidated with limited scope for rehabilitation, severely overcrowded, sub-standard and inhumane..
  • These facilities are highly susceptible to natural disasters with great potential for injury, loss of life, and liability to the State. God forbid that we have a serious earthquake in Jamaica, then we could be having a very different discussion in this Parliament and the same voices that criticize now would be condemning us then for having done nothing.

The current discourse by some Jamaicans shows a callous disregard for our fellow Jamaicans who have made mistakes, and who end up in one of our maximum-security facilities.  As a country we have traditionally shown little public sympathy for the incarcerated, with many of us believing that offenders should be punished and made to endure harsh conditions, arguably worse than what obtained on the plantations during slavery.

The time has come for us to put away this mindset.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly cited the conditions in our maximum security facilities as falling well below international minimum standards and constitute violations of Articles 10 and 7 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Let me quote from Amnesty International:-

“Amnesty International is concerned about conditions in pre-trial detention facilities and prisons in Jamaica which, in some instances, are so poor that they amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The poor state of conditions of confinement has been the subject of both internal investigations and reports by human rights bodies and organizations over a number of years…
…Amnesty International notes the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 21 par 4 on Article 10 of the ICCPR that the obligation on states to treat all detained and imprisoned people with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person is a basic standard of universal application which cannot depend entirely on the material resources of a state. States are obliged to provide all detainees and prisoners with services that will satisfy their essential needs.”

Thankfully, we are seeing some welcomed leadership by the Gleaner newspaper, which in its editorial of Sunday, October 4, 2015 makes a strong call to stem this tide of ignorance:

“A commitment to basic decency and universal human rights demands this new facility.  It would be an investment in social stability.

“Sillily”, the scheme is now at the centre of controversy because of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s supposed insult of attempting to assuage Jamaica with a jail rather than engage in negotiations over reparations for slavery.  And the Opposition Leader’s snide and cynical counterpoint that building schools would be better.  Which all adds up to a one-dimensional, mono-chromatic view of the world and Jamaica’s place in it.”

The issue is not schools versus prisons, because every county has both, and there is an expectation by the people of this country, that we in this house will find appropriate solutions to both. Our duty is to provide inspired leadership for the people. Let us raise the level of our discourse on this matter and not give into our worst impulses for cynicism and skepticism.

 

Delivering a Solution

Notwithstanding our budgetary constraints, we have been doing what we can over the past 3 years at the Ministry of National Security to improve the conditions under which inmates are held:

  • In September 2013 the South Camp Road Detention Centre was renovated and designated as a juvenile correctional and remand centre.  We have achieved the complete separation of juveniles from adults in our correctional system.
  • In September 2015, a contract was signed for the construction of a 300-bed block at the Tamarind Farm facility to accommodate medium risk inmates at a cost of 194 million dollars. Additional blocks will also be constructed at the Richmond Farm facility, opening up a total of 700 new spaces.
  • An ongoing programme of reviewing and reclassifying inmates to ensure that low-medium risk inmates are relocated from maximum-security facilities will be completed.

Yet, these measures are not enough. What we need is a rehab-focused, purpose-built prison that will replace the two existing maximum-security facilities, which some have termed ‘crime factories’, turning minor offenders into career criminals.

Of specific concern to me as Minister of National Security is that, 60% of prison admission consists of young people between the age 18-35 who are in for sentences between 3 months and 3 years.

What do you think happens when youngsters are held in one of our maximum-security prisons?

They can become hardened. They can become bitter. They can become the biggest headache to law enforcement, and they will potentially contribute to our unacceptably high murder rate, when they are released back into the society.

It is therefore in this country’s national security interest that our inmates are rehabilitated for re-integration in the society. We need a healthy prison system to achieve this!

For 20 years, successive Governments have been bedeviled with how to solve this problem in our correctional system. For all very good reasons, we have had to prioritize education, health and infrastructure development.

Today, the time has come for us to do something about our unacceptable prison system. This Non-Binding MOU with the United Kingdom for a new Maximum Security Prison and a related Prisoner Transfer Agreement Proposal provide for us an opportunity to move forward.

In brief:

  • The Ministry of National Security engaged the UK Government in negotiations for over a year to secure a grant of £25 million towards the construction of a modern maximum-security facility, contingent upon the signing of a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) that was proposed by the UK Government.  Only Jamaican citizens who would have been subject to deportation at the end of their sentences will be eligible for transfer to Jamaica.  UK citizens in Jamaican prisons will also be eligible for transfer to the UK. There are hundreds of Jamaicans deported every year to Jamaica, having served prison sentences for drug related or violent offences in the USA or the UK, without the benefit of a structured reintegration process. Accelerating the return of a small percentage of these Jamaicans through a structured rehabilitation and reintegration process is a reasonable trade-off for a dramatic improvement in our prison conditions.
  • This Prisoner Transfer Agreement calls for no more than 300 spaces to be reserved in this new prison for Jamaican citizens serving sentences in the UK, and who are subject to deportation at the end of their sentences.   In reality, the numbers are likely to be much less.  The UK/Nigeria prisoner transfer agreement, which is in its second year, has only transferred one prisoner so far with another 16 in process.  Nigeria has a higher number of prisoners in UK prisons than Jamaica.
  • The Government saw the opportunity to achieve a new purpose-built maximum-security prison by 2020, that would accommodate between 1,500 and 2,000 inmates, and that would effectively resolve the problems of overcrowding and undesirable conditions which now obtain at the Tower Street and St. Catherine Adult Correctional facilities.

 

In the midst of the public controversy around this non-binding MOU, the public has missed some important points, and I want to set the record straight:

  1. There is no guarantee at this time that this administration will sign a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with the UK.  The Government of Jamaica will only sign the Prisoner Transfer Agreement after adequate public education and debate and the enactment of new legislation in the Jamaican Parliament.  In fact, we will start this process with the establishment of a Special Select Committee that will receive written and oral submissions on this issue by technical experts and all interested parties, including civil society and the Diaspora.  The Report of this Committee could recommend two courses of action: 1) It might say abort this proposal at this time given the strong sentiments around the issue, or 2) it might say proceed with legislation and with the negotiation on the Prisoner Transfer Agreement but here are the conditions necessary to make it acceptable.  The House Leader will shortly bring a resolution to establish this Special Select Committee.
  2. The Government of Jamaica was successful in negotiating an additional £5.5 Million towards the reintegration and resettlement of prisoners under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. The cost of rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners returned under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement will not be a burden on the public purse. Under no circumstances would the Prisoner Transfer Agreement be a net cost to Jamaican taxpayers. This can be achieved by limiting the period for which the Prisoner Transfer Agreement would be in effect.
  3. An administrative and judicial review process would be in place to determine whether or not to accept each prisoner transfer request. The experience of other countries that have signed Prisoner Transfer Agreement shows that each case is subject to legal and administrative processes. Conditions that may be included in a Prisoner Transfer Agreement are that:
    1. The sentenced person is a national of the receiving State;
    2. The sentenced person consents to the transfer or is subject to an order for expulsion, deportation or removal from the transferring State;
    3. No other legal proceedings relating to the offence or any other offence committed by the sentenced person are pending in the transferring State;
    4. The sentence relates to acts which also constitute an offence under the law of the receiving State
    5. The transferring and receiving States both agree to the transfer.
    6. A net financial burden would not be transferred to the receiving country.
  4. The Government of Jamaica will have to finalize the cost of the new prison and seek to identify the remaining funds to build the new prison.
  5. The new facility will be designed and constructed with a focus on rehabilitation, which should reduce the current high rates of recidivism.
  6. Downtown Kingston will have the opportunity for the redevelopment 30 acres of prime waterfront land. A similar opportunity for redevelopment would be possible in Spanish Town.

Conclusion

This Administration is about solutions. We are bringing ‘out of the box’ thinking to move from a punitive to a rehabilitative correctional service, which prepares offenders for reintegration into society, which significantly reduces re-offending and keeps our country safer.

In all of this, let us not forget that we have a commitment to the leadership and staff of the Department of Corrections to give them a safe uplifting environment in which to do their work. I commend the Commissioner of Corrections, Mrs. Ina Hunter-Fairweather and her staff for the valuable work being done under trying conditions.

This Administration’s policy goal for the correctional services is to create a healthy system where;

“…The weakest prisoners feel safe; all prisoners are treated with respect; all prisoners are busily occupied, expected to improve themselves, and given the opportunity to do so; and one in which all prisoners can strengthen links with their families and prepare for release.”

Our beliefs and values as a people demand that we address with urgency, the degrading conditions under which we keep offenders in our correctional facilities.

I take counsel from Matthew 25: 35-40:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat… I was in prison and you came to visit me… Then the righteous will answer him saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you… when did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The king will reply, “Truly I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.”

And as the Apostle Paul admonished us in his epistle to the Hebrews 13: 3:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison and those who are mistreated as if you yourself were suffering.”

I call upon the Parliament and the public to approach this issue with an open mind, concerned with the interest of Human Rights and our International Reputation, for the goal of creating a world-class Correctional System of Rehabilitation and Re-integration that we can all be proud of, and ultimately for our own personal and collective Security.

 

JIS Social