Bernard Headley | Déjà Vu: That UK Prison Offer



Opposition Senator Lambert Brown succeeded last Friday in putting the Government on the defensive. He questioned sharply fellow senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith on what other, compromise plan(s) the Government had in place now that it has said no to the UK offer of £25 million to build for Jamaica a new maximum-security prison, which would house a substantial number of Jamaicans condemned for incarceration in the UK.

It so happens that, two or so weeks after the new Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government was installed, I wrote and sent an unsolicited, regular-citizen ‘memorandum’ to Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of National Security Robert Montague, suggesting alternative ways of utilizing the UK funds. Here is a lightly edited version of the memorandum. My sense, and my hope, is that it’s not too late for the administration to incorporate, at least in principle, items I proposed back then.

1. The two maximum-security prisons Jamaica has are inhumane, national embarrassments, which we should hastily put under wrecking balls. One of these prisons is on Tower Street, in Kingston; the other is in Spanish Town, St Catherine. But will hoped-for relief from our terrible crime situation come from building a larger and more expensive version of these two monstrosities? The weight of the criminological evidence suggests not!

2. That which we expect from prisons ought logically to determine the kind of prison we build, or use UK funds to help build. Reflexive talk of building a new facility for mass incarceration would be going in the wrong direction, regardless of how ‘modern’ the facility would be. We’d be going in reverse to worldwide progressive trend of ‘de-prisoning’. Besides, mass prisons are known breeding grounds for reproducing more crime, especially organized gang crimes. Just wait, Professor and Gleaner columnist Carolyn Cooper has whimsically, but correctly, warned, ’till deported yardies from Britain meet up’ in our new mass prison with the ‘yardies from yard’, should the prison be built.

3. Receiving for additional imprisonment in Jamaica Jamaicans who offended in the UK or in any other foreign countries simply not on. Rather, we should continue to receive these offenders (on condition that they are indeed bona fide Jamaican citizens) as convicted deported migrants (‘deportees’) who, with stepped-up support from major deporting countries, and intensive treatment and prudent monitoring, can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society.

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