Stand Up for Jamaica writes about the power of reintegration

Being a human rights activist in Jamaica is not an easy life. There is a persistent narrative that these dedicated and decent human beings “defend criminals.” In fact, certain categories of Jamaicans are deemed hardly eligible to apply, or be considered for such a thing as human rights. It’s different if one’s own rights have been taken away though, or those of a friend or family member, or a neighbor; then the perspective suddenly changes. Nevertheless, I am told, “We are a Christian country.”

It always strikes me as deeply sad, in a nation that has suffered so much from one of the most appalling human rights abuses in world history – the Transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and plantation slavery. We are confronted with this blood-soaked legacy at almost every turn. And yet… Sometimes I think George William Gordon, or Sam Sharpe, would be concerned at our disregard for the rights of our fellow Jamaicans. Some of us still don’t “get it.”

Nevertheless, the oft-vilified human rights activists press on, regardless. Recently, Jamaicans for Justice (JFF) launched its “State of Justice: Examining Human Rights and the Rule of Law” report, with funding from the United Nations Democracy Fund. You may watch it here. There is quite a lot to digest.

Unfair dismissals are unfortunately fairly commonplace, for all sorts of reasons. When it was disclosed in a news report recently that an ex-inmate, who had served his prison time for robbery, was found to be working as a court orderly for the same judge who had presided over this case, concerns were raised. Surely, this was a breach of procedure and security?

However, there is a bigger issue here to be discussed, and that is that there is very little empathy for former inmates seeking work when they have served their time and paid for their crime. Stand Up for Jamaica, the human rights group that works extremely hard in Jamaica’s prisons, in partnership with the Department of Correctional Services, once again raises the issue of rehabilitation. Many Jamaicans don’t seem to make the link with the importance of reintegrating ex-prisoners into society, as they wring their hands over our terrible crime rate,

Let’s think a little more deeply about this broader concern. What does rehabilitation really mean to you and me? Shouldn’t ex-prisoners be given a chance to earn and become a productive member of society? The worst thing you can do is take away a person’s dignity; this applies most acutely to those incarcerated for their crimes, and seems to persist even after they have paid their dues to society. We need a change of heart.

Since we are a Christian country, I cannot help thinking that Jesus would have given each and every one of them that chance.

As SUFJ points out below:

What we really need is the support of civil society to produce a different approach to the concept of punishment. We all need to revisit the idea that stigma is for life, that somebody who did something wrong cannot change and that we meet our punishment without showing mercy or compassion.

The Tower Street Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston was built in 1846, not long after slavery ended. (Photo: Gleaner)

The Power of Reintegration

Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) has taken note of the case of an ex-inmate who has been dismissed from his job as an orderly in the Supreme Court. While we understand the concerns that have been raised regarding the ex-inmate’s employment within the courts, we believe the larger principle of re-integrating offenders into society is one that deserves greater consideration by employers, particularly the public service establishment. SUFJ has been heartened by the general support and calls for the dismissed ex-inmate to be given a second chance. A quick review of the comments on the story indicates that the general public understands quite well the importance of re-integration.

For many years, Jamaica has been battling against crime and violence – a well-needed fight. Stand up for Jamaica has been working in one of the most challenging environments, correctional services, to be part of that battle for a more peaceful society. The prison population consists of about 4,000 people who have committed a crime. Most of the sentences are not long and those same people are going back to society.  SUFJ works in the prisons to provide services that build the skills and education level of inmates as a way to provide instruments to prevent them from re-offending.

In partnership with the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), we have developed the vision of rehabilitation as the best avenue to engage them to become a “better man” or woman. Education, professional skills, psychological help to learn to develop self-control, and awareness have been our goals. We have seen people reaching the institutions illiterate and leaving with 6 CSEC subjects. Just two months ago a pilot experiment promoted in partnership with DCS and the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean has celebrated the graduation of four inmates and one correctional officer with the highest evaluations.

SUFJ has also partnered with the HEART Trust to provide skills, from art and crafts to computer technicians to sound engineering. These programmes offer hope to the inmates, who recognize that it is the only alternative avenue to a life of crime. We are aware that we need to advocate for better infrastructure, and for funds to support programmes and trainers, but what we really need is the support of civil society to produce a different approach to the concept of punishment. We all need to revisit the idea that stigma is for life, that somebody who did something wrong cannot change and that we mete out our punishment without showing mercy or compassion.

The numbers of rehabilitated inmates show that they very seldom become reoffenders. This means that they took the offer to change their lives.

The real problem is: does rehabilitation make sense without a process of reintegration?

How difficult, frustrating, and discouraging is it for those who achieved all instruments to become productive members of society when they see all doors slammed on their faces? How long they can keep on the right track without a roof, or an income to support their families and children?

We must admit that very often we have not been able to fulfill the promise of the rehab path which should end with a reintegration process. SUFJ has folders full of names of those looking for a job. We have not been able to provide them. This must be a collective process; it needs to involve those crying out against the climate of violence affecting business and everyday life.

We are determined to promote an advocacy campaign to open a dialogue with Government agencies’ policy not to hire any ex-inmate. It is basically impossible to introduce a change of culture and a real effort to fight crime among those who have the power to make a difference and to recognize the dignity of those willing to be part of the process of reintegration. The powerful choice to undertake a process of reconciliation will generate results – and lead to crime reduction.

Maria Carla Gullotta, Director of Stand Up for Jamaica, speaking at an amazing event sponsored by the Spanish Embassy in Jamaica at the South Camp Correctional Centre in Kingston. It was a performance of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and it was very well received by the inmates. (My photo)

2 thoughts on “Stand Up for Jamaica writes about the power of reintegration

  1. I fully agree with this approach
    “Education, professional skills, psychological help to learn to develop self-control, and awareness have been our goals.” These skill are necessary for every able-bodied citizen.
    Yes! They should be given a Second-Chance to re-enter civil society to earn a living from their trade skills, or with an employer – with follow-up mentoring and encouragement. Permit me to remind the community that: –
    “. A child who grows up under a harsh love-less condition develops risky impulsive behavior, more prone to peer pressure, and is more likely to gravitate to crime. The young child that is deprived of emotional bonding with the parents, will have brain and growth impediment due to deficiency in nutrients, lack of education, proper housing, social skills, and the necessary tools to fit into society. ”

    “As the dawn precedes the day, so is the child that grows up to be an adult.
    The fact that many parents, teachers, evangelicals, politicians and civil organizations engage in hypocrisy, inconsistency, and tolerate and make excuses for the despicable and destructive behavior of so many young people, is a gross betrayal of the memory, struggle, sacrifice, sweat and blood of our ancestors.” Ken Damally

    Just maybe if we can focus and re-structure our system, we could see better results.


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