Sat | Sep 23, 2023

Mayne wants judges to order prisoners to enrol in rehab programmes

Published:Friday | October 28, 2022 | 12:11 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Nickesha Walters (left), director of human resource development and public education at the Office of the Services Commissions, presents Albert Brown with a long service award in recognition of his 40 years of stellar service to the Department of Correctional Services at the Department of Correctional Services’ Staff Awards Ceremony held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston on Thursday. Brown, 62, said that he has spent his entire working life in the correctional services.

Junior National Security Minister Zavia Mayne wants the courts to mandate that convicts participate in rehabilitation programmes offered by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), rather than leave it to them to voluntarily enrol.

“If a man wants to just come [to prison] and sleep every day, that’s really what it is now,” Mayne said during an address at the DCS’s staff awards ceremony at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston on Thursday.

He contended that this should not be the case, and that convicts’ non-participation in such programmes is a major factor driving recidivism.

Data from the DCS showed that 28 per cent of convicts were reincarcerated in the island’s correctional facilities last year, up from 27 per cent in 2020.

“When a man come here and him rest and him sleep 24/7 and all him do a cowboy lunchtime or whatever they call it, and go back and commit a crime then come back here, people seh these places not working,” Mayne said. “What we want to do is ensure that those who come in the system, that they are geared into productive life-changing educational opportunities so that, once they leave, they can be fitted into the society as productive men and women.”

He shared that the DCS has a range of rehabilitation programmes, including educational and skills training courses through partnerships with the HEART/NSTA Trust and the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean.

According to Mayne, the management of the DCS should be able to examine inmates psychologically and otherwise and design appropriate programmes for them, adding that a fair assessment of the DCS cannot be done until all inmates are actively participating in these programmes.

Nonetheless, he lauded the DCS for the successes of its rehabilitation programmes, which he said are seen in the testimonials of the inmates who participate.

“There are many persons that would have benefited ... [and]having been supported when they leave ... in reintegrating into the wider society, they come back and they say thanks,” he said.

Attorney-at-law Christopher Townsend has noted, however, that sentencing itself is rehabilitation. Nevertheless, he is not opposed to the courts making it compulsory for prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programmes.

“Anything to facilitate the rehabilitation of persons, so that they can be placed back into society as a functioning and contributing member of the society, will be endorsed by me,” he said, weighing in on the issue.

Rogue officers

And while declaring that he has become impatient of rogue correctional officers, Mayne charged the staff of the DCS to strive to maintain the integrity of the agency.

“I am not fooling myself, because, when a man enters into the walls of our correctional system, a very detailed search is conducted, and if everybody who has walked through is properly checked, how then, two weeks later, a month later, when you go in a man cell yuh find ganja and you find cellphone? Where did that come from?” asked the state minister.

He implored the correctional officers to be unbending in their role in crime fighting.

“When the justice system does its work, when police officers [do their] work, and they come here and we facilitate criminals for them to operate the same way that they would operate when they are on the street, we are failing the public at large,” he added.

A similar sentiment is shared by Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) Executive Director Mickel Jackson, who told The Gleaner that such a broad-brush mandatory approach might give rise to the possibility of exploitation.

“We have seen in other jurisdictions instances of forced hard labour exploited for profit-seeking ventures, [and where] mandated drug-treatment programmes become a pretext for protracted detention of persons,” she said.

Instead, Jackson said the JFJ would prefer a comprehensive rehabilitation that responds to the inmates’ risk factors and acknowledges their right to choose whether to participate, arguing that their legal status will give way to their eventual participation if the programme is effective.

“Rather than going a mandatory approach, perhaps the ministry ought to examine the effectiveness of the existing programmes, whether they respond well to the type of offence, the offender’s risk levels and their needs, and other factors,” Jackson said.

“We also question whether there is the infrastructure and human resources in place to support effective and quality rehabilitation programmes. Perhaps, the Government ought to start there first – fixing the programmes, strengthening public-private partnerships for initiatives and placing increased resources to ensure the programmes respond to the market needs and interests of the offenders,” she told The Gleaner.