Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Erwin Boyce has come in for some public criticism and a bit of ridicule for suggestions at a recent meeting of the Men’s Educational Support Association that inmates at Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds be made to pay a sort of residency fee.
The criticisms reached crescendo when he went further by recommending that if prisoners were unable to pay the fee their families should be made to. The ideas from the senior cop came following a visit to the United States where he indicated they were having some success with a similar strategy. The policy, it appeared, was another aimed at taking away any “attractiveness” which prison life might have for recidivists.
Mr Boyce did not go into much detail as to the legal framework that guided such a policy in the United States, nor did he deal with specifics as they relate to the actual regulation of the policy which he observed. We will not join in any ridicule of the gazetted officer as new ideas, or even borrowed ideas, should be explored dispassionately and viewed with a purpose of seeing what benefits can be accrued from them.
Of course, there will be times when ideas will be outlandish, but still one can only arrive at that opinion, having taken the time at least to give the idea some thought. The idea of having prisoners pay a boarding fee, or as some have facetiously labelled, “rent”, is perhaps not as outlandish as it may seem at first glance.
We are told that inmates can make a pittance for supervised jobs done on and off the prison site. We are also told that in many instances when prisoners leave the facility they do not leave empty-handed but with a small sum or grant to assist with their re-entry into the society.
If Mr Boyce is suggesting that prisoners be made to pay a small fee, not so much as a residency fee, but one more designed to create a feeling of responsibility for their own upkeep, then his suggestion is worth debating. If that pittance is made as a result of much productivity, perhaps it can occasion not only an appreciation for hard work, but when it is docked, an understanding of what can be lost because of incarceration or criminality.
Of course, the status of being a prisoner would dictate that any such “rent” could only be sourced as a result of whatever leeway the authoritites allow inmates.
However, Mr Boyce will find that he will be butting his head against the proverbial brick wall, if in essence he is seeking to make law-abiding citizens pay for the sins of their kin. It would take a rather brave Government, or a set of politicians bent on self-destruction, to even attempt to bring legislation to the Barbados Parliament to make average citizens carry any financial burden for the criminal sins of their adult relatives.
We are not aware of what Mr Boyce specifically saw in the United States. But the logic of an adult Barbadian paying any sort of fee to keep his adult brother, sister, nephew, niece, son or daughter behind bars is totally elusive. Barbadians already pay something called taxes.
Our laws currently place a responsibility on parents for the upkeep and protection of their children under the age of 16. They must send them to school; they cannot, or should not, evict them into the streets to wander, or otherwise expose themselves to danger. But it is pertinent to note that when juveniles commit crime and are subject to incarceration at a juvenile facility, that the state does not punish or place any burden of responsibility on parents to contribute to the costs of their imprisonment.
Additionally, it would be quite interesting to determine what punishment would be meted out to parents or guardians who refused to pay or simply did not have the financial wherewithal to make such a payment for their kin. No, Mr Boyce, that particular proposal does appear somewhat outlandish.
With respect to the residency fee, though we accept that it could be the subject of enlightened discussion, we believe that while a $3 daily fee might seem minuscule within the economic scale of the United States, that “huge” amount would cause some difficulty within the Barbadian context.
Every effort must be made to tackle the issue of recidivism. Repeat offenders place a financial burden on the country and they also undermine our human resources. It is appreciated that many Barbadians spend too many of their productive years behind bars. It is a trend that must be tackled at all levels, but must be dealt with sensibly and within the context of lawful reasonableness.
It must also be accepted that there are some souls that we will never be able to save. We cannot therefore punish those who ensure that they protect their own souls.