Just over a quarter of the prison population in Barbados is made up of repeat offenders and up to 40 per cent are prisoners on remand, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite revealed yesterday.
However, the number of recidivists is much higher in some Caribbean countries, the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs disclosed.
Brathwaite told local and regional prison officials he was troubled by these “unacceptable” statistics, which were compounded by the worrying number of young people being imprisoned for a variety of offences, including violent crimes.
“What I need us to do as societies is to take a hard look at how we can reduce the rate of recidivism. And from what I am told it ranges anywhere between 25 per cent and 65 per cent in some territories. It is a revolving door. It is unacceptable,” Brathwaite told the prison officials gathered at the Hilton Barbados Resort for the tenth annual Association of Caribbean Heads of Corrections and Prison Services (ACHCPS) conference.
During the three-day meeting, officials will discuss a range of issues relating to correctional facilities in the region, including recidivism and reintegration, staff recruitment and selection, integration of the criminal justice system, alternatives to incarceration and health care issues in prison, with the hope of identifying best practices and coming up with policies and measures to address issues affecting the criminal justice system in the region.
“I note with some concern . . . that there seems to be an increase in the amount of crime in our region, and violent crimes among our young people. I am sure, like myself, it is a cause of great concern to you . . . and this translates into of course, an increase in our prison population,” he said.
“Even in Barbados today as we speak, I believe that we have about 928 or about 930 inmates at [HMP] Dodds at this time, of which about 250 of them are recidivists. And that is an area of some concern to me,” the Government’s top legal advisor added.
The Attorney General said his office has spent a considerable amount of time trying to find ways not only to prevent “more young people from coming to us”, but to cut down on the number who reoffend.
One of the areas of concern, Brathwaite stated, was the absence of proper programmes and treatment for those on remand because of the uncertainty surrounding the duration of their stay.
“So it becomes even more difficult to put programmes in place to address these individuals. I think I am right when I say about 35 or 40 per cent of our present prison population are individuals on remand.”
The Minister of Home Affairs acknowledged that the correctional facilities in the region did not have all of the resources and professional services required to adequately help prisoners.
However, he said he was confident that “we are doing all of the right things” to help convicts reintegrate into society, including arming them with a variety of skills and recognized certification.
Yet, Brathwaite pointed out, the society, including businesses, was reluctant to give the former inmates an opportunity.
“What I don’t see is the cog in the wheel that is causing me as minister, and us as management of the prison, the greatest difficulty; that is, the public and the role that they have to play in terms of allowing ex-offenders to be successfully reintegrated into our societies. It is a tremendous challenge,” Brathwaite told the judicial officers.
To press home the point, he spoke of an ex-inmate who wrote to him complaining that “after spending 20-odd years” in prison, he had been trying for three years in search of work, but had been turned down each time.