Govt is considering a series of measures aimed at bringing under control the number of ex-convicts who go back into crime.
Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson said HM Prison Dodds, built to accommodate 1,250 inmates, now houses some 800 inmates, with some 20 to 25 females among them.
But, speaking at a church service held to mark the 12th anniversary of Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds at the Ellerton Wesleyan Holiness Church, Hinkson expressed concern about the recidivism rate.
He said: “In Barbados, traditionally about 40 per cent of newly released inmates end up committing a crime within six months afterwards.
“We find this occurs mostly in terms of drug-related offences, but thankfully that rate seems to be coming down.”
Hinkson, the minister for prison service said: “I have to help lead discussion on the society level regarding alternative sentencing, ankle monitoring and electronic surveillance.
“Presently it costs us about $32,000 to house one prisoner each year.
“While we have made progress in some areas, such as the Drug Treatment Court for minor drug offences, overall we must take a closer look at our restorative justice platform, which is something all countries have to do from time to time instead of just incarcerating people.”
Government also plans to examine how the judicial system deals with children as he hinted at plans to establish a family court, said to open next year.
Hinkson said: “Our current Juvenile Justice Act is 100 years old, and our Government Industrial School needs to go beyond dealing with basic things like wandering or throwing rocks on the highway.
“We are getting help from UNICEF on how to implement this new system, but we realise one of our challenges when we pass laws in this country is the implementation process.
“We have to be fair to young people in giving them another chance in life, so it is our aim to break down all barriers to inmate rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”
He commended the many volunteers who willingly gave of their time, energy and resources to assist inmates with education and spiritual guidance, noting that “research has shown when there are lots of rehabilitation programmes in prisons, there is less tension and fewer acts of violence among inmates”.
The minister also called on corporate Barbados to give former offenders a chance to prove themselves by offering them jobs, “since some of the main barriers to successful integration are employment, housing and family support.
“Many prison officers are also trained in counselling, which will help the inmates mend any broken relationships with their families.”
He also advised Minister of Small Business Dwight Sutherland, who also attended the service as area MP, to extend the Government’s Trust Loan to former inmates who may be interested in setting up their own businesses.
He expressed the view that most offenders can change and make positive contributions to society, citing the many present and former inmates who had won awards at the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) over the years.
The theme for the prison’s anniversary celebrations is Breaking Down Barriers, Fostering Relationships.