Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred Abrahams is calling for more to be done to help convicted felons after they have served their time in prison, to ensure they return to society and contribute without prejudice.
His comments came during Wednesday’s launch of the book entitled The Barbados Prison System: Chronicles of Incarceration, Death, Riots and Reformation, written by criminologist Kim Ramsay.
Abrahams, who read the book and reflected on his own experiences as a criminal defence lawyer, said the time had long passed to end the stigma associated with reformed convicts.
“If we are saying to somebody, ‘you can be a useful member of society’, then it is our duty, all of us who are in the system, to push for the things that we need to make the prison stay meaningful for the betterment of the persons who have been incarcerated,” he said.
“Now, I do not believe in locking up a fellow longer than he needs to be. As far as I am concerned, whatever can be done to keep a person out of jail should be done to keep them out of jail. That is the last stop, that is where nothing else fits in our spectrum of punishment or correction or rehabilitation, and the only thing that will serve you is to be incarcerated.”
The Home Affairs Minister disclosed that in an effort to help soon-to-be released ex-convicts gain worthwhile work experience before they re-enter society, HMP Dodds Prison will soon start an agriculture programme.
“We want to create models at the prison where we can divide into five farms and invite people in to handle and manage those farms, under the supervision of the prison and in association with the Ministry of Agriculture. So, a farmer, who is responsible for one of the farms has to use workers from the prison,” Abrahams explained.
“The prisoners will earn some sort of stipend, whether or not it is given to them initially, held for them, or applied to their credit in the canteen. That is still to be decided, but they get to work, not necessarily under a prison orchestrated programme, but they get a taste of what it’s like to work for a real boss, for a boss who will report badly on you if you do not do the work. So you actually learn how to please and work to the standard of a private sector person,” he added.
Speaking about the research she conducted when writing her latest book, Ramsay said that although public sentiment towards ex-convicts has changed somewhat, more can be done to help them better reintegrate into society.
“People see prison as the place where you send the worst of the worst to be locked up, and throw away the key and never look back. Over the years, though, that thinking has evolved so more [persons] are thinking about reform and rehabilitation,” Ramsay said.
“There is good that can come out of prisoners, but I think we need to work with our prisoners because . . . they are people that will eventually return to live among us and we must make sure that we return productive citizens into our society.” (SB)