Reconstitute Jamaica

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Jamaican Justice: A Journey Towards A Sustainable Rehabilitation System in the Jamaican Department of Corrections.

I. Introduction

A. Statement of the Problem

A myriad of factors have contributed to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), international and local interest groups, and citizens expressing a desire to mend Jamaica’s broken rehabilitation system. More alliances than ever have been formed to improve the outdated system in order to address the needs of a quickly arriving independent nation. The prison system in Jamaica was established by the country’s British colonizers, however, it was neither liberated nor upgraded in 1967. Through the years, studies and reports have constituently articulated the same issues: inhumane conditions, overcrowding, poor facilities, bad lock down periods, and lack of opportunities in occupation, employment, or recreation (“Government of Jamaica”, 1993, Niles and Bernard, 2000).

It has been said that because Jamaica is in a state of development the culture on “the outside” contributes to the culture in the prison system. In a 1993 report, the DCS was described as inefficient, corrupt, and centered on an “old-style power of the guards,” which “had its roots deep in a culture of hierarchy and oppression.” (“Government of Jamaica,” 1993, “Social Development Commission,” 2001, Rhone, 2003, Diligio, 2005). In that same year, the recidivism rate was 50 percent. The steady incline of the prison population and the crime rate has been attributed to repatriation of criminals with Jamaican nationality from the United States (“Department of Correctional Services”, 2001). Additionally, The National Committee on Crime and Violence, created in 2001, identified lack of community empowerment to address problems before they escalate as a factor to the rise in crime (“National Committee on Crime and Violence”, 2002).

A major concern for the National Committee on Crime and Violence has been young offenders, coming out of prison with a “life strangling prison record and an even worse attitude towards law and order.” (“National Committee on Crime and Violence”, 2002). For decades Jamaica has yearned for a way to properly rehabilitate inmates, yet the country has struggled to maintain an adequate system.

B. Why Focus on Rehabilitation?

Between 1990 and 1993, correlations were made between low levels of literacy in Jamaica and repeat offenders. This led to the implementation of vocational training as a means of reducing recidivism (Keiser, 1999, Niles & Bernard, 2000, “Social Development Commission”, 2001). Inmates began participating in a variety of programs including shoe making, welding, carpentry, and baking (Id). Although the recidivism rate was 50 percent in 1993, the rate decreased 25 percent in 1998. This success was attributed to the Reverence for Life Foundation, which emphasizes social therapeutic treatment and growth through self-actualization, personal goals, competencies, beliefs, and values in order to strengthen self-worth and self-esteem (“Reverence for Life Foundation”, 2000, “Social Development Commission”, 2001).

Unfortunately, rehabilitation programs are difficult to sustain in the Jamaican prison system because whenever there is a sign of trouble inmates are locked down. The system continues to be incredibly volatile and rehabilitation has not been the largest priority. Unrest in the system led to the suspension of rehabilitation programs between 1998 and January of 2000. Nonetheless, it is estimated that 80 percent of inmates will return to society within four or five years. Therefore, The DCS has become increasingly committed to working toward a sustainable rehabilitation program.

II. The Jamaican Commitment

Because the DCS recognized that there was “no concrete, systemic process in place to guide it in managing rehabilitation as a core strategic function,” it created a National Rehabilitation Strategy (“Department of Correctional Services”, 2001). This strategy is based on an idea that inmates are clients entrusted to the care of the Department and the premise that a rehabilitative approach is the best way to decrease recidivism (Id).

The DCS also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the SET Foundation Limited (SET) in order to bring rehabilitation into the 21st Century. It has committed to supporting the establishment of Information Technology training programs, to establish and maintain better facilities for rehabilitation, and to endorse SET projects and fundraising. This monumental step toward change needs to be encouraged and supported by both the Jamaican and international communities.