John Prescod: A Rehabilitative Approach to Incarceration

I invite you to picture two open human hands, outstretched and reaching out to accept a life, a person into its grip; a grip that could be severe and painful or gentle and firm. Imagine the fingers curling around this life that could choke and harm, create suffering, deprived of limited movement or to nurture, protect not feel intimidated or fearful of the consequences of its actions that are prescribed by years of trained and habitual behaviour, now in a new environment that is structured to preserve its own trained culture, thinking and profession. What is this life that finds itself in such a predicament of uncertainty and devastating circumstances? Why would anyone consciously put themselves into this position? How could this happen to a person who through a life changing event has this as their reality?

The answer is simply persons who offend the laws of their land and are caught, charged for an offence, sentenced by the Courts and incarcerated for a period of time. Why should there be any concern about the feelings of persons who are incarcerated and the uncertainty of the type of treatment or care given to them having committed a crime and now serving time? Again, simply put 75% will be out within 12 months, 85% of the world incarcerated inmates in Jails, Prisons and Correctional facilities will be back on the streets in their communities within 2 years and 90% within 5-10 years. In other words less than 5% of the inmate population now locked up will stay for periods of 10 years or more.

The hands then are symbolic of the areas within the criminal justice systems that persons will encounter during a period of their journey to the end of their term of sentence. These hands reveal a wide and varied set of specific functions that administer justice in a process that starts with police detection, arrest and charge, Court procedure, Corrections and prisons, Parole supervisions and community aftercare programmes. The current hands of Justice are symbolic of hurt, severe pain and an unhealthy environment for offenders of the law. Societies see this as just punishment for offences yet forget that the real punishment was the time given by the Court to be spent incarcerated. Offenders are confronted by these hands that as said before could either be an experience of positive or negative interactions. It seems that the hands of Justice as a system do not really care for their clients. It is ironic however that society accepts this perception an acceptable punishment deserved for crimes committed. The system in fact sees itself serving the demands and wishes of the tax payer in society and not the offender who are their clients to be served in the true sense. Granted there are good Samaritans within the systems and they will try their very best to put a human face to these hands of justice and to the systems that dictated how the majority of staff must work in the environment. I say must work or they will lost their job or be evaluated as not being a team player etc. despite all of this however successes are recorded to challenges existing systems to a review of their philosophy and preprocesses due to the efforts by those individuals.

What is really required are correctional systems with a rehabilitative approach to incarceration and are repositioned to a new thinking and process. It would be remiss to not mention the very important support that must be given by the government and politicians in that community if any approach like this is to work. The general mindset of the people in the community must also see the benefit of such an approach or again it will not work. The greatest contribution that could be made by society is to recognize that people can change and that once their time was fully spent as directed by the Court that the justice was done and accept that person back into its community as an equal. I am not naïve to think that this is an easy as it is written, yet the real effects of any rehabilitation must have its ultimate test within the community. A sensible and just chance if given will be adequate as most persons understand that debt paid will not erase the negative memories of the victims and their families. Self esteem and confidence can only be restored if the opportunity is given for this process to start.