Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) has taken note of the case of an ex-inmate who has been dismissed from his job as an orderly in the Supreme Court.
While we understand the concerns that have been raised regarding the ex-inmates’ employment within the courts, we believe the larger principle of re-integrating offenders into society is one that deserves greater consideration by employers, particularly the public service establishment. SUFJ has been heartened by the general support and calls for the dismissed ex-inmate to be given a second chance. A quick review of the comments on the story indicates that the general public understands quite well the importance of re-integration.
For many years, Jamaica is battling against crime and violence, a well-needed fight, and Stand up for Jamaica has been working in one of the most challenging environments, correctional services, in the light to be part of that battle for a more peaceful society. The prison population consists of about 4,000 people who have committed a crime. Most of the sentences are not long and those same people are going back to society. SUFJ works in the prisons to provide services that build the skills and education level of inmates as a way to provide instruments to prevent them from re-offending.
In partnership with DCS, we have developed the vision of rehabilitation as the best avenue to engage them to become a “better man” or woman. Education, professional skills, psychological help to learn to develop self-control, and awareness have been our goals. We have seen people reaching the institutions illiterate and leaving with 6 CSEC subjects. Just two months ago a pilot experiment promoted in partnership with DCS and the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean has celebrated the graduation of 4 inmates and one correctional officer with the highest evaluations.
SUFJ has also partnered with HEART to provide skills, from art crafts to computer technicians to sound engineering. These programmes offer hope to the inmates who recognize that it is the only alternative avenue to a life of crime. We are aware that we need to advocate for better infrastructures, and for funds to support programmes and trainers but what we really need is the support of civil society to produce a different approach to the concept of punishment. We all need to revisit the idea that stigma is for life, that somebody who did something wrong cannot change and that we meet our punishment without showing mercy or compassion.
The numbers of rehabilitated inmates show that they very seldom become reoffenders. This means that they took the offer to change their lives.
The real problem is: does rehabilitation make sense without a process of reintegration?
How difficult, frustrating, and discouraging is it for those who achieved all instruments to become productive members of society when they see all doors slammed on their faces? How long they can keep on the right track without a roof, or an income to support their families and children?
We must admit that very often we have not been able to fulfill the promise of the rehab path which should end with a reintegration process. SUFJ has folders full of names of those looking for a job. We were not able to provide it. It must be a collective process; it needs to involve those crying for a climate of violence affecting business and everyday life.
We are determined to promote an advocacy campaign to open a dialogue with the Government agency’s policy not to hire any ex-inmate. Stigma from those officially using as keywords rehabilitation and reintegration as a due process, is the answer it is basically impossible to introduce a change of culture and a real effort to fight crime towards civil society, among those who have the power to make a difference and to recognize the dignity of those willing to be part of the process of reintegration. The powerful choice to undertake a process of reconciliation will generate results and crime reduction.