Prison Reform

Items taken out of the prison cells following police raid in April.

by Jerry Roker for Bahamas Press

Congratulations are in order to the new commissioner of The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services. All Bahamians are hopeful that during his tenure, he will bring the facility nearer to a rehabilitative rather than a punitive one.

In The Bahamas, we tend to focus almost solely on insisting that our prisons “lock up” those who break the law so that they are incapacitated. Incapacitation is premised on the removal of criminals from society to prevent them from harming innocent people. But actually, prisons have three other major purposes – retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution refers to the “eye for an eye” rule of justice and insists there must be punishment for crimes against society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is one way of supposedly making them pay their debt to society for their crimes. This purpose is very popular with most Bahamians even though it may not be politically correct to express it too vigorously.

“Deterrence” functions for prisons to play a role in the prevention of future crime by providing warnings to people thinking twice about committing crimes. The theory is that the possibility of going to prison will discourage people from breaking the law once they understand the privations that prison life entails. Most Bahamians are also in favour of this function especially since it is supposed to operate optimally when the functions of retribution and incapacitation are emphasised.

Rehabilitation, on the other hand, refers to activities designed to change criminals into law-abiding citizens, and seems to have fallen into disfavour as it tends to do in most societies with rising crime rates. However, in the US, with a prison population exceeding two million, even with all their resources, they have concluded that more emphasis must be placed on rehabilitation.

We must place more emphasis on the training of inmates so that they can become responsible, industrious and useful citizens on their discharge. Instead we tend to place greater focus on security and discipline. However, an idle prisoner is a potentially dangerous one and it is in the furtherance of security and discipline that there should be a constructive regime of activities geared to beneficially occupy prisoners’ time.

Prisoners should be encouraged to spend their prison time in learning useful skills such as masonry, carpentry, joinery, Agriculture, or in reading books eg, in electronics and mechanics…(Prison) should not be a place where prisoners can meet and learn from one another to become more proficient and versatile in crime. Otherwise judicial orders for compulsory imprisonment would not only fail to achieve their desired objective but would be counterproductive both to prisoners and society.