Rebuilding Lives: Education is crucial to the rehabilitation of offenders

Educating young inmates through training in the trade areas of barber, computer repair and tailoring, is a very positive development and a step in the right direction in rehabilitating these persons and making their way back into society as productive citizens.  

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Last week Foundation Judiciary Institutes Windward Islands signed a financial agreement with Dutch-funding agency AMFO for over Naf.155,000 to develop the intervention rehabilitation program based on the aforementioned trade areas.

The foundation and the Pointe Blanche Prison will work together to implement the programme. It was revealed that 40 per cent of the prison population housed in Pointe Blanche were no older than 24; most are repeat offenders and past interventions have not resulted in a behaviour change.

The Foundation Project Coordinator/Policy Worker Cynthia van Samson-Filemon was reported to have said that the conclusion was drawn through evaluation that prisoners need a structured programme to keep them occupied and help develop their social skills.

Samson-Filemon added that it is a challenge for young offenders to find adequate jobs when they are released, and the local Chamber of Commerce and business community have suggested that they learn a trade to contribute to their rehabilitation. The Labour Department according to information written about this programme will assist these young adults in finding work. Thirty-six persons will be taking part in the programme.

Education is crucial to the rehabilitation of offenders. This programme is one way of dealing with the national crime challenge our community is facing. However, we need as a society to deal with challenges faced by young people by addressing the needs of youth at risk before it reaches to the point where they end up incarcerated. A holistic approach is therefore a necessity to prevent delinquency and crime.

St. Maarten is not alone, as different Caribbean islands are also looking at how to deal with prisoner rehabilitation. Jamaica for example will be vigorously pursuing alternatives to incarceration. The four main strategies currently being looked at are: the Probation Order, which allows the offender to do community-based rehabilitation; the Community Service Order in which offenders are given 40 hours to do community service; the Suspended Service with supervision; and the Voluntary Supervision, which is offered to offenders deemed to be in need of counselling or treatment outside of the formal system.

Barbados just recently concluded a symposium on Recidivism And Re-entry Of Prisoners In Barbados: The Challenges And Solutions. Finding the right approach is essential not only for offenders but the community at large. Barbados officials pointed out that a problem-solving approach to sentencing needs is a must where you move beyond the purely punitive or retributive approach to sentencing. A survey done in 1997 at the Glendairy Barbados Prison found, 79 per cent of those interviewed at the facility felt that rehab programmes were ineffective. Consideration is being given in this case to having longer sentences in order to have more effective rehabilitation, especially for persons who have only been sent to jail for a very short period of time.

Prison programmes are about rebuilding lives. They are about reducing re-offending and re-integrating them back into society after their release from prison. Rehabilitation however does not start and end in prison. The offender will return to society after his/her release.

A network of community-based organizations, ready to support and help the ex-offender when he/she is no longer under any formal supervision is a necessary requirement. Rehabilitation is an area where prisons cannot do it alone. The community plays a critical role in helping the ex-offender stay crime free. This support has to come from employers, families, social/civic organizations and the community overall, because without the support, as a society we will continue to live in a vicious circle.

Roddy Heyliger