by Teresa Blackman
“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore, you are feared.” Psalm 130: 3- 4.
This short verse which aptly speaks to the theme of redemption and forgiveness also reflects the goals and objectives of the Barbados Prison Service, as it seeks to rehabilitate, and prepare inmates for reintegration and resettlement into society.
From the days when it was known as HMP Glendairy, the prison has undergone a shift from an institution which has strictly punitive measures to one which embraces and encourages rehabilitation. Hence, it is only fitting that the Barbados Prison Service celebrates its week under the theme Second Chances.
And, as Superintendent of Prisons Lieutenant Colonel John Nurse pointed out, a national effort must be made to give ex-offenders a second chance, as HMP Dodds seeks to explore a number of avenues to get the community more involved, and to get the prison more in tune with the community’s expectations.
“We have always been doing this, from as far back as Glendairy. And we have emphasised it even more here, which is a kind of an open gates policy. That is why, we allow visitors to come in and see the place and we do so particularly with school children. They come and they are able to see prison life and to appreciate the difficulties that they would encounter when a lot of their movements, and the ability to make certain decisions for themselves are curtailed,” the Superintendent said.
The senior prison official, said, it was a bit more difficult at Glendairy to facilitate certain programmes as it related to the process of rehabilitation, whereas Dodds was designed with rehabilitation in mind.
“Classrooms, workshops, treatment areas, proper medical facilities were all designed very early in the construction process. The result is that we are now able to undertake many of our programmes more effectively and more efficiently as well.
“The whole idea of a shift from being punitive in nature to one of being more rehabilitative is also in keeping with what is being undertaken internationally as well, and also recognising that most, if not all of the offenders, who are in prison today will at some time return to the community. We would wish that the person who is returning to the community would be ready to take his or her place within the community, and to contribute effectively to that community,” Nurse stated.
He also noted that the prison was working at addressing the offending behaviour, as it was paramount that offenders come to grips with what caused them to be in prison in the first place, and to shift that behaviour to one which is more receptive, and more appealing to the community at large.
“It is still a prison, but we work with our prisoners because we need to engage them in purposeful activity and we need to address the behaviour that brought them here to begin with. We don’t want them to come back. If possible, we want them to be productive, contributing citizens in Barbados or in the country they may come from.”
The superintendent also made reference to voluntarism, stating that it was his hope to mobilise the community into partnering with the Barbados Prison Service by offering their skills, to help develop its prisoners.
“Although, we have quite a few support groups working with the prisoners, such as evangelical groups that come in and do quite a bit of work. They do ministering and act as volunteers for our English, Maths and craft sessions.
“We also have groups who come from some of the established churches and so on helping quite a lot with our religious programming… However, what I would wish is to see more persons with academic, psychological and psychiatric connections coming as well and helping from that view point.
“So, we are calling on persons to volunteer their services. Let us know who you are and what you are willing to offer. We know what we want as well and we are trying to develop a skills bank, so that we can tap into those resources. We have quite a lot of talent in Barbados and quite a lot of resources.
“It is a pity that we have 1,000 odd persons here in prison that are in dire need of assistance and we cannot tap fully into a lot more of those resources. If we could have another 100 persons helping us along as volunteers that would be well appreciated,” Nurse stated.
While commending his staff for their strong work ethic and enthusiasm, the superintendent pointed out that they were constantly undergoing training, so that they could continue to grow and develop their own skills.
Nurse explained: “We undergo quite a lot of training courses with the staff. We participated in the Certified Jail Officers’ course with the American Jails Association. Previously, we would have done quite a lot of work with the UK Prison Service, and we also had trainers coming out over a number of years, training our staff. We run in-house training courses to get staff up to particular levels. We recently concluded a consultancy on rehabilitation and during that consultancy we trained quite a number of our staff members, so that they too can become trainers of other prison officers.”
“We make available the opportunities for a number of our staff to go and do specialised training as well. So, we have members of staff who would have gone off and done general nursing, certified themselves with City and Guilds and so on in particular trades, and they have come back, and they lead the charge in our effort to rehabilitate a number of our inmates,” he noted.
And, as the week of activities winds down, Nurse said he wanted Barbadians to recognise that from time to time people transgress, but having transgressed, and having paid their debt to society, there was still a second chance for them.
“We see a second chance programme as a way to bridge the gap, while creating opportunities for a new beginning,” he added.