Prison mistakes

Today we wish to offer congratulations to the Barbados Government Information Service, and officer Lisa Bayley for an excellent series of television programmes highlighting life at Dodds Prison in St. Philip.

The quality of the production was commendable, the content appealing and the narration worthy of note, but those qualities were the least important in our view. If Barbadians generally viewed the series the way we did, it would have been the diversity and complexity of life at the prison and how it all relates to the rest of the population that held their attention.

We paid particular attention to the wide extent of the programmes offered as part of the rehabilitation process at the prison, noting that “guarding” inmates, while always important, takes second place to the effort to return a released prisoner to society, who stand a reasonable chance of not ending up in the penal facility a second time.

But reading between the lines of the BGIS programme and knowing a bit about the Barbadian society should also help most Barbadians to understand that we face some serious paradoxes in dealing with some of the major social challenges confronting the society.

One of the first things the BGIS feature showed up, as far as we are concerned, is that we make one serious mistake when we treat all persons who are committed to Dodds as “dumb”. There may be a significant number who do not possess the level of certification required to get ahead, but the level of articulation shown by inmates in the interviews did not suggest they were unintelligent.

Perhaps it would serve our society well to spend a little more of our limited resources on figuring out why intelligent young men are dropping out of our school system and ending up on the wrong side of the law. We would not dare to suggest other than that our education system has served us well for generations, but is it possible that our delivery methods are not keeping pace with the changing profile of those whom we seek to educate?

The other glaring point from the series, which really ought to have been no surprise to anyone, is the clear fact that too many former inmates believe the self-righteous approach of our decision-makers hardly offers them a chance to make amends.

We certainly are not seeking to suggest that persons who have committed criminal offences should be mollycoddled by the rest of the society, but in too many instances we are cold and unforgiving with individuals who have made a mistake. This too often leaves our young men feeling that they can only survive by fighting the status quo.

Perhaps we need a national NISE-like programme aimed at sensitising Barbadians to the need to treat people who have been to prison as though they have paid their dues. Yes, we have some wayward young and not-so-young people in our midst who behave almost as though they are predisposed to crime and violence, but it is a recurring mistake when we treat everyone who has ever been confined to prison, regardless of the offence, as though they will automatically revert to a life of crime.

Like it or not, young people will always make mistakes, they have been doing so since time began, but what we need a lot more of these days is acceptance of the Biblical injunction to be our brother’s keeper. Having made the first mistake themselves, too often it becomes the society’s mistake that contributes in a major way to their second stumble.

We would suggest that the powers that be at the BGIS take a deliberate decision to make copies of the series available to schools, churches, social organisations, service clubs etc to ensure the massage is spread as widely as possible.

It is not too late to make a change.

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