On Sunday, April 20, 2008, Kevin and I were off to the Caribbean Correctional Summit hosted in Nassau, Bahamas. Despite being delayed for over 6 hours and being detained in the Nassau airport for an additional hour and a half because of a tip off about the possibility of drug trafficking on our flight we were still excited about the possibilities of attending this seminar. A lot of work was put into our presentation to be delivered by Kevin on Wednesday. Our mission was to network, form useful ties and most importantly to sell the idea of S.E.T. (Students Expressing Truth). S.E.T is a non governmental organization that aims to rehabilitate inmates through a technology, inmate driven process. The organization operates in three maximum security facilities in Jamaica – Tower Street, South Camp and Fort Augusta. This programme has been a major success in these institutions and we strongly believe that the S.E.T approach is the most effective method of rehabilitating inmates. It was Kevin’s job (with the aid of pre-recorded audio-visual presentation and booklet) to convince those present at the summit that S.E.T should be implemented in their prisons.
Day One (Monday – April 21, 2008)
At 12:30 a.m. Monday morning we are rescued by our apologetic hosts who quickly whisk us away before being subjected to the search that was clearly about to be conducted of most of the passengers on our flight. By 1 a.m. we were checking into our hotel and being told that we needed to be ready for pick up at 8:00 a.m. So with less than 3 hours sleep we were up again preparing ourselves for the first day of a full day of activities.
True to their word at 8:00 a.m. the delegates bus was waiting for us, fortunately we were all ready. The summit was being held at the correctional institution so this meant that we were not allowed to take telephones, recording devices or cameras unto the premises. After going through security check were driven to the location for the Opening Ceremony. With lots of fanfare, we were thoroughly entertained by an incredible performance by the Prison Band. However, the highlight of the session came from the keynote speaker – Hon. Orville A.T. Turnquest, Bahamas Minister of National Security.
Minister Turnquest noted that halting and reversing current crime trends was an important focus for all Caribbean countries and was the important issue facing correctional facilitates across the islands. He noted that there was a challenge to reduce the overcrowding in facilities while seeking to find alternative solutions to custodial sentences. With the changes of the 21st century, he emphasized that correctional officers ought not to be instruments of brutality but agents of change and facilitators of rehabilitation. He revealed that the Bahamas recidivism rate was currently 22% and this was partly as a result of the success in rehabilitation programmes. The Minister extended his welcome to all the delegates and expressed a desire for regional integration and partnership that will establish best practices in corrections through effective networking.
The minister’s presentation was followed by the vote of thanks and refreshments. The afternoon sessions were to follow shortly.
There were 3 afternoon sessions that would culminate with a tour of the facility. The sessions to be presented were: How Do We Keep Ourselves Motivated; No More Useless Meetings and would culminate with a tour of the prisons.
The first presentation was conducted by Ms. Racquel Deveaux, a counselor at the Crisis Intervention and Prevention Centre. The main points of her presentation were:
Know what your talents are
- Communicate weaknesses to your superior
- Look inside for your strength
- Know where your strength comes from
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Prepare yourself
One point of major debate was the source of motivation. Ms. Deveaux insisted that real motivation should come from within and not the outside world, while most of the participants held the belief that greater sources of motivation came from job perks, recognition, commendation, increased pay and loved ones. This spirited debate concluded with the potent encouragement to have faith in our vision, even if no one else can see our vision as this was the true definition of faith!
The second topic was delivered by Mr. Rodrick Colebrooke the Toastmaster Area Governor for District 55, Nassau. This presentation was well received by the audience. Everyone could relate to meetings that were long, boring and often pointless. Mr. Colebrooke helpful hints on how to structure an agenda and conduct meaningful meetings were greatly appreciated:
- Send out the agenda in advance so that others are aware of what will be discussed and can be prepared with relevant information
- Give as many persons as possible the opportunity to speak but exercise time management
- Listen and be attentive
- Be prepared to give credit for good ideas
- Always keep the meeting flowing
- Be prepared
- Have an action plan
The Prison Tour
The tour was conducted by Dr. Elliston Rahming, the Superintendent of Prisons. Nassau has one prison that is sectionalized into maximum, medium and minimum security. There is also a female and juvenile facility on the compound. The prison holds approximately 2,500 inmates. This was an interesting experience as when compared with Jamaica the Bahamas prisoners exist in far more humane conditions. A walk through the institution revealed dormitory type cells with bunk beds and adequate toilet facilities for the inmates. There were also rehabilitative work programmes available to inmates in medium and minimum security facilities, many of whom could be seen moving about the compound completing their chores.
Another stark difference to the Jamaican prisons was that inmates all wore blue and white horizontal stripped uniforms. Inmates were therefore readily identifiable as opposed to the Jamaican facilities where inmates are allowed to wear casual clothing provided by their family members. However, the single most glaring similarity between these inmates and those at home was the sense of hopelessness and despair that emanate from inmates. My summation is that loss of freedom and the punishment of being caged produces the same feelings in humans all across the world, even if they are being housed in slightly better conditions. One cannot help but look at these individuals and wonder, what is their story? What situations/conditions drove them to the point of committing crimes? Are they to be condemned and treated like animals as popular opinion suggests or should we seek to find a way to fix the problem?
As we stroll down the condemned block or death row, the despair is even more evident. Most of these inmates slump in their cells like wounded creatures. Unlike the inmates in the other sections, these inmates are not interested in getting our attention, they have nothing to say and the resigned acceptance of their fate is obvious. To see this look on the face of a human like yourself is a painful experience and you almost want to reach out to help, without even considering their crimes. I think this is why we have prisons. The truth is that if these individuals are kept locked away from us and out of sight then we won’t have to face the truth.
The female prison was also an interesting visit. Bahamas has very few female inmates, if my memory serves me correctly, less than 40. However, what was a shocking experience was our encounter with four Jamaican inmates. These females are behind bars for working illegally in the Bahamas. Their sentence is approximately 18 months and if they are unable to pay a fine of US$3000, a further 6 months. Now, while it is up to any country to determine the policies and mode of punishment for what they classify as criminal activities, it was a terribly hard pill to swallow. I still am unable to grapple with the idea that someone is punished for working or trying to earn an honest living. When one considers the living conditions in Jamaica and the sheer poverty in which many exists it does not become too difficult to imagine why someone would risk working illegally in a country to make life better for themselves and their children. These individuals are not only working illegally, but many are being grossly underpaid and entitled to no benefits at all. They are therefore being exploited. But they are willing to risk it because it is still more than what they could possibly earn at home.
It is sad and it is truly a poor reflection on the leadership in Jamaica and the provisions for low skilled and unskilled individuals. But the more serious question is: should these individuals be imprisoned? An individual who wasn’t found with drugs or involved in any criminal activity, but just working albeit illegally should in my mind simply be sent home. You could deport them and ban them from entering your country ever again but I cannot agree with imprisoning them. What is this punishment intended to accomplish and what is the rehabilitation achieved through imprisonment?
I am further confused as we purport to have some sort of Caribbean Single Market Economy. I admittedly do not know a lot about its objectives but I thought one of the primary aims was to facilitate the free movement or travel of Caribbean nationals to work, study, etc. Somehow I feel that this is the free movement of only a particular class of individuals – the trained professionals – but what about the movement of domestic helpers and other unskilled individuals who are seeking a better life for themselves: Should they be punished? And where is the Jamaican ambassador? What is his influence in this process? In Bahamas we were told that the ambassador is really a Jamaican, Bahamian who has his ordinary job and functions more like an honorary representative. The inmates’ certainly don’t know who this representative is and from the Jamaica side of things their family members simply know that they are in Bahamas and they haven’t heard from them in a while.
So from all angles it’s a really sad state of affairs and whether the change will come from government or individuals there must be some other way to deal with individuals who are caught working ‘honestly’ in another man’s country. Maybe you disagree. I invite your thoughts.
Day 2 – Tuesday April 22, 2008
The days to follow were filled with lively discussions and useful presentations.
Mr. Jim Hoffman, Director of Operations at the Pointman Leadership Institute in California, USA gave a very spirited presentation on Ethics in Corrections. Unfortunately, the hotel crew missed most of this presentation because of the dense traffic.
Mr. Anthony Phillips presentation on Procurement in the Prison Industry was a very enlightening presentation. The range of products available to make inmates living conditions more humane but without breaches of security was amazing. The products included toiletries, clothing, shoes and many other items of interest. The most appealing aspect of his presentation was that on the building of new facilities using a method very different from the conventional concrete structure to which we are accustomed. This method involved the creation of prisons utilising the dome structure. The interesting thing about these building is that they are perfect for hurricane prone countries, like the Caribbean. The security is near perfect and centrally located. In other words, everything is computerized and can be manned from one central area. The buildings can be designed to accommodate a court and male and female prisons all in the same structure but completely separated. This got most persons excited as correctional officers are all too aware of the great difficulties involved in transporting inmates to and from courts.
In the afternoon the excitement was heightened with a live demonstration from Composite Armor Services. Their bullet proof vests and other protective gears were put to the test and were able to successfully withstand fire power from M16, 9mm and handguns. It was a frightening but interesting and very awesome experience. Watching live rounds being pumped into a dummy, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that in reality these shots are not being fired at dummies but real live humans.
After the demonstration it was too late for our tour of the Atlantis – which we heard so much about and so that trip was cancelled. That ended the day’s session.
Day 3 – Wednesday April 23, 2008
Day 3 started off with an incredible and timely presentation from Dwight Scott, Director of Prisons in the Cayman Island. His presentation entitled From Punishment to Corrections: the Inherent Challenges highlighted the following:
- Challenges of Correctional Facilities
- Human power
- Need for public relations campaign to sensitize people to role of Correctional Officers – Correctional Officers are not merely keepers of people off the street
- Correctional officers should be trained to deal with anger management as they receive the brunt of the inmates’ anger/frustration.
- Role of officers must be trained to deal with the inmates – specialist in several areas
- Lacking in credible data for the need for prison rehabilitation – need to build on the literature within the Caribbean region
- Stop seeing inmates as objects and see them as subjects – The more officers withdraw themselves from the inmates the bigger the divide
- Active communication is the best room for rehabilitation
- Need for a conducive learning environment
- The Caribbean needs to devise key performance indicators of our success within the prison rehabilitation programmes.
- Accountability is necessary for the rehabilitation programmes - we need to set targets and operate on best practices methods
- Competition from private organizations to deliver quality service that correctional officers and government cannot itself deliver will eventually force the government to look to the cheapest, most economical way to ensure that an efficient organization is being managed.
- Need for job redesigns – present correctional officers job descriptions were written while islands were still colonized and do not relate to the roles and needs of today
- The training received must reflect the dynamism of the organization
He closed by emphasising that Correctional Officers must embrace the change from mere punishment to successful rehabilitation.
The presentation which followed was entitled Time Management was presented by Dr. Wayne Thompson of the Crisis Intervention and Prevention Centre in the Bahamas. This presentation on time management was hard hitting and it was evident from the reaction in the room that he was stepping on many toes. He especially focused on meetings and the way in which organizations often waste time with useless and poorly planned meetings. He also made a very interesting observation (supported by research) that most organizations are hindered by those person who operate at mid management level. He argues that this is the case because in most instances the persons who occupy these positions are privy to information from the top and bottom of the organization and in order to preserve their power and positions normally disseminate only that information which they think is relevant. Most of the information is therefore stuck with these individuals or manipulated for their selfish purposes. This analysis was met with strong agreement from an eager audience. Dr. Thompson’s presentation was overwhelmingly successful and left many persons taking an introspective look at themselves.
The presentation which followed was entitled “Cyber Technology as a tool of Rehabilitation” and was presented by Kevin Wallen, Director of S.E.T Foundation (Students Expressing Truth). This was our presentation and Kevin delivered making exciting use of technology as Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson was able to participate in the presentation via internet from his office in Boston. Both Professor Nesson and Kevin used Second Life and their avatars to demonstrate how strategic classes could be held with inmates with lecturers and participants from anywhere in the world. The presentation also showed how the inmates would learn to apply the strategic skills from games such as chess, tic tac toe and poker to their everyday situation and learn to be better individuals upon reintegration into society. The possibilities were endless and the audience was very receptive and eager to understand how the technology would work.
Concerns about security of this particular teaching method through use of computers and especially internet was quickly dispelled as Kevin assured the audience that security blocks could be put in place to ensure that inmates could only access the learning rooms and no where else on the internet. A video presentation of the S.E.T project also outlined how S.E.T operates in Jamaica and the successes that the project has had since its inception in 1999. The S.E.T model which focuses on inmate driven, technology learning environment which empowers inmates with marketable skills such as audio/video production, desktop publishing, landscaping among others is a unique project which the S.E.T Foundation hopes to replicate across the Caribbean. The audience was also given a taste of the prison radio station Free FM which operates from the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility and the Inmate Diaries project which documents the life experiences of inmates in maximum security facilities in Jamaica.
The day ended with a welcome tour of beautiful Bahamas!
Day 4 – Thursday April 24, 2008
Thursday was a short day.
The major presentation for the day was Managing and leading Change, presented by Dr. Elliston Rahming, Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Prisons in Nassau, Bahamas. This was a powerful presentation with special impact on the Correctional Officers who were members of his team. Dr. Rahming pointed to the difficulties and challenges which he experienced in overseeing a prison and reaffirmed the need for full commitment and participation from all players. He noted that change “bubbled up rather than trickled down” and so it was often necessary for those on the ground who were closer to the inmates and who experience the daily challenges to agitate for change in particular policies and conditions. He also noted that not everyone was recipient of change or efficiency as many persons were comfortable with the old ways and many were especially resistant of change when the changes show up their corrupt practices or their ineptness. He reaffirmed his commitment to change and rallied the support of those who were genuinely interested in the rehabilitation of inmates.
The final presentation of the day was delivered by Mr. Leslie Campbell, General Secretary of the Jamaica Federation of Corrections and was entitled “The Importance of Effective Networking in Corrections.” Mr. Campbell gave a very spirited discussion of the networking among correctional officers in the Caribbean but pointed out that there remained greater need for more communication and sharing of human and physical resources among colleagues in the region. This was a perfect way to wrap up the conference as an email listing was collected and passed around so everyone could keep in touch.
The closing ceremony ensued as participants collected their certificates, filled out an evaluation of the presentations and events and took pictures. With delegates from Jamaica, the Cayman Island, Trinidad, Guyana, Canada, Turks and Caicos, U.S.A and our host country Bahamas, it was truly a noteworthy event and we look forward to the next conference in TRINIDAD!
The conference really ended at a cultural night for overseas delegates hosted at the superintendent’s home with entertainment provided by Her Majesty’s Pop Band and that was truly a blast. I’m sure I speak for all the delegates when we say thank you Bahamas for a truly wonderful experience. You were perfect hosts and we look forward to visiting you again soon.