Prisoners learning to stay out of jail
(CNS): Inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Northward are currently rearing cows, goats and tilapia and creating items as diverse as church pews, wine racks and custom engravings as part of the prison’s much needed efforts at rehabilitation. With recidivism in Cayman particularly high, the authorities are focusing on helping inmates learn skills while incarcerated to increase their chances of getting a job on release and hopefully stay away from jail. The opening of a long-anticipated vocational centre, which the inmates built, is bringing more opportunities for prisoners to enhance their employability. Michael Stephens, who coordinates the vocational pursuits, said that when the expanded facility is finished other inmates, including Category ‘B’ prisoners, will also be able to access vocational training. (Photo by Lennon Christian)
The new building is sectioned into six bays, officials from GIS said in a release. Three mechanical areas will soon offer opportunities to learn how to repair engines and perform auto-body work and professional auto painting. Other specialised classrooms will allow inmates to learn computer-repair, as well as air-conditioning and refrigeration maintenance.
The use of technology and eco-friendly alternatives is also being encouraged as the new 5000 ft greenhouse is fitted with solar panels that supply the needed electricity.
“It is anticipated that by the end of this summer the vocational offerings will be in full-swing,” said Stephens. “However, participation is voluntary and dependent on the security clearance-level of the individual inmate.”
The Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs and prison officials are partnering with a cross-section of local agencies to maximise these rehabilitation options. To aid the process, a new voluntary Inmate Employment Committee is being established.
Officials manage both the Northward and Fairbanks prison compounds. The administrative focus is also on using, and recruiting, prison officers who have practical and teachable skills. A new deputy director of prisons with responsibility for rehabilitation is also being recruited but Deputy Director Daniel Greaves will remain in charge of prison operations. The new structure with two deputies will allow the director to have a more functional management team, which will assist the prison in meeting its mandate for rehabilitation, an area that officials have previously admitted has been weak.
“Our goal is to have all activities lead to recognised certification or educational diplomas. The subjects are as diverse as electrical and plumbing work, health and safety, small engine repairs,” said Prison Director Dwight Scott. “The aim is to provide prisoners with the requisite skills that match the skill sets required by the labour market, while reinforcing and encouraging good work ethics.”
The education and employment department is also helping with a “work-readiness” certification programme for discharged prisoners to assist the men to use their new knowledge or skills to start cottage industries or small businesses or engage in meaningful work with local companies when they are released.
These efforts address only one area of rehabilitation process and there are many more. Officials have also pointed to areas that the prison cannot control, such as suitable housing for inmates when they leave, which officials say will be the next area of attention.
The rehab training is one of the measures recommended in the recent report produced by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC). It also encouraged authorities to engage in a higher level of inter-agency collaboration within government in order to maximize efficiency and to explore further opportunities for partnership with voluntary agencies and private sector companies.
A team of researchers from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons in the UK will also visit Northward later this month to survey inmates and prepare for the inspectors who will arrive in July to conduct a full prison inspection.
While there are costs associated with these developments, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson explained their importance.
“These developments are moving ahead at full-steam, with the objective of bringing the issue of incarceration and rehabilitation to the standards which have been identified – and in keeping with the expectations of the wider community,” Manderson said.
The ultimate goal, he added, is to reduce recidivism, restore families and communities, and break negative cycles that threaten to undermine the stability of local communities.
Reallocated funds from vacant posts under the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs are being used to fund the new positions.
Meanwhile, men whose lifestyles have resulted in them doing hard time can now opt to take advantage of the renewed attention and opportunities to turn their lives around, GIS officials said.
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