Prison To Be Renamed–Overcrowding Addressed
By Kendea Smith
The Bahama Journal
There are more than 1,500 Bahamians imprisoned at Her Majesty’s Prisons (HMP) – twice as many as the Fox Hill compound is designed to hold at capacity, according to National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage.
That’s one of the reasons why the government is seeking parliamentary approval on the Correctional Services Bill 2013.
Dr. Nottage, who moved the bill in the House of Assembly Wednesday, also revealed that there are 800 inmates in Maximum Security.
Of that number, 92 people are awaiting trial for murder; 200 inmates are under the age of 17 – 44 of whom are 16-years-old.
There are several facets of the bill.
The first part, Dr. Nottage says, deals with renaming HMP the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.
The bill, if passed, would also facilitate a new title for the head of the prisons.
He or she would now be called the commissioner of correctional services.
“Ultimately, we are changing the prison to a correctional facility. We are changing the objectives from the emphasis on incarceration to placing an emphasis on rehabilitation and training so as persons who are admitted in prison will return to society perhaps better equipped to function in society as a lawful citizen than they were when they were admitted,” Dr. Nottage said.
“The commissioner shall have responsibility for the general management of all correctional facilities ensuring the inmates are treated in a humane manner; ensuring that discipline and security are enforced; encouraging reformation training and the rehabilitation of inmates; proper deportment among staff members; providing annual reports; administering periodic drug testing to be performed on inmates; psychiatric testing when necessary and so forth.”
“This will be a very important task and this person will be critical to the proper change in strategy and philosophy of the prison,” Dr. Nottage added.
The minister said the bill also addresses issues in the prisons such as drugs, cell phones and weapons circulating around the prison.
“In our prisons we have many issues,” Dr. Nottage said. “We have problems with drugs and cell phones. How they get into the prison only God knows. Prisoners are the most innovative people on this side of Jordan.”
Other issues include “slopping” which means the use of buckets for human waste, which has been going on at the prison for decades.
The minister said the bill also makes provisions for the establishment of a Correctional Services Review Board, which would serve as a watchdog for conditions at the prison.
“This board will have the function of keeping the prison under review constantly and advise the minister of all aspects of correctional facilities to visit and to inspect once every quarter whatever correctional facilities that we have and to be the watchdog for the public or the minister,” Dr. Nottage said.
“This is very important because I am led to believe had we had this review board with these kinds of responsibilities over the years then the prison would not have deteriorated as to what we have today.”
Dr. Nottage said a lot of Bahamians have the view that people who are convicted of crime should “be locked away and we should throw away the key.”
“We have to remember number one that that is inhumane. Number two most of these people are going to return to society and the way we treat them will have a very serious impact on how they or if they are able to integrate into society,” he said.
“There is a very, very important thing that they must understand. There are people who go to work there and they have not committed any crime and they have to exist in those same conditions. The trouble is that we do have priorities in the country and I think many people would consider the prison the least of those priorities but when you have 1,500 Bahamians living in there every day… the campus is so big that there are a lot of good things that could go on there if we could just get it right.”
Other aspects of the bill include employment and earnings of inmates, addressing the release of inmates and offences within the prison.
October 10, 2013