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New prison law to place focus on rehabilitation

TANEKA THOMPSON
Guardian Senior Reporter
taneka@nasguard.com

Published: Oct 10, 2013

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Parliamentarians began debate yesterday on the Correctional Services Bill, which would repeal the 70-year-old Prison Act and transform the focus of Her Majesty’s Prisons from incarceration to rehabilitation.

Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage noted that young men who will be released into society at the end of their sentences make up a great portion of the prison population.

The minister said over the years the prison has been the most neglected government institution, which is “inhumane” to those who work there or are serving sentences.

“A lot of people have the view that persons who are convicted of a crime, that we should just put them in jail and throw away the key,” Nottage said.

“But we have to remember, number one, that is inhumane and 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 are able to be integrated back into society.”

Nottage said a third of the prison population – 520 out of 1,500 –  is between 15 and 25.

“In Her Majesty’s Prisons today, [of the] inmates between 15 and 25, there are 92 who are remanded, 90 of whom are charged with murder and two with manslaughter,” he said.

“For sentenced inmates who are that age, 13 of them are sentenced because of murder and 11 because of manslaughter.”

Nottage said that nearly 50 percent of the prison population consists of inmates on remand, some whom are of school age.

He noted that under the law, the government cannot force inmates on remand to take part in educational or work programs in prison.

The new bill would allow remanded inmates to be exposed to training, education or work opportunities.

Nottage said the prison, especially the maximum security unit that is more than 50 years old, is overcrowded with five or six people confined to one cell.

He said the government plans to replace a leaking roof at the maximum security section at a cost of $750,000, but stressed that the section, which is the most important, needs to be rebuilt.

In addition to infrastructure and space challenges, the government also has problems with inmates’ access to drugs, cell phones and other contraband while incarcerated, Nottage said.

The new bill would ensure that inmates are subject to periodic drug tests and psychiatric evaluations when necessary.

The name of Her Majesty’s Prisons would be changed to The Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.

The bill also makes provisions for a correctional services review board which will review the prison periodically and inspect the facilties at least once every quarter.

Nottage said this board will be a “watchdog” for the prison.

The bill also removes discrimination against women which is in the current Prison Act.

Under the current law, female prison officers cannot move beyond a certain rank and cannot carry weapons.

The bill also provides for benefits to be paid to the spouses and children of officers who die in the line of duty.


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