Government defends MOU with UK over new prison
The Jamaica government has stoutly defended the agreement reached with the United Kingdom to build a multi-million dollar prison here to house Jamaicans in jails in Britain even as the opposition staged a walkout of the Parliament on Tuesday.
National Security Minister Peter Bunting refused a request from Opposition Leader, Andrew Holness, to give legislators a commitment not to go through with the deal.
Bunting said Holness seemed to be “disillusioned by his brief term” as prime minister and rejected the request.
During the visit of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller spoke of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two countries to facilitate the construction of the Maximum Security Prison for the island, facilitated by a proposed Prisoner Transfer Agreement Proposal by London.
Bunting told the Parliament that the matter has being enmeshed in the narrative of Reparations for Slavery occasioned by Cameron’s visit.
He said given the strong feelings held by many Jamaicans on the matter of Reparations in the context of the agitations from several quarters in our society, and across the Caribbean, it is understandable that this issue would have overshadowed the facts governing the MOU and proposed Prisoner Transfer Agreement.
“This matter of reparations runs deep in the Jamaican psyche, and this administration and this Parliament has joined the call for reparatory justice. We support, and indeed are a party to, the decision by CARICOM (Caribbean Community) to use the 10-point action plan as a basis for negotiations on the issue.”
He said communication from the UK government, which has being carried in British media, may have left an impression in the public’s mind that Jamaica has signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA).
“This is not the case. The fact is that we have agreed to commence a process, which may, or may not, result in a Prisoner Transfer Agreement. We have brought these inaccuracies to the attention of the British High Commission locally, and trust that it will be corrected.”
Bunting said that the proposal of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement has being on the table for about a decade, long before the recent round of reparations discussions.
He said former prime minister Bruce Golding stated over the weekend that the proposal was offered to his administration in 2008 and he rejected it.
“There was no concrete offer of financial support to build a new prison at that time. Golding went on to criticise this current offer of 25 million pounds and 5.5 million pounds (One British pound =US$1.51 cents) for rehabilitation and reintegration as insufficient, even though it is 30.5 million pounds more than he negotiated at the time.
“Therefore almost three thousand Jamaican men continued to languish for another seven years in degrading conditions and arguably in violation of their human rights in our two maximum-security facilities.”
Bunting said that while Golding forgot about the human rights of these 3,000 Jamaicans, he shortly thereafter was willing to champion the “human rights” of one Jamaican currently serving time in the United States.
Bunting said that the island’s two principal correctional facilities -the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre and the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre – were built in the 1600s and 1800s respectively.
He said these institutions “are literally falling apart. They are outdated and dilapidated with limited scope for rehabilitation, severely overcrowded, substandard and inhumane.
“These facilities are highly susceptible to natural disasters with great potential for injury, loss of life, and liability to the State. God forbid that we have a serious earthquake in Jamaica, then we could be having a very different discussion in this Parliament and the same voices that criticise now would be condemning us then for having done nothing.”
The National Security Minister said that the current discourse by some Jamaicans “shows a callous disregard for our fellow Jamaicans who have made mistakes, and who end up in one of our maximum-security facilities.
“As a country we have traditionally shown little public sympathy for the incarcerated, with many of us believing that offenders should be punished and made to endure harsh conditions, arguably worse than what obtained on the plantations during slavery.The time has come for us to put away this mindset.”
He said human rights organisations have repeatedly cited the conditions in our maximum security facilities as falling well below international minimum standards and constitute violations of Articles 10 and 7 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
He said that notwithstanding the country’s budgetary constraints, “we have being doing what we can over the past three years at the Ministry of National Security to improve the conditions under which inmates are held”.
He said over the past 20 years, successive governments have being bedeviled with how to solve this problem in ther correctional system.
“For all very good reasons, we have had to prioritise education, health and infrastructure development. Today, the time has come for us to do something about our unacceptable prison system. This Non-Binding MOU with the United Kingdom for a new Maximum Security Prison and a related Prisoner Transfer Agreement Proposal provide for us an opportunity to move forward.”
He said the midst of the public controversy around this non-binding MOU, the public has missed some important points including “there is no guarantee at this time that this administration will sign a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with the UK.
“The Government of Jamaica will only sign the Prisoner Transfer Agreement after adequate public education and debate and the enactment of new legislation in the Jamaican Parliament.
“ In fact, we will start this process with the Establishment of a Special Select Committee that will receive written and oral submissions on this issue by technical experts and all interested parties, including civil society and the Diaspora.”
Buntin said it is also necessary to point out that the Jamaica government will have to finalise the cost of the new prison and seek to identify the remaining funds to build it.
“ The new facility will be designed and constructed with a focus on rehabilitation, which should reduce the current high rates of recidivism.”
Bunting called on legislators and the public “to approach this issue with an open mind, concerned with the interest of human rights and our international reputation, for the goal of creating a world-class Correctional System of Rehabilitation and Reintegration that we can all be proud of, and ultimately for our own personal and collective security”.