EDITORIAL: Building a better society
Earlier this week during the debate on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Amendment Bill, Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite, raised concern about the rate of recidivism in this country and also the need for the business community and the public at large to give ex-offenders a second chance.
Like him, we hope his pleas did not fall on deaf ears, as there is definitely a need to stop Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds from being the revolving door it has become over the last few years. Much too often we are hearing reports of persons who have been released from prison, committing crimes again and finding their way back to the prison system. A minority of them may be innately bad and hell bent on committing crime, but for the majority, it is sometimes circumstances that cause them to do bad things.
As the Attorney General noted during the debate, homelessness and the inability to find gainful employment after leaving prison are two of the reasons persons end up breaking the law again after they have been released. Ex-offenders are often faced with housing difficulties because some of their families may not want them around, and for others, it is a case of them being pushed to get jobs in order to remain in the home. But then they are faced with the difficulty of securing employment with a criminal record. When they are not able to get a job they look to other means, illegal means, to get money and the vicious cycle of recidivism begins.
It is no secret this problem exists and while the private sector can be urged to give the ex-offenders a fighting chance, it is our belief that the public sector has a responsibility to lead the charge. We think it imperative that a robust after-prison support programme is put in place to ensure that these individuals do not feel inclined to return to their old way of life. If one does already exist, then it should be strengthened. Such a programme should offer housing services, legal services, employment and career advice, support groups and counselling. We also need drug treatment facilities and halfway housing to better help them resettle in the society.
Admittedly, such a programme would likely cost millions to operate, but it would be worth every penny if we were to see a reduction in the number of persons re-offending. In fact, such an initiative could probably be a public/private sector partnership, as we all have a responsibility to be our brother’s keeper and ensure that we live in a safe and productive society.
A 2015 study conducted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit to re-examine the causes of recidivism, revealed that 84 per cent of local employers would not hire someone who had a criminal record, while 45 per cent required a Police Certificate of Character as a prerequisite for employment. Given these figures, it is clear that efforts have to be undertaken to change people’s mindsets about ex-offenders so they would be willing to give them a second chance.
But, given too the challenges with getting a job, perhaps greater emphasis needs to be placed on training these individuals with skills that would allow them to become self-employed. There are several programmes internationally that focus on taking persons on the journey from inmate to entrepreneur, and we feel it would serve Barbados well to adopt some ideas and best practices from those jurisdictions, to help change the lives of our former inmates. We also acknowledge that it may be difficult for these individuals to secure financing for their ventures given their previous acts of wrongdoing, and so Government may have to step up to the plate and provide grants or low-cost financing for them.