THE OCCASION of the tenth anniversary of the TT Prison Service’s Inmates Art Exhibition provides an opportunity to reappraise the prison system. The vivid and intriguing paintings which were put on display, produced by inmates behind bars, advertise to us the potential of prisoners and the humanity at the core of each and every one of us.
The general public does not see what goes on behind the high walls of prisons. And similarly, few can glimpse into the heart of an offender. But prisons are incredibly important things. They not only function to protect society, but they are also the bridge between justice and reform. Can we truly say our prisons are working? Do inmates, once released, get to fully reintegrate? Or are prisons offender warehouses? Factories of criminality?
The high level of reoffending suggests they are. But the paintings put on display at Long Circular Mall, St James, tell a different story. They are an indication that people can be talented on the inside and can grow and develop into model individuals.
As Minister of National Security Stuart Young observed, “Yes, people make mistakes, yes, they are incarcerated in accordance with the law, but they are not demons, they are not persons we should lose in the prison system and when they come out, forget about them and cast them aside.” We agree.
When it comes to prison safety and reform it’s easy to be discouraged by the constant reports of prison riots, of violence behind bars, and of hits being ordered by people housed deep within. Some criminals are said to become more hardened because of their experiences on the inside. That should not be.
Prison reform is an urgent matter all over the world. In the UK, for instance, the number of assaults on prison staff rose by 99 per cent between 2012 and 2016, according to a government white paper. The result has been a series of policies aimed at imposing higher legal standards on prison authorities, greater autonomy, and increased accountability to the public.
The art of rehabilitation is more than just a matter of showcasing talent. It should also be supported by concrete reforms. A good place to start is a re-examination of the role of the Commissioner of Prisons. The role of the commissioner should be modernised, made more accountable and responsive, and invested with the resources needed to manage the service.
The environment has changed dramatically since the current laws and regulations were enacted. More mentors and more resources are needed. Given the complexity and scale of the issue, the time has also come to consider whether the State should be so heavily invested in the day-to-day management of prisons. The question of privatisation should also be discussed if the State cannot master the art of rehabilitation.