Re­move job bar­ri­ers to ex-cons

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

TTHE ED­I­TOR, Sir: HE CON­CEPT of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ap­pears to be lost on us col­lec­tively. While progress has been made to im­prove the treat­ment of pris­on­ers, the ori­en­ta­tion of our sys­tem and the mind­set of the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus con­tinue to be fo­cused on pun­ish­ment rather than cre­at­ing mean­ing­ful change in the lives of in­mates so that they are less prone to re­of­fend when they are re­leased from prison.

If in­mates strug­gled to join the labour mar­ket be­fore in­car­cer­a­tion, any hope that they can be­come em­ployed is ut­terly oblit­er­ated when they are re­leased be­cause of the stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion at­tached to im­pris­on­ment.

With a 30 per cent re­cidi­vism rate that con­tin­ues to in­crease, it is time for so­ci­ety to take steps to break the cy­cle of re­of­fend­ing by re­mov­ing the bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment for in­mates.

Work re­duces re­cidi­vism, with the im­por­tant caveat that the sooner ex-of­fend­ers are em­ployed, the less likely they will com­mit fu­ture crimes re­sult­ing in fur­ther jail and prison time. It also costs the State much less to keep an ex-in­mate in a job than to keep them in prison. This has been demon­strated by nu­mer­ous stud­ies across var­i­ous coun­tries.

Through the Ja­maica Re­duc­ing Re­of­fend­ing Ac­tion Plan and the ed­u­ca­tional and skills train­ing pro­grammes of­fered by Stand Up for Ja­maica, a num­ber of pris­on­ers have been equipped with the tools to make mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tions to the work­place.

Given the dif­fi­culty some busi­ness own­ers may have in be­ing first movers in re­gard to em­ploy­ment of ex-in­mates, it would, per­haps, be help­ful if the Gov­ern­ment could pro­vide some sort of in­cen­tive, ei­ther through a tax credit or tax de­duc­tion, to em­ploy­ers so that they would be en­cour­aged to em­ploy ex-con­victs. This pro­posal was raised by Sen­a­tor Ka­van Gayle in 2013 dur­ing de­bate on the Om­nibus Tax pack­age but has not been given se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion by the Par­lia­ment.

TAKE THE LEAD

Such a pro­gramme of in­cen­tives could be mod­elled on the Work Op­por­tu­nity Tax Credit pro­gramme, the Job Train­ing Part­ner­ship Act and the Pris­oner Re-en­try Ini­tia­tive in the United States.

Gov­ern­ment has to also take the lead by of­fer­ing em­ploy­ment to ex-in­mates through its var­i­ous road­works and skill-based work pro­grammes. Through the CI pro­gramme pro­posed pre­vi­ously, pol­icy could be in­tro­duced which stip­u­lates that a par­tic­u­lar per­cent­age of labour on all gov­ern­ment con­tracts should be re­served for in­mates and ex-in­mates.

The Min­istry of Jus­tice should also take steps to share the re­sults of the JRRAP with the pub­lic so that there can be in­creased aware­ness of the pos­i­tive im­pact of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grammes on the lives of both in­mates and ex-in­mates.

This would go a long way in help­ing to drive a cul­ture change in the pub­lic’s at­ti­tude to those who have been in­car­cer­ated. CARLA MARIA GULLOTTA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, Stand Up For Ja­maica sufj­me­dia@gmail.com.

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