US shies away from Jamaica prison offer
UNITED STATES Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia says that Washington has steered clear of any involvement with the prison system in Jamaica, signalling that it would not provide funding to construct correctional centres locally.
Asked if the US government would finance a new facility to replace the ramshackle and dilapidated overcrowded prisons in the country, Tapia told a Gleaner Editors’ forum on Wednesday at the newspaper’s North Street offices that his country had not engaged on the issue and has been “watching from the sidelines” debate on the building of a new correctional centre.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that his administration did not reject the $5.5 billion offer by the British government to help fund a new prison in Jamaica, noting that it was the People’s National Party (PNP) administration that was in power at the time.
In recent times, the opposition People’s National Party and the Holness administration have been engaged in a squabble over who rejected the offer.
In response to questions from The Gleaner, British High Commissioner Asif Ahmad said that Holness told him in August 2017 that his Government“would not take forward” the United Kingdom’s offer to help build a prison here.
The Jamaican Government has said that it would construct a state-of-the-art prison out of its own pocket earlier this month.
Holness had said that a proposal for a new prison is currently on the table.
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said that the project would be funded by the Jamaican Government, adding that the administration considered security its primary responsibility.
Meanwhile, Tapia said that the resettlement of Jamaicans who have been deported to the island was the responsibility of the Jamaican Government. He was responding to concerns that Jamaicans who had spent, in some instances, most of their lives in the US have been sent home without family to look after them or without the necessary resources.
He said that the prisons in the US have training programmes to prepare persons who have been incarcerated to integrate into the society.
Tapia said that the US government had no other recourse but to return persons who had served time in prison back to their country, given that they would be living illegally in the US.
He said that some 3,500 Jamaicans are on a list for deportation from the US.
The US top diplomat in Jamaica said that 40 Jamaicans would normally be deported on each occasion. However, he said that the last batch was 27, noting that the balance had appeals against their deportation while others had tested positive for COVID-19.