Weeks after British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Jamaica with a promise of £25 million to build a new prison to deport nationals now behind bars in the UK, some members of the Diaspora are now endorsing the proposal.
When Cameron made the announcement, several Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora denounced the proposal . The plan was also criticized by former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in a scathing letter to the British Government.
However, former Jamaican Ambassador to the U.S., Professor Stephen Vasciannie, is supporting the offer.
“High priority must be given to the construction of a new prison, and we should be prepared to accept British funding for this effort,” said Vasciannie. “This will help to improve the lot of persons doubling up in nasty prison cells – that is where the emphasis must be.”
The ambassador’s comments were supported by former Jamaican prison warden (correctional officer) Jasper Hilton, who was vacationing in Jamaica from South Florida during Cameron’s visit.
“I was astonished at the fierce reaction at Cameron’s announcement of funding for the prison,” said Hilton. “I assumed Jamaicans would be pleased to have a new prison built, because the conditions at every prison in Jamaica are beyond human tolerance. The cells are overcrowded, nasty, hot, and breeding grounds for more hardened criminals. Conditions are intolerable for prisoners, wardens, and everyone who work in those hell holes. The new prison can hold 2,000 inmates. This would really help.”
According to Sociologist Ludlow Moses, who recently conducted research on Caribbean prison conditions “The deplorable conditions of prisons in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, are blatant lies to the label ‘correctional centers.’ The conditions are inhumane, an antitheses to correcting anti-social behavior.”
He argued that most of the prisons in the Caribbean are “woefully inadequate” as they were built centuries ago.
One of Jamaica’s largest prisons, the Tower Street Correctional Center was built in the 17th century.
Moses agreed that Cameron “was insensitive” in announcing the plan while “basically ignoring” the region’s demand for reparation for the deplorable period of slavery.
“But, the offer should not be scorned,” he said. “Although prisons aren’t a solution to sociological problems associated with crime, criminals are humans, and the conditions of Jamaican prisons are unsuitable for humans.”
Prior to Cameron’s announcement, discussions were ongoing between the Jamaican government and prison officials about improving prison facilities in the island. National Security Peter Bunting told parliament of the urgent need for extended prison facilities. Reports following the announcement of Cameron’s gift indicated discussions were being held with the British about funds to assist with building a new prison.
Reporting to parliament following Cameron’s visit, Bunting denied the offer was a gift. He said the funding proposed by the British for the new prison is conditional upon Jamaica passing legislation, successfully negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement with Britain and making the prison operational. He said it could take up to a year for the British to decide if Jamaica meets the conditions to receive the promised £25 million.