EDITORIAL: Most insensitive, Mr. Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron addresses a joint sitting of parliament in Kingston last week.
Prime Minister David Cameron addresses a joint sitting of parliament in Kingston last week.

There’s a lot of understandable emotion from Jamaicans at home and abroad in response to UK Prime Minister Dave Cameron’s proposed £S25 million plan to build a new prison in Jamaica.

No question the plan appears insensitive, even ignorant, in the context of CARICOM’s campaign for economic reparations based on the historical suffering of slavery, as well as its modern-day ramifications. Furthermore, Britain’s gift proves only self-serving – not to generally improve Jamaica’s deplorable penal system, but to house some of the 700 Jamaicans Britain would repatriate from UK prisons.

It’s hard to believe, as some has suggested sarcastically, that Cameron may have confused reparation with repatriation. However, it’s apparent he saw his government’s offer of a foreign aid package to Jamaica and the Caribbean as an opportunity to solve overcrowding in British prisons. Those who welcome Cameron’s plan may argue that he has Jamaica’s interest at heart, by acting proactively in helping Jamaica manage the return of criminal deportees – unlike the USA, another major source of deportees to Jamaica.

The criticism against Cameron’s gift isn’t only targeted against him, but also to Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Minister of National Security, Peter Bunting. It’s implicit in some reports that the Jamaican government had previously negotiated with the British for aid to build a prison. Certainly Bunting hailed the gift, citing the woeful inadequacies of Jamaica’s overcrowded prisons.

But the question of whether Jamaica needs a new prison is certainly debatable. With the continued rampant Jamaican crime rate, there is need for more room to house prisoners. But building prisons is not the solution to the crime problem. At least, it is hoped the current Jamaican government doesn’t believe so. If they do, they could be possibly secretly negotiating with other first world nations for more new prisons to be included in financial aid deals.

How much more diplomatic and profound would it have been if Cameron offered £S25 million (J$4.5 billion) to assist Jamaica in building new youth training camps. These camps could be venues where hundreds of Jamaican youth with little employment opportunities could receive practical job skills training, develop financially rewarding projects in various cooperate youth economic projects, and access positive alternatives rather than succumbing to the temptation of crime.

The answer for Jamaica’s current crime problem is not to use imported British currency or that of any other nation to build more prisons. The national solution should be to transform potential, even convicted, criminals into productive citizens through socio-economic development programs. Of course, foreign aid is welcome to further such endeavors.

Ironically, Cameron is well aware of both Jamaica’s and the Caribbean’s need for foreign aid for social and economic development. During his Jamaican visit, he also announced £300 million in British grants for regional infrastructure projects; £30 million to support the region’s export promotion; and £100 million in export-finance guarantees for UK firms doing business with Jamaica. This may not be the reparation the CARICOM Commission on Reparation is seeking from the British government, but this is welcomed foreign aid. It’s therefore puzzling that Cameron tainted the positive significance of his aid package with the insulting and insensitive inclusion of funds to build a prison to host prisoners who committed crimes in Britain.

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