By Morgan Adderley
Tribune Staff Reporter
TO solve the issue of overcrowding at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services, National Security Minister Marvin Dames said his ministry is primarily focused on reducing the number of inmates, rather than building additional cells.
Mr Dames made these comments on the sidelines of a law enforcement senior management seminar which was held yesterday at the Hilton.
Mr Dames delivered the seminar’s opening remarks and stressed the need for initiatives to transform the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) from a penal institution to a corrective facility.
He also discussed the importance of improving accommodations for officers.
When asked if there are any current plans to build a new prison, Mr Dames said: “Not so much to build a new prison. I think we need to look first and foremost at whether many of the persons who are currently in there, if there is a need for all of them to be there.
“And so this is why we’re so aggressively pursuing rehabilitation, we’re pursuing parole. And that’s how it works in many of the developed societies or countries,” he continued.
“And more so, we’re looking at certainly development, but…it will be more focused on rehabilitation and those persons who are transitioning back into society; more focused on them and building a structure that will accommodate them and will allow us to really roll out our strategy of rehabilitation.
“And in terms of construction, yes there may be a need, but we’re looking at really reducing the numbers in our institutions as opposed to building more cells to accommodate more persons.”
Regarding the presence of foreign nationals in the prison, Mr Dames said these individuals are there because they have been charged with a crime, but noted oftentimes an agreement is brokered with other countries to have these individuals split their sentence between the Bahamas and elsewhere.
Mr Dames also spoke of the importance of improving accommodations at the BDCS, so that it is no longer treated like the “stepchild of law enforcement”.
“For far too long, members of the (BDCS)…have been considered really the stepchild of law enforcement,” Mr Dames said. “And that’s evident in the amount of attention that you have been receiving over the many years. And if you were just to walk into the confines of the (BDCS), you would see what I mean.”
Mr Dames said when he became minister and toured the facilities, he was “saddened” by its state and particularly the accommodations for officers.
He said he was concerned by the space itself, the lack of resources regarding tools officers need to “execute (their) mandate efficiently” and lack of resources to protect their safety.
“That did not go unnoticed,” he continued. “And this government now is taking steps to ensure that you are brought up to the level of the other agencies, so to speak.
“And so we have work currently being carried out now, to improve, to put on (an) entire new roof at the administrative offices. We’re looking at improving the kitchen as well, which was in a terrible condition and state and bringing in equipment. We’re working with the commissioner and the associations with improving the conditions.”
Mr Dames also said a commission is being established for the BDCS. This, he said, “will allow promotions and other welfare issues to be addressed in an expeditious manner. That’s extremely important for us. And I think if we can get beyond that point, I think it will go a long way in increasing and picking up morale.”
He added that improving conditions will go a long way to attracting the “brightest and best” to the profession.
When asked when the commission will be appointed, Mr Dames said: “We’re working with the Office of the Attorney General to enact legislation. I’m hoping certainly before this year is out I can have something positive to say to…officers within the BDCS. There’s just so many moving parts right now as far as that agency is concerned.”
Mr Dames also said Canadian law enforcement will assist with the process of transforming the BDCS.
“Come this Monday, we have the commissioner of corrections from Canada who will be coming to town this weekend. And on Monday we will be signing an MoU (memorandum of understanding) that will assist us as a country and will assist you in particular at the (BDCS) in this transformational process. And I want to thank, on behalf of our government, the government of Canada for this and the help that they are providing and have been providing at the (BDCS).”