INSIGHT: Treat people like animals and that's how they'll behave

The Department of Correctional Services at Fox Hill. (File photo)

The Department of Correctional Services at Fox Hill. (File photo)

By Malcolm Strachan

FORMER United States President Barrack Obama once said: “We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives.” This begs a question to ask ourselves: While we can all agree that those who have become offenders ought to be removed from society, have we done a good enough job of creating a pathway after they’ve paid their debts to return as functioning members of the same?

If we are honest with ourselves, aside from a name change, the answer is no. With many referring to the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS), formerly Her Majesty’s Prison, as a “crime school”, rather than a rehabilitative centre, the proof may very well lie in the proverbial pudding. Similarly, with the high rate of reoffending, certain consideration has to be given to our failures in prison reform.

While it may be natural for members of such a small society to want to see disrupters punished severely, punitive institutions only serve us by creating and regurgitating monsters back into our environment. No wonder many of us are afraid of crime when the perpetrators live so close.

Much of this discussion was highlighted late last year when Eyewitness journalist Clint Watson took us behind the gates for an expose of what really goes on inside the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services. With numbers more than doubling the capacity which the prison should hold and subhuman living conditions, any expectation of prisoners returning to a normal life among us can be futile.

Prisoners themselves caution against putting ourselves in situations that would lead us behind bars. Indications of it not being a place for human beings to live should not be taken lightly. And in fact, they haven’t been.

Last week, the US State Department, in its Human Rights Report, highlighted many areas The Bahamas needs to improve – among them the conditions of our prison. As a country still looking to get a handle on crime, consideration has to be given to what has seemingly become the biggest organised crime centre in the country – the very place we send criminals to be reformed and rehabilitated.

Obviously, something is not right about that picture. In Watson’s documentary, Sentenced to Suffer, one inmate calls the entire idea of the prison being a correctional facility “a farce”.

Perhaps even more concerning is that we don’t know from the government and minister of national security what their plan is as far as prison reform.

The first step in finding any solution is accepting there is a problem – and the nature of the problem. And with videos circulating throughout social media last year showing inmates being able to enjoy some luxuries such as cellphones and marijuana, it became quite obvious that is part of the problem too.i

After raids turned up large amounts of contraband and possible corruption, at least we can be satisfied there has been some level of acknowledgement the system s defective and a change in direction is necessary.

National Security Minister Marvin Dames did not hesitate to voice his frustration when he was interviewed: “I’m not surprised - from the time I was serving in the force this was one of the challenges we faced. That’s the challenges of corruption within our law enforcement agencies. While we continue to say the vast majority of our officers are decent, hardworking individuals unfortunately there is still a small element, as small as it may be, but it exists, and these are the challenges we face.

“I can tell you the times we had to go into the prison and execute raids on these cells and find everything from blunt instruments to drugs to cell phones. We know that these things exist and unfortunately they’re making their way into prisons with the assistance of prison staff who have no respect for the oath that they would have taken, and no respect for the vast majority of their colleagues who come to work on a daily basis and work hard to keep us all safe.”

“This is nothing new but I can assure you one thing,” Mr Dames said, “we’re working very hard as a government, we’re working very hard with leadership of these agencies to bring about a level of transformation that will make incidents like these go away."

Without a doubt, a transformation is needed, and we need a lot of help getting there.

Norway presents a perhaps aspirational but nonetheless great challenge for where we can be on this issue. With the lowest recidivism, or lowest rate of reoffenders in the world at an eye-poppingly low rate of 20 percent, Norway is obviously doing something right. The US - who slammed our prison system - has one of the highest with 76 percent of its prisoners reoffending within the first five years after being freed. To dive deeper on those figures – Norway’s incarceration rate is about 75 per 100,000 people while the US is around 707 per 100,000.

No comparison.

Prison Governor Arne Wilson, who is also a clinical psychologist at one of Norway’s prisons which have become notable for not having bars on the windows and allowing sharp objects in kitchen facilities, provides some interesting insight into what has made their system so successful: “In closed prisons, we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.”

Realising this is not something we’ve done well, the government should be encouraged to learn from those who have had more success in this area. Even though we are in close proximity to the US, they have undoubtedly put more emphasis on punishing their prisoners than rehabilitating them. Oddly enough, a 2007 report produced by the US Department of Justice “found that strict incarceration actually increases offender recidivism, while facilities that incorporate cognitive-behavioural programmes rooted in social learning theory are the most effective at keeping ex-cons out of jail.”

The BDCS has been trying to move towards cognitive behavioural theory as a means of rehabilitating inmates, but to what degree they have been successful, it is hard to say. What we can say is that simply by looking at the numbers, tackling this issue will most certainly be a tall order for the new commissioner.

As we wait for the announcement of a new prison commissioner whose role will be to transform the BDCS into a correctional, rather than penal facility, Dames is still assuring the Bahamian people that a lot of work is taking place even though it may not necessarily be visible.

Dames affirmed there is much to do and noted government cannot make the same mistakes as in the past on prison reform. Obviously referring to the previous administration enacting their vision for the prison in law but without foundation – Dames seems to be urging citizens to trust the process.

We can only meet the government halfway on this. There is a tremendous challenge ahead and we hope the government is in the process of securing the right person for the job.


John 4 years, 6 months ago

The Netherlands has had to close some of its prisons due to lack of prisoners. The falling crime rate, especially serious crimes, and shorter prison sentences have led to a declining prison population. On the other hand America has one of the highest prison populations and gives out some of the longest prison sentences. And that is who this country has most closely patterned its prison and sentencing of offenders after. And since there is little or no prison reform, the longer an inmate remains ‘put away’, the more difficult it is for him to adapt when he returns to society. And the culture among gang bangers, promoted in rap music is you have to go to jail to earn your stripes. But now it’s even more serious than that because the promotion is to do a murder. And so the murderer population in the prison is increasing and since many will get life sentences, how does this fit in with prison reform. Of course if someone knows they will spend the rest of their natural life in jail, their intention may be to keep as many inmates in with them for as long as possible if not forever. And so for any reform to be effective the prison must be segregated as such. Then the question as to why so many return to prison must be answered. Have they become so accustomed to living like and being treated like animals that the prison environment becomes priority on their hierarchy of needs and so they must return?


Clamshell 4 years, 6 months ago

Maybe a Tribune editorial that spelled Barack Obama’s name correctly would carry more authority. Jeezus ...


birdiestrachan 4 years, 6 months ago

And these are the same people who were against MR Gray who tried to keep a poor black young man from going to Jail. and refer to young men who have been gunned down as casualties of war. stopped the Youth program for under privileged young men talking. lest we forget "pop the scum bags necks"

It is all CHEAP TALK on a slow news day. Strachan where were you at that time??


rawbahamian 4 years, 6 months ago

This thought is ultruistic at best. Prison is not where inmates are to be taught right and wrong, that is to be done at home by the birth parents not government but tge reason is because the birth parents ARE NOT BEING HELD RESPONSIBLE for the children they breed !!! If parents are legally held accountable for the bulls**t they are showing their offspring and until that happens the out of control birth rate will continue to spiral into the depths of hell. PARENTS NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN'S 'F' UPS !!!


joeblow 4 years, 6 months ago

teaching and applying what is taught are two different things. If 25% of children applied what they were taught in school this nation would be far better off!


TheMadHatter 4 years, 6 months ago

So Dames says there a lot still to be done. Like what? Can he list 7 things? Or can he only keep saying "a lot to be done" over and over like a zombie and then promise "true prison reform" during the 2022 campaign?

A society that manufactures criminals needs to shut up complaining about crime.


Well_mudda_take_sic 4 years, 6 months ago

Unfortunately most individuals in our society who are convicted of a terribly violent crime for the first time are usually well beyond any kind of redemption or rehabilitation. Over a long period of time, more often than not from childhood, they have been deeply inculcated with a behavioural system that has at its root very little to no respect for the value of human life. And this is all well before they spend even a single day in a prison cell. Their tendency to act out hard wired, instinctive and irreversible impulses of uncontrollable rage, brutality and barbarism was not learned in prison or exacerbated by a long prison sentence. These criminals were bred in the most dysfunctional and impoverished parts of our society. We all know the areas of our community that serve as breeding grounds for these violent and dangerous individuals. Believe me, it's not our prison system that needs fixing. The root of the problem lies outside of prison. What we do need is a much larger prison system to house the ever increasing number of hard core criminals created by our government's failure to introduce social and economic policies. Until the breeding grounds outside of prison are stamped out, more and more prison space will be needed to house the many hard core violent and dangerous criminals who are usually not the least bit responsive to rehab treatment.


joeblow 4 years, 6 months ago

Too many children have hard calloused hearts by the time they hit puberty. The lack of proper training and discipline in the home combined with ignorance lies at the heart of all our social problems. People want reformation AFTER indoctrination into criminality, its like putting the cart before the horse. Fix the homes and all other problems will fritter away!


bogart 4 years, 6 months ago

DA ....SHAME ....DA EDUCATED MORE ...VISIONARY....ERRY ...GUBBERMINT....FILLED WID MOST EDUCATED..STAFF EMPLOYEES.....PLENTY DEGREES..HIGHEST EDUCATION.....ELECT DA BEST CANDIDATES......Legislative....Judgiary...Executives.....BEST INTERESTS..............TO ELECTORATE ....DAT ....DERE GUBBERMINT....WHICHIN....PARTY......IS BETTER FOR DA PEOPLE..erry 5 years....amazing dere better dan da last.....erry 5 years...legasy...Awards..Music Parades...CEREMONIES...Suit an tie....,!!!!! .prison worser an worser years going decades......an treatment in Prison is BARBARIC...WORSER...AN WORSER....to fellow Bahamians..boys an men ,ixed......some needs medecines....some needin fresh waterr ....some gettin jus bread...an tea...some meedin medical care.....stooling in buckets in cell......EDUCATED Elites...COHORTS.. HYPOCRITES.....GOOSEING.....PUBLIC.......NO SHAME FACE....YA FAMILY RAISED....FAILURE TO UPLIFT THE WEAKEST.....SUFFERING....ANGUISH........TO ADD FURTHER PUNISHMENT....DEHUMANISING.....MENTALLY ANGUICHED......PSYCOLLOCALLY PUNISHED....ABOVE... LAWFUL... STANDARDS TO PUNISH..........PORE WRETCHED....FELLOW BAHAMIANS........VISONS TO UPLIFT ENRICH EMPOWER ONLY SEEMS FOCUSED ON DEMSELVES.....an blatently not the pore wretched needy suffering...


bogart 4 years, 6 months ago



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