Marvin Dames, Minister of National Security. Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By Alicia Wallace
Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said improvements are on the way for the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services. No timeline has been shared, but the prison is in desperate need of upgrade.
The unsanitary conditions are no secret. We know of the overcrowding, use of slop buckets for human waste, lack of beds, and poor ventilation. These conditions not only affect imprisoned people, but those who work there. In its current physical state, it is not fit to house human beings.
We rarely talk about the conditions at the prison because many believe the people in there do not deserve any better. It is generally assumed people in prison are guilty of a crime and deserve to be there and every aspect of their experience should be punishment. Any recommendations that conditions need to improve is sure to receive a response that suggests anything that is not inhumane is too good for the inmates. It is not supposed to be a hotel, but it should not be disaster zone either.
There are major issues with prisons and many of them have been researched in the US where mass incarceration is a primary area of concern, particularly for black people. One of the issues we talk about most in The Bahamas is that people are put in prison for relatively small crimes (like possession of marijuana), and the prison serves as a college for criminals. It is said people train under hardened criminals while in prison. Some are forced to pick up new skills for survival while there. In a recent report, it was said some prisoners choose not to go outside for the allotted 30 minutes of daily exercise because it is safer that way. This is no small hint at the life they have there.
Another issue is the difficulty of life after being imprisoned. Do they have a place to live? Who will hire them? Was their education interrupted? What resources do they have to build or rebuild their lives? While it may be tempting to say this is their problem to deal with and they brought it on themselves, our entire society feels the effects of these issues and the ways they find to remedy them. If they turn (back) to a life of crime, what does that mean for everyone else?
Prison will not work for us until we create better living and working conditions for the people in them and put greater emphasis on rehabilitation. The 2002 Reducing Re-offending by Ex-prisoners report by Britain’s Social Exclusion Unit found prisons aggravate rather than address the causes of crime. They, instead, lead prisoners back to prison by stripping them of all of their connections, making it difficult to become functioning members of society.
What does the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services do to prepare imprisoned people for their release? What support do formerly imprisoned people receive when they are released and expected to stay out of prison? There are systems and structures that need to be addressed in a holistic approach to ending crime — from the failing education system to distribution of resources — as well as a need to recognize imprisoned people as human beings rather than treating them like animals and expecting them to act otherwise upon release. The seeds we plant determine what we will reap.
I'm glad to be home - and there's so much for me to do
There is nothing quite like the view from an airplane window descending to Nassau. It is always refreshing and energising for me when I see the familiar turquoise ocean, both because I try to go to the beach every day and I have yet to see another landing come close. I had been on a beach just days before in another country, but it was no contest. There was a sargassum issue, the water was rough and the view just did not match up.
There is something about returning after an extended period away that changes perspective. There is also something about being away that makes the memory of a place more rosy. I know I am having a honeymoon with Nassau right now, but it is nice to do the things that will soon be the norm again. There is quite a bit that I have missed.
After time away, one of the first things I do is make my way to Arawak Cay for conch salad. There is a stall my family always goes to, but the person moved to another location. I called a few people to find out exactly where he works from now, and someone kindly met me on the strip to take me to the right place. This is how serious I am about my conch salad. I need to go to the person who knows exactly how I like it. A few days in, I still have a few things on my list of “firsts” to do. They include a beach day, cracked conch, a visit to the National Art Gallery and a live music event. I am also looking forward to seeing Odd Couple at The Dundas this week. In a few weeks, I may slip up and say there is nothing to do, but it is not likely to be true. Getting conch salad is like a show, the beach is an outdoor recreational centre with a spa and gym, eating is akin to a national sport, and there are exhibition openings every week. We only have to pay attention.