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GUEST COLUMN: Prisoner reform

Jonathan Yearwood

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IN MORE recent years, and certainly since Independence, the regimes of the Barbados prison have made some attempts at the rehabilitation of offenders. However, the high costs associated with financing and maintaining modern day prisons have further added fuel to the debate as to whether the investment in rehabilitation in Barbados is worth the effort. 
Rehabilitation is defined as “a right to an opportunity to return to (or remain) in society with an improved chance of being a useful citizen and staying out of prison; the term may also be used to denote the actions of the state or private institutions in extending this opportunity”. Rehabilitation is also referred to as “curing an offender of his criminal tendencies and consists, more precisely, of changing an offender’s personality, outlook, habits, or opportunities so as to make him less inclined to commit crimes”.
The assumption exists that inmates who participate in rehabilitation programmes would experience lower rates of recidivism or benefit in some way from rehabilitation. We therefore need to ask not only “what works” to bring about a reduction in the frequency of future offending for instance, but rather, what we should count as “working” or “successful” in reducing crime and changing offender behaviour.
Also, should the penal system only be concerned with reducing future offending or also with other kinds of improvements in offenders’ lives? Should attention be focused on individual offenders and the attempt to change their behaviour; or should more attention be paid to the personal and social circumstances that offenders face on release from prison.
In assessing the success of rehabilitation programmes in Barbados, a mixed-method approach combining both quantitative and qualitative research designs was used. A survey was conducted among a random sample of 201 inmates from 1266 screened inmates released  from prison during the period January 01, 1998 through August 31, 2004. The population frame for the study was 4 676 convicted inmates. This allowed for a 95 per cent confidence interval of +or -5 per cent error.
Prison records of each inmate’s dates of release from prison were collected from the former prison at Glendairy, St Michael, and the temporary relocated prison at Harrison’s Point, St Lucy.
Police records provided information on the offending record of each inmate including the number of convictions or fines committed during the period under review.
The operational definition of recidivism was measured in terms of the time interval between two events: time of release from prison and time of recidivism or reconviction for an offense (irrespective of number or type of crime, or type of sentence).
Successful rehabilitation was defined as an offender not returning to prison after exposed to a rehabilitation programme for a period of two or more years after released from prison.
It can be concluded that the rehabilitation process in Barbados prison for the period 1998-2004 is promising. There is commitment by prison administration to the rehabilitative process as represented by the contribution of prison and non prison staff  to the delivery of rehabilitation programmes.
In addition, there has been some success in reducing recidivism. Successful rehabilitation is defined from the literature as where efforts to rehabilitate offenders achieved a 15-30 per cent reduction in recidivism (Andrews and Bonta 1998; Cullen and Gendreau 2000).
In Barbados, it was shown that there were no significant differences between inmates who participated in rehabilitation programmes and those who did not. However, the findings showed that recidivism was reduced by 19 per cent for inmates who participated in rehabilitation programmes.  It should also be noted that rehabilitation programmes in Barbados have generally been underfunded, understaffed and carried out in settings certainly not ideal, with programmes limited in quality. Consideration should therefore be given to providing the prison with the necessary human resource and technical capacity to effectively deliver rehabilitation programmes.
Finally it can also be argued that rehabilitation brings hope for the prisoner and affords the opportunity for inmates interested in change and self-development to pursue this development path.
• Jonathan Yearwood (BSc public administration, MA criminology, Mphil social policy) is the research and information officer at the National Council On Substance Abuse.

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