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Letter to the Editor: Why our attitude to prisoners and YTC inmates is self-defeating

“What the view expressed by the talk show host reflects is the right-wing approach that says we must: “lock up dey ar** and throw away de key.” And upon eventual release what have we created?

“Those who imagine that these young men and women at the corresponding facility are ‘wotless’, criminal by birth and stupid are seriously mistaken.”

The following Letter to the Editor on Trinidad and Tobago’s supposedly self-defeating approach to inmates in our prisons and youth detention centres was submitted to Wired868 by Rae Samuel:

Photo: A prison inmate behind bars. (Copyright Getty)
Photo: A prison inmate behind bars.
(Copyright Getty)

The news last Sunday night carried a response by a prison officer to a story by a ‘law and order’ talk show host, which alleged that customers in a bank were given a scare.

The fact of the matter, which the officer did not deny, is that an accused awaiting trial was taken to the bank to conduct personal business. Without being handcuffed.

Not being ‘civilly dead’ a term used, or used to be used to describe convicted persons maintains certain constitutional rights. And as the officer explained there is a process of vetting.

Why has this resonated with me? I hope said host and his sidekick do not visit upcoming track and field meets, basketball games, cross country race or cultural events in the near future.

If they do, they will see ‘lads’ from the Youth Training Centre at all these events and, God knows, we may end up with a lock down at the Hasely Crawford Stadium or Maloney Indoor facility. Do we not see the calypsonians from the Carrera prison at Carnival time? Are they supposed to sing in handcuffs?

Through a programme I have worked on, these young men have, in the last eight years, visited or participated in Pan Am Junior Championships, Secondary Schools basketball and rugby tournaments, Caroni Cross Country Championships, and all the NAAATT events.

Photo: An inmate at a juvenile detention centre. (Copyright India Opines)
Photo: An inmate at a juvenile detention centre.
(Copyright India Opines)

They walk around, interact, go and warm up by themselves, go to the call rooms, argue with their coaches—like any other athlete. Not one has ever attempted to run away or been involved in a fracas.

Besides, I have no idea what 95 percent of them are in there for; and that is not false piety. If you start with that outlook—that somehow as learners they are different—your programme is doomed and they will pick it up.

Also, what can a visitor or tutor do about the judicial process? So why bring it up?

Why 95 percent? Because some do—as time passes and a level of comfort builds—volunteer information.

What the view expressed by the talk show host reflects is the right-wing approach that says we must: “lock up dey ar** and throw away de key.” And upon eventual release what have we created?

Those who imagine that these young men and women at the corresponding facility are ‘wotless’, criminal by birth and stupid are seriously mistaken.

There is a book written by Debbie Jacobs, “Wishing for Wings’”, in which young men talk about their life experiences before and in prison. It is as interesting as anything written by Eldridge Cleaver or George Jackson, though not as politically weighty. I had/have serious concerns about the reason and motive for producing the book but it is well worth a read.

Photo: A photograph at a juvenile detention centre. (Copyright The Atlantic)
Photo: A photograph at a juvenile detention centre.
(Copyright The Atlantic)

These lads trim their own hair, lime in the multi-purpose hall, do photography and gamble their toiletries. You can come in the game with cheap soap, get angry and get locked down, go out on day release work programmes and attend day classes.

They see through the limitations of the institutions and will call you one side and show the unprofessionalism of a particular guard.

My information is that, with the coming of the Children’s Authority legislation, there is a shift to running the institution as a junior prison and not as a Youth Training Centre. This would, in the view of many—including the officers—be a retrograde step…

Let us not imagine that we could handcuff, shoot or beat into submission our social problems.

Editor’s Note: This post can also be found HERE on the National Workers Union website.

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44 comments

  1. It seems as though the author of this article misread or misinterpreted the words of the ‘talk show host’. The host did not mention anyone from YTC or about mistreatment of prisoners; he spokeof one issue in particular and asked for an explanation as concerns were raised.

    This issue raised was that a prisoner officer who is on remand for murder, was seen in a Bank in south Trinidad conducting business without ankle harness or handcuffs. The murdered victim’s father observed the person there, was understandably concerned raised a query. Instead of the Prisons Service giving an explanation of policy, it launched a personal attack on the host, which was unnecessary.

    The question was whether this particular Prison Officer was in receipt of ‘extra-special’ privileges and whether all safety precautions were observed. A recent case was highlighted where a father who left for work and his unsupervised 5 year old son drowned in a drain in Laventille. That father, being in Remand, sought permission to attend the funeral but was denied as it was cited by the Prisons Services that that was not in keeping with their procedure. It is unsure whether that procedure changed.

    Rae Samuel, the points you raised do have merit, but may have been compromised by the fact that the basis for your article was on an erroneous presumption or misunderstanding. of the ‘host’ and his ‘sidekick’.

  2. This is an important discussion: the silence of the Ombudsman’s office on these issues is deafening.

  3. Rae Samuel was last seen leaving his 8-till job in a confused state wandering if slavery was worst than capitalism.

  4. My company used to sponsor the Schools Scrabble competition at one time and I will never forget the year when the St Michael’s Home for Boys won. The managers purchased Scrabble games and other board games to give to the school for Christmas. They competed fairly among all the schools that took part and won.

  5. You should see the faces of John public when they observe a prisoner seeking medical attention at our health facilities imagine a financial institution…I think the public needs to be educated about these arrangements…

  6. One question Renee. How on earth do we help the psyche of people behind bars who are awaiting their case but cannot make bail.
    They are almost literally jailed for being too poor. How can you save a man who spends two years or more in jail before being released due to his innocence?
    I’d think they are the most harddone by.

    • Judicial reform and a criminal justice system that works…imagine men on remand for 14 years…really…phew…social justice media is a prerequisite to bring national and international attention to such an injustice.

    • What should happen is that those persons who are unable to access bail should be released by the Court after serving their max sentence on Remand whilst waiting on their case to be heard. Currently, the time an inmate spent on Remand is deducted from the sentence when found guilty. This has developed through the Courts. It should apply to those who spend their time on Remand. I have seen this unfortunate circumstance happen to a young man in my village. He ended up doing 5 years instead of 2 years max sentence.. He tried to access bail and could not. He pleaded guilty after spending almost 3 years attempting to get bail.

    • Lester Logie indeed! But it doesn’t always happen like that in T&T…some not even making it to court to see a judge…sad situation!

    • Yes. But what if the person is innocent? What happens then after they spent five years in jail?
      I’d say that is a great case to have Remand Yard be a very liveable place with conjugal visits, access to proper education, exercise, the works… Maybe even for good behaviour you can have inmates get time off to spend weekends home or whatever like those minimum security prisons.
      Why can Jack Warner have a normal life because he has money and someone in similar position has to deal with hells of prison life?

    • That will only happen when the system turns upside down and persons with money or those charged for particular offences where society demands that these offences carry no bail. Our Prison system and infrastructure will reach first world in a blink of an eye.

    • Lasana Liburd innocent or guilty once a man or woman is kept one day too long in remand or prison it becomes an injustice. I can’t even begin to describe what it does to some families, children in particular…I worked as a rehab psychologist in several NY/NJ jails and prisons…painful…as for T&T it is INHUMANE! How do you give someone back his/her life? The lack of justice creates extraordinary trauma in the lives of so many…

    • The over-use of pre-trial dentention is a human rights crisis in T&T!

    • If I felt a policeman hit me a clout without cause, the injustice of it might change my life. Much less being caged like an animal for days, weeks, months or years for a wrong I didn’t do. Sigh.
      People who say everyone should stop wining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps don’t see that they are part of the problem. We have to accept too that some get less than others and try to make a more just society.

    • Access to justice must be real time but it is NOT!

    • PUNISHED BEFORE YOU ARE TRIED IS WORSE THAN A CONVICTION…justice T&T style!

    • A great violation is in practice..I did an extensive interview on this topic on Rennie A Bishop’s Sunday show…I’m so tired sounding like a voice in the wilderness…remand is supposed to be temporary but in T&T it is permanent. SMH

    • Lasana Liburd are you trying to raise my blood pressure and stress me out? Look lol please lol

    • Some people think it is close to justice as you get. But look and see how many white collar criminals are in Remand. Yet billions disappear every year due to corruption…

    • (Renee, you can add Rennie in the top right hand panel below “Members” btw, so he can see the tag)

    • Please don’t get me started on white collar crime…people really think it is bloodless? Yeah right!

    • I always wonder if our view of white collar crime is down to sheer ignorance/stupidity. Or if most people secretly hope that they too can benefit from “easy money” at some point.

    • I lecture on profiling and investigating white collar criminals and the psychology of fraud and I always share this in my presentation: “The total financial cost of white collar crime far exceeds that of street crime. The likelihood of being a victim of white collar crime is far greater than the likelihood of being a victim of a serious street crime; and every bit as devastating as street crime to one’s quality of life. The harm white collar criminals inflict on society and on the victims is every bit as worthy of our attention as street crime. White collar crime, in terms of the number of its victims and the devastating impact on its victim, ranks right up there among even the most heinous violent street crimes imaginable.”

  7. Shift in thinking needed, let’s start by calling them not prisons but correctional facilities and not prison officers but correctional officers and then let’s introduce rehabilitation science at the local universities and we have a start…Dude, I got so tired of talking about prison reform/corrections/rehabilitation/reentry/recidivism in T&T….trust me!

  8. Earl Best

    Rae, it’s very hard to get people to see old problems with new eyes but my sense is that you have achieved that here. In 700 words!

    Splendid job.

  9. In T&T prison means doomed forever. Citizens in this Country cannot wrap their minds around the fact that one does not have to be a criminal to end up in Prison. The same set of fools in this country who love to break traffic lights can kill someone while doing so eventually leaving a family on the outside, wouldn’t they like to be afforded the same privilege? I think for the future what the bank can do is have a room available for “Special Transactions” like this. That can be their contribution to Restorative Justice.

  10. Bro, we did programme after programme on Restorative Justice, the scene at the bank speaks to that. I wonder how comfortable citizens will feel if they are standing behind or in front an individual in a line In of all places, a bank, that would be another story. The Commissioner is a practitioner of RJ, I am sure there were security that entered the bank first before he did, and there were equal amount outside.

    • I suppose the key starting point is to get people to see those inmates as people too, albeit flawed people.
      Although I know many of them aren’t even convicted yet.
      Problem is with our low detection rate, people feel at the mercy of criminals. And that creates an additional tension and hatred with even people who are awaiting their day in court and should be presumed innocent.

    • The low detection rate tells us that alleged criminals are living with, walking among, interacting with us daily, and we don’t have an issue or not alarmed.

    • Lasana Liburd 2/3 are on Remand. They are presumed innocent! Most forget that these persons have rights. Only their liberty should be curtailed. Over 90% of 1/3 convicted will return to society after serving their time. They are not detained for the rest of their lives.

    • Sobering thought. We need to educate citizens more about this. But I know persons like Garth St. Clair are working hard on that.

  11. Good letter . I think we are a society that never stop and look at what may be causing so many youths to turn to crime . Some years ago a group of students did a study into parents who left their children with relatives to go abroad to seek out a living during the last recession . The term ” barrel children ” came about and what devastating effects it was having on children who take comfort in gangs as a way of hiding their feelings of abandonment . The “law and order ” man and his sidekick said yesterday that the problem with the prisoner in the bank was that he is a fellow officer awaiting trial and when the little boy drowned and his father wanted to attend his funeral he request was denied .

  12. Each case has its individual merits.