The jail in St. Kitts is too crowded, too ancient in its concept, and irrelevant to the social requirements of our present age.

The kind of problems which our society faces calls for a new thinking of the way we deal with the wayward and deviant members of our society.

Once upon a time the idea of a prison was a place where people found guilty of anti-social behaviour went for punishment. The punishment was harsh and the shame at the end of the incarceration was supposed to be permanent. The prisoner who had served his time was supposed to be the object of scorn and derision.

He could hardly find work. He found it difficult to resettle in his community. He found it easier to go back to jail than to reform himself outside. He was called a jailbird and was supposed to spend the rest of his life outside of the company of decent people.

This was the negative response to crime: the hard labour, the humiliation, the stigma, the degeneration; all intended to make life so unbearable for the prisoner that he should repent for his crime. Unfortunately, the harshness of the prison seems to have the opposite effort.

The present state of the prison is worrying. It is becoming crowded with young men – many of them teenagers. The commingling of these hapless and deviant youth with older long-term prisoners seems to develop into recidivism and these youngsters who go in for the first time for a short spell, keep returning to jail for a second and third time.

We would like to think that the modern concept of the prison is healing and correction as opposed to mere punishment. It is time for our society to understand that as odious as these human beings are who wandered off the right track, they are lost, and need to be found. They are broken and confused men and women who need to be made whole.

Therefore our society needs a different approach to our prisoners. A new prison compound is the primary requirement, one that reflects the new concept of rehabilitation and correction.

This matter is urgent. As the prison population rises, there is a great and growing imperative to make certain that those who pass through the prison emerge at the end of their sentences as better persons, able to re-enter society and make a meaningful contribution.