Rehabilitation Without Education in Federation Prison System

By Floyd French

Observer Reporter

(Basseterre, St. Kitts) – Education and therapy are hallmarks of an effective prison rehabilitation programme.   Such features, however, are hardly emphasised or proven effective within the St. Kitts-Nevis Prison system.  Over-crowdedness has forced the prison authority to abandon its education programme: a room once used as a classroom now serves as a cell.

“We used to have a number of educational programmes in place. Unfortunately, the classroom we used to have, we had to change that into a cell because of the number of people coming into prison. The prison is really overcrowded,” said Superintendent of Prison, Franklyn Dorset.

The city block complex that serves as Police Headquarters and Prison was built in 1840 and the prison compound itself was intended to accommodate only 60 inmates.  The prison currently holds 243, more than four times its original capacity.

With an average inmate age of 30, the prison ought to be focusing more on education as part of its rehabilitation strategy.  Superintendent Dorset would like to see a regular teacher as part of any new prison facility.

“We have had prisoners who have done maths at CXC on more than one occasion and we have had one or two passes,” he said.

The citation of past scholastic achievements is all Superintendent Dorset can do now.  The over-crowdedness has eliminated all aspects of formal education.

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But therapy remains an integral part of the prison’s rehabilitation programmes due to the belief that criminality is psychological.  There is a psychiatrist and psychologist assigned to the prison and despite the prison’s curtailment of visits for security reasons due to too many prisoners, the institution makes every effort for counselling visits, mostly by church groups.

There was an anger management workshop for the inmates at the time of the interview and the church based counselling visits incorporate spiritual devotion.

However, the Superintendent recognises the need to reintroduce skills-based education in order to offer a more holistic approach to rehabilitation.  Prisoners were once exposed to number of trades and crafts such as carpentry and joinery, small engine repairs, small appliance repairs, plumbing, tailoring and arts and design, but competition for space has pushed them out.

While the prison system has a 42-45% rate of recidivism over the years, Superintendent Dorset does not see this as evidence of a failed skills programme.  He believes that the high rate of repeat offenders is due to lack of after-care programmes.

“A lot of inmates learned the skills but did nothing with it after discharge.  That is mainly because we didn’t have a follow-up programme.  That is one of the main reasons people reoffend.  They go back into the same environment, they are weak, they don’t have anything to eat, nobody to look after them, so they continue with the same old company,” he said.

In his perfect prison system, Mr. Dorset would change the name from prison to correctional facility and place more emphasis on education and after care for inmates.

“One of the first changes would be to construct a new prison.  We also need qualified staff to do the rehabilitation programmes.  We need a permanent teacher, we need probation officers, these are some of the people that need to be attached to the prison,” he stressed.

Plans are in the pipeline for a new prison and a facility for juvenile offenders.  The Superintendent welcomes these plans.  He added that the juvenile facility will ease some of the congestion in the prison and offer young offenders another chance.  As he puts it, “One bad shot doesn’t spoil a good gun.”

Mr. Dorset who has over 13 years experience in the Prison, eight of which is currently as Superintendent and is part of a committee for the juvenile facility and the new prison.