Security at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) has been beefed up to reduce the possibility of escape by inmates, as well as to detect and intercept any contraband being introduced into the correctional facility — initiatives designed to keep the staff at HMP and the community safe, while at the same time protecting the basic human rights of inmates and upholding the stringent rules of the correctional facility, Commissioner of Corrections, Terrance James explained during an appearance “Working for You.”

Commissioner James recounted a recent incident where an inmate escaped from the prison, noting the gap has subsequently been filled and security measures hardened.

“We have … installed CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras [that] cover the complete surroundings of the prison and inside of the prison,” James stated. “So anywhere you move inside the prison, it is covered by CCTV and we have 24-hour manning of the camera monitors.”

Additionally, a scanning machine installed at the main gate has proven to be very effective in detecting contraband. Everyone that goes into HMP, including staff and guards, is subjected to full body scans using the high-tech device. Personal items such as bags are also scanned. The main items recovered during searches are lighters, mobile phones, and small packages containing marijuana.

“We have seen a drastic reduction in contraband or prohibited items entering the prison,” Commissioner James said, recalling an occasion where a visitor brought a frozen juice for an inmate, which, during an inspection, revealed a hidden cell.

“We have a sign on the gate that [says] “’Persons Found Trying to Convey any Contraband into the Prison Will be Dealt with by the Law … and so we are asking members of the public to refrain from attempting to bring contraband into the prison,” the prison chief said, adding security measures are constantly being reviewed and searches are periodically performed to ensure the institution continues to be effective in carrying out the mandates of the law.

Prison Authorities Initiatives to Assist with Re-integration of Ex-Convicts into Society

Persons who have served their prison time face many hardships once released back into society, and several initiatives are being pursued by authorities in St. Kitts and Nevis to assist.

“This is one of the ways I hope to deal with it, to come into the media and sensitize the public, because if the public is not aware or has no knowledge of how the prison system works, then stigma will continue,” he said, referring to the stigmatization of ex-offenders. “We all know in St. Kitts-Nevis once somebody goes to prison it’s like they have been written off. But we have this saying that once a man would have paid his debt to society, he should be given a second chance.”

The Commissioner of Corrections made mention of those who have been hampered from getting a job or travelling because they have minor offences on their record, noting the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) (Amendment) Bill, 2019 of Saint Christopher and Nevis was put in place to assist in such cases.

After a certain period, an inmate can write to the attorney-general seeking permission for his or her records to be wiped clean, and Commissioner James is appealing to the public to be forgiving and compassionate.

“So, if this is being done for someone who is outside of prison, we are now asking people to give an inmate a second chance because they would have paid their debt to society,” he said. “When one is sentenced by the court and they go to prison that is their punishment for the crime which they would commit. So, you should not punish them further when they would have already paid their debt to society. So, this is what has to be known to the public and for us to help remove that stigma,” he said.

Another initiative is presentations to inmates, particularly those who are due to be released from prison within a few months, to help prepare them for moving back into society.

“I had conversations with the Rotary Club and one of the things that they want to do is to come and speak to inmates who would have maybe two or three more months on their sentence so that we can prepare them and show them how to prepare themselves when they are discharged back into society,” he said, noting that it is important for persons to “understand that one of these days inmates would be discharged back into society.”

Department of Gender Affairs Assists Female Ex-Inmates

Celia Christopher, Director of Department of Gender Affairs, said that her institution continues to work closely with female ex-inmates so that they can resume productive lives after leaving prison.

“You cannot expect to have a peaceful society if you do not want to be a part of the reform of the very people who affect society. And so, when females are getting ready to be released we will work with them and we have been very successful in finding them jobs,” said Mrs. Christopher, noting that “if they go out and they are not working they are going to revert to what they were doing because they are going to have to survive.”

The director noted that most single-parent households are led by women.

“When a woman is taken out of the family… the whole family unit breaks down, so we have to try and keep them together,” she said. “And we also work on their self-esteem because we have a very unforgiving society, so we make sure we strengthen them with personal development, and we work with them.”

Mrs. Christopher said the children of these families also receive assistance.

“In terms of the children of these parents, they become part of the social assistance programme, so they can go there, get their school uniforms, vouchers and whatever is due to them. They become part of the system because they are coming from vulnerable homes which fall under our responsibility,” she said.