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Nov 13, 1998

G. Michael Reid on life at Hattieville Prison

Story Picture
There have been many words written, many pictures taken and many reports issued… but the only way to get a true picture of life at Hattieville Prison is to visit there yourself. News Five commentator G. Michael Reid did… and while he had the freedom to depart at will, his thoughts tonight turn to those who lack that privilege.

“Earlier this week, I paid my second visit to the infamous Hattieville Ramada and while this time around, I was much better prepared for what would greet me, I was no less appalled by the conditions that exist there. This institution, which was built to accommodate no more than 600 inmates, is usually home to more than a thousand. And since at least some of these are hardcore criminals, one would imagine that this makes for a rather volatile situation. With sometimes as many as eight prisoners confined to a small cell, the stories of rape and other abuse is rampant and one shudders to think of the horrors endured by any first time juvenile offender.

A damaging reality is, that upon arrival at the prison, all those remanded must first go to the extremely overcrowded max section of the prison and stay there for as long as a week before being processed and placed in an appropriate area. This would mean then, that a boy who is remanded for a stick of weed might very well wind up sharing a cell for as long as a week, with others convicted of serious offenses like murder, armed robbery or rape. This problem, I believe, could easily be solved by creating an orientation section where all prisoners would be duly processed before being assigned to any quarters. To throw frail first time offenders in with seasoned hardcore criminals is like sending lambs to a slaughter and instead of helping to solve the problem of crime, it is quite likely making it much worse.

Interestingly enough, on the very day that I decided to visit, Minister Dickie Bradley, under whose portfolio falls the prison, was delivering addresses to both wardens and inmates in which he promised to diligently pursue the process of rectification. To the wardens he made it clear that he would tolerate no drug trafficking or prisoner abuse and spent the better part of an hour listening to

their gripes and concerns.

Of course, with Dickie also being the Minister of Housing, that matter seemed to be big on everyone’s agenda. After being promised that they would be among the ten thousand receiving houses, the attention turned to such matters as transportation and salary. I was surprised to learn just how little these guys are really paid and considering the risk involved in their jobs. I can understand their displeasure. If we expect these officers to be paragons of virtue then we will have to pay them enough that they will be able to resist the temptation to hustle.

After his meeting with the wardens, the Minister moved on to address the inmates and assured them that he was aware of the terrible existing conditions and promised that from now on, they would be treated with more respect but reminded them that respect was a two way street. He assured them that he would immediately tackle the problem of overcrowding and pointed out that work was already underway to add a second storey to the building known as Tango 3. He pledged more space and recreational time and promised that a year from now, they would be seeing a completely different prison.

Of course, he reminded them that it was still a prison and that they could never really expect the full comforts of home. Yet, just the thought of a basketball court and maybe enough yard time to enjoy a game or two, was enough good news to have the inmates clapping in approval. Of course, the problem of overcrowding must be looked at from two sides and while we are making more room in prison, we must also be trying to figure out, how to stop so many of our able bodied citizens from winding up in this God forsaken place. To just make our prison larger is like hacking away at a branch then we should be in fact, be tackling the root. Programs like the C.Y.D.P. have been successful in the past and it is sad to see such programs fall victims to politics.

Another area of interest will have to be the penal code. To give a young man five years for marijuana just because he cannot afford an attorney and then set free men who are caught with kilos of cocaine just because they can hire two or three lawyers? is not justice. To put men in jail just because they cannot afford to pay some vindictive woman’s child support?is not justice. To sentence some to long time for petty crimes while others literally get away with murder?is not justice. It is important that criminals be put in jail, and once they get there we should remember that they are still human beings but it is even more important to be sure that when we send men to jail, they deserve to be there.

With the Last Word, G. Michael Reid.”

The opinions expressed on the Last Word are those of G. Michael Reid and not necessarily those of Channel Five. Comments are welcome.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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