Prison-to-College Programme worth replicating

Monday, April 17, 2017    

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If Jamaica can replicate Dr Baz Dreisinger’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Programme we would have taken a great stride forward in the area of corrections reform.

Dr Dreisinger, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was in Jamaica last week to help local authorities move towards adopting the programme, which essentially exposes incarcerated individuals to tertiary level studies and then funnels them into university when they get out of prison.

Dr Dreisinger, founder and academic director of the programme, has described it as “hugely successful”. She told this newspaper that the programme currently has about 60 students, half of whom are now out of prison. Two-thirds of them are pursuing degrees, and last year May the programme had its first graduate with a degree in criminal justice.

“We have four more graduating next month and a steady stream after that,” Dr Dreisinger told the Observer, adding that one of those about to graduate will receive a bachelor’s degree in philosohpy and will be applying to study law. She also said that the number of students is growing each year and that the programme has an almost zero per cent recidivism rate.”

That is most encouraging and will hopefully help to slash the incarceration numbers in her country which, we are told, stand at approximately 2.3 million.

Here in Jamaica the prison population is said to be about 3,000, and based on information provided in the past, the State has not been doing too good a job of rehabilitation.

We recall that three years ago Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis reported that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has not been determining the risk profile and rehabilitation needs of inmates entering correctional facilities.

The auditor general also said that the DCS could not demonstrate to her office that its rehabilitation activities are meeting the needs of inmates, and that there were no structured rehabilitation opportunities to address the needs of certain categories of adult offenders, including mentally challenged inmates and those convicted for sexual and drug abuse offences.

If all that has changed for the better since that time we would be happy to be informed. And if things are better now, there is always scope for improvement. That is why we hope that Dr Dreisinger’s programme can be replicated here. For as she correctly stated, the focus of prisons should be rehabilitation, instead of punishment.

But getting the programme up and running is only one half of what needs to be done to rehabilitate people who have been incarcerated. The other half involves public education designed to reverse the stigma of a prison sentence, as well as a job placement programme to counter the possibility of recidivism.

Both, we accept, will be difficult, especially for the fact that the economy is not as robust as it needs to be in order that skilled individuals can find suitable jobs with ease.

The effort would also require a cultural shift within the corrections service, as the personnel employed there need to appreciate their role in facilitating rehabilitation.

There is a lot to be done if Jamaica is to adopt and benefit from this programme. The encouraging thing so far is that Dr Dreisinger has expressed optimism after her discussions with Jamaican State officials. Let’s see what happens going forward.





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