A new plan is now being submitted for the construction of a new maximum-security prison to ease chronic overcrowding in the island's penal facilities, with National Security Minister Peter Bunting indicating yesterday that the Government was looking to build the prison in another three to five years.
The new institution would accommodate 1,500 to 2,000 inmates, replacing the centuries-old Tower Street and the St Catherine adult correctional centres, which Bunting said are beyond rehabilitation.
The minister said the plan is to reduce the prison population, which is about at 3,000, and move low-risk inmates to more appropriate facilities.
“They (Tower Street and St Catherine adult correctional centres) are really beyond any useful purpose, so we have to look at a complete replacement,” he said, pointing out that the plan is to rehabilitate and expand the Tamarind Farm and Richmond Farm adult correctional centres, so that more low-risk prisoners can be moved to those institutions.
He said that the location of the new maximum-security prison has not been fully decided on, but that most likely it would be built next to Tamarind Farm.
“That's what we see as most feasible,” he added. The minister outlined the plans at the signing of a $164-million contract between the security ministry and M&M Jamaica Limited Construction Company for the construction of a two-storey building to house inmates at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
Plans for the building of a new maximum-security prison were first announced more than two decades ago, but those plans never materialised.
Reiterating the mismatch of maximum-security prisons to the number of inmates that fall into that category, Bunting emphasised yesterday that up to 70 per cent of prisoners at the two institutions do not need to be held in maximum-security facilities.
“The vast majority of our inmates would be classified as medium- or low-risk inmates. They typically are serving a sentence of two years, and many of them a sentence of 12 months or less, so it's really unnecessary and undesirable to keep those persons in a maximumsecurity facility.
We are overcrowded, and they are not ideal for rehabilitation purposes, given the fact that they are 17th and 19th century facilities,” he told the signing ceremony at his ministry on Oxford Road in Kingston. Bunting noted, though, that the construction of this facility is subject to available funding.
“You're talking in the region of $10 billion. In the meantime, I'm hoping that we can shortly have another block to expand Tamarind Farm, so that at least we would reduce the overcrowding in the older facilities until we can completely replace them,” he said.
In the meantime, Commissioner of Corrections Ina Fairweather said in continued efforts to relieve the system, since this year about 700 inmates have been moved from maximumsecurity institutions to Tamarind Farm and Richmond Farm correctional centres. She said most of them were nearing the end of their sentences.
Bunting said the Tamarind Farm contract was just a start in the amount of capital expenditure that the correctional system needs. He noted that the 304-bed dormitory would be the first new capital investment in the infrastructure of the penal system in decades, pointing to the 2002 reconfiguration of a warehouse into the Horizon Adult Remand Centre.
“And that wasn't a brand-new facility…so this is very significant, in that it's the first,” he remarked. The security minister said while waiting for the kind of capital spend that is required to physically transform the system, transformation of another kind is already taking place at facilities like the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, where prisoners are being actively engaged in constructive enterprise, such as baking bread for the entire correctional system.
“Notwithstanding the rundown physical plant, we have been able to improve the rehabilitation for inmates by a quantum leap,” he stated.