On Target
December 7, 2007
Total incarceration or reformation?

The efforts of the Department of Physical Education and Sports and the authorities at her Majesty’s Prisons to have a series of sporting activities for inmates have been met with mixed reactions.{{more}}

Those who are in favour of such activities believe that they help in giving the inmates much needed physical exercise.

The debate over the past weeks continued as both sides, those for and those in opposition to the idea, proffered their points.

Some argue that once incarcerated, all rights and freedoms should come to a halt. But the flip side is that sports involvement, while locked away, should form part of that mechanism that shows persons what they are missing, being in confinement.

Many also complained that the ‘prisoners’ got the use of the best sporting facility in Kingstown, the Victoria Park, while “free people”, including our school children, are denied its free use. That’s again debatable, depending on the way you look at it. But it has some merit.

Others believe that the games were given too much publicity in the media, while other sports and on going competitions have not received such prominence.

What should we do with our men and women who are put behind bars? Should we lock them away totally so that they have very little interaction with those outside?

This issue of prison reform has been a topical one the world over, and at times a heated political debate. The United Nations is one such advocate of prison reform.

While here in St.Vincent and the Grenadines the issue has not grabbed much attention, it may be worth some thought, as it impacts on the wider society over time.

But as the concerns were raised by some persons, it may seem hypocritical that in one breath we speak of saving our male population and are at the same time criticising efforts to reform those who have fallen by the wayside.

We gladly embrace having educational and religious programmes for our inmates, but shrug off their involvement in sports. Sporting activity is not a privilege or any form of luxurious living, but an attempt to have them hopefully readjusted in society, following their release.

This attitude seems hypocritical, taking into consideration that many of us would be flocking the courtyard in a few weeks time to hear these same inmates in their annual “Talent Behind the Wall’ exposition.

These men and ladies are fed daily, and some have little else to do, depending on their reason for being incarcerated. So some physical activity would not hurt. In fact, it should be good therapy to ease some of the frustrations associated with being locked down.

Do we want them to develop non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, which may be deemed another liability on the state after they have served their time?

While I must admit that prison should be a deterrent, one must first accept that a person who commits a crime and is convicted is first of all a human being and should be treated as such.

No longer is the term “jail bird” a stigma, so what is the big deal? Today, they are referred to as “ex-convicts”.

Irrespective of which side of the fence you sit on, what is certain is that there is a lot of sporting talent that is locked away.

Especially in the area of football, there are some talented players. There is need for programmes to reform these people when they finally exit the prisons.

Many of them felt a sense of ‘freedom’ at having been involved in the games. This can certainly build the morale at the institution and assist immensely in greater control and supervision by the authorities.

It is my view that the games should stay.

What should not stay is that increasing plot of inclined land on the eastern side of the Sion Hill Playing Field called the”Mound”. It is out of place.