By Rabindra Rooplall
As part of the rehabilitation process, prisoners who are deemed rehabilitated and are about to reintegrate into society shall not be labeled as criminals or ex-con, and are not under any obligation to reveal their past to their respective employers, according to Chapter 11:07 of the local Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
It was further noted in the Act that any failure to disclose a spent conviction or any such circumstances shall not be proper ground for dismissing or excluding a person from any office, profession, occupation or employment or for prejudicing him/her in any way in any occupation or employment.
However, the Act allows for occasions when a spent conviction may be disclosed and the Home Affairs Minister who is empowered under sections eight and 11 can make the order to acquire such information from an official record.
Though there are some professions where disclosure of convictions spent or unspent must be made, the Act contains provisions affecting employment and the law relating to libel and slander and makes the improper disclosure of information on a spent conviction a criminal offence.
Section 11 of the local Act says a person who has custody of or access to official records, and who makes disclosure, otherwise than in the course of his official duties, of a spent conviction, is guilty of a criminal offence punishable by fine.
The Bill which makes provision for a rehabilitated prisoner to be treated as though he/she was never convicted at all took effect in 1989, having been by the legislature the previous year.
At present the prison system is offering rehabilitation programmes geared towards equipping inmates with basic literacy, numeracy and technology skills among other things.
To date, it appears as though the legislation had remained buried in the statute books as few persons appear to be aware of its existence and or significance. Meanwhile the main purpose of the Act is to extend a powerful incentive for persons who have been convicted of offences to live a crime-free life thereafter.
After a specified time period has elapsed from the date of conviction, this is called the rehabilitated period, the Act stipulates that the conviction is to be regarded as spent, and the person is to be regarded as a rehabilitated person.
However, educating inmates, especially the young set through training in the trade areas such as barbering, computer repair and tailoring, is a very positive development and is considered a step in the positive direction in the rehab process to reintegrate inmates into society as productive citizens.
Notably this should be a part of the programme in dealing with the national crime challenge our communities are facing.
There is a need for the authorities to address the needs of youths at risk before it reaches the point where they end up incarcerated. A holistic approach is therefore a necessity to prevent delinquency and crime.
Caribbean islands are also looking at ways of dealing with prisoner rehabilitation. Jamaica for example will be vigorously pursuing alternatives to incarceration. The four main strategies currently being looked at are: the Probation Order, which allows the offender to do community-based rehabilitation; the Community Service Order in which offenders are given 40 hours to do community service; the Suspended Service with supervision; and the Voluntary Supervision, which is offered to offenders deemed to be in need of counselling or treatment outside of the formal system.
Prison programmes are supposed to assist in rebuilding lives so the offender will return to society after his/her release as a productive citizen.
Sad to say there are not many employers that are willing to support and help an ex-offender. Rehabilitation is not only the duty of the prison system but the community plays a critical role in helping the ex-offender stay crime free; and this support has to come from families, social/civic organisations, employers and the community overall, since without the support, as a society we will continue to live in a vicious circle in which everyone will be affected.
There has not been any notable survey but more than half of the released inmates end up returning to prison, since reintegration into society is a major challenge with limited support.
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