Why such a high incidence of imprisonment?
The following appeared in a Bermuda newspaper, an article by By Tony McWilliam and Don Burgess:
Bermuda's a world leader -- in prison numbers
BERMUDA is a world leader when it comes to locking up criminals. The island tops a global league table for imprisonment, beating out even the U.S. and South Africa.
Black Bermudian males, however, are far less likely to be in prison than their U.S. counterparts. Figures show there are currently about 280 people incarcerated in Bermuda at Westgate, the Prison Farm and the Co-Ed Facility, including 25 women and some 49 foreigners. That translates to 48 people per 10,000 people in Bermuda's population, compared to 43 in the U.S., 33 in South Africa and 10 in the U.K..
If non-Bermudian inmates are excluded, the figure for Bermuda drops to 39 per 10,000, which puts the island in second place, below the U.S.
A cross section of observers yesterday cited flaws in the education and criminal justice systems and a lack of commitment by law makers to endorse alternative sentencing and support families.
Milton Pringle, retired prison commissioner and a veteran of nearly 30 years in the prison service, went one further, alluding to a conscious effort by the establishment to keep blacks down.
"We are playing a big game about racism, but in my opinion part of it is to subjugate blacks, they [government, the status quo] see the black male as a threat -- they want to maintain a colonial image."
Roughly 98 per cent of Bermuda's inmates are black, and that means 148 out of every 10,000 black males in Bermuda is in prison, compared to 73 in South Africa and 311 in the U.S.. The average age of an inmate is about 35, and incarceration costs roughly $50,000 per person each year.
Melvyn Bassett, the Sandys Secondary School principal who sat on Judge Stephen Tumim's Criminal Justice Review Board, says Bermuda's "selective" education system has helped create an "underclass" of Bermudians who slip through the cracks at school age and get sucked into crime.
"They do not feel part of mainstream Bermuda -- they have been short-changed through the whole process."
Mr. Bassett stressed responsibility often lies with the individual, but "at the same time, the fact that so many of our young black men find themselves in penal institutions shows we are not doing enough for them."
Defence lawyer Tim Marshall agrees that the high incarceration rate is inextricably linked to a flawed education system, one which fails to "excite" young people. Also crucial is "a stable home environment" and he scolds government for doing nothing to help single parents (who often hustle to maintain two or three jobs) to spent "quality time" with their children.
Legislators are also culpable, Mr. Marshall says, for locking people up instead of pursuing alternatives. "This new young aggressive Government has to be imaginative in terms of alternative sentencing." Former shadow cabinet minister and lawyer Julian Hall took sa swipe at both Government and the judiciary: "There is no consistency between the sentencing policies of the Court of Appeal, which effectively dictates to the Supreme Court, and the rehabilitative philosophy which is officially espoused by the Ministry of Health and Social Service regarding Westgate."
The new prison is overcrowded because judges and magistrates are wasting millions of tax payers dollars jailing people instead of looking for alternative sentences. "Bermuda has always been a punitive and mean spirited society, even though we pretend it is not," he said.
Jack Harris, a founder and director of the Christian ministry Prison Fellowship, has done extensive research on crime. If Bermuda has one of the world's highest incarceration rate, he said, you would expect it to have one of the highest crime rates.
"If that's not the case, it means we have a punitive justice system...It provides retribution, but does nothing to deter crime. If punitive justice is effective, why do 77 per cent of inmates go back to prison?"
Why so many black men in prison? "Inequity is the basis of most crimes and if people feel they are not getting a fair shake from society, they will turn to crime. Society may not feel that way, but they do. As long as inequity persists, there will be a higher rate of crime."
Social Services Minister Harry Soares was yesterday unavailable for comment and Education and Human Affairs Minister Jerome Dill was off the island.
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