Prisons name change heralds new mindset

Labour and Home Affairs Minister Terry Lister yesterday announced that HM Prisons will no longer exist in Bermuda as the Island sets out on a new path of rehabilitating offenders.

At the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) training session at the Southampton Princess Hotel, the Minister said the prisons system in Bermuda will from now on be known as The Department of Corrections, in a bid to change the mindset.


Labour and Home Affairs Minister Terry Lister yesterday announced that HM Prisons will no longer exist in Bermuda as the Island sets out on a new path of rehabilitating offenders.

At the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) training session at the Southampton Princess Hotel, the Minister said the prisons system in Bermuda will from now on be known as The Department of Corrections, in a bid to change the mindset.

He said with 80 percent of Bermuda's crime directly related to drugs, the Island could no longer simply lock offenders up.

Instead, many will be offered the chance of drug treatment programmes to help them get clean.

As an incentive to offenders, for those that successfully make it through the programmes, they could have their criminal records wiped clean, with the exception of some serious offences.

In return, the audience was told that Bermuda would see a reduction in crime, as well as a reduction in prison costs.

Hundreds of the Island's legal, health and crime professionals were joined by members of the public at the first day of the two-day event to find out how Bermuda aims to reduce the number of people sent to jail.

The ATI system was officially launched two years ago, but began to get into full swing last year with the opening of the drugs court and the passing of the Criminal Code Amendment Act.

Mr. Lister said: "It is the intention of Government to move from a predominantly punitive system for criminal justice offenders to one based upon rehabilitation and restorative justice.

"The punitive system has done little to reduce crime or to restore lives; instead it has led to an inordinately large prison population that perpetuates and intensifies the potential for criminal activity.

"It is important to make the point here that ATI is not to be a soft option to prison. In fact, prison reform is an integral component of the process and will require the development of tough and mandated programmes for inmates.

"As a tangible example of this emphasis on rehabilitation and restorative justice, the Government proposes to abandon the name HM Prisons and to rename our prisons department The Department of Corrections. Offenders who require incarceration will be housed in correctional facilities, rather than prisons."

A panel, including Police Commissioner Jonathan Smith, Director of Public Prosecutions Khamisi Tokunbo, Prisons Commissioner Edwin Wilson and Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Commission Cris Wineinger, addressed the audience on how they would be looking to implement ATI.

And Laurie O. Robinson, former assistant Attorney General in the US Department of Justice from 1993 to 2000, told how America experienced a "quiet revolution" with regard to crime, seeing a fall in offences for the past eight years, largely due to ATI.

Police Commissioner Mr. Smith said his officers were now having to accept a change in culture where offenders were not necessarily sent to prison. but he said as the majority of crime was committed by a minority, he believed ATI would work well in Bermuda.

However, he called for more research to be carried out in Bermuda, so agencies did not have to rely on anecdotal evidence.

And he said the new Criminal Code Amendment Act meant that some prisoners may only serve a third of their sentences before qualifying for parole. This, he said, brought about some risks, and therefore Police should be informed at the earliest opportunity.

He said a Management Information System would be key in enabling agencies to share information.

He added: "We have to accept that ATI is really a management of risk. We are going to have to be a little bit more vigilant in managing some of those offenders who might be under probation orders.

...We need early identification of ATI clients who may begin to pose a risk.We have to accept that some will relapse and when they do, that's when the Police Service kicks in. That's why the Management Information System is key and we the need for more research is key."

Commissioner of Prisons Mr. Wilson said ATI would substantially reduce the number of inmates in prison, taking away many of the short-term inmates and leaving the prison authority better equipped to help the long-term inmates.

He said during recent years, the prison staff, and the facilities, had been pushed to their maximum as the number of inmates grew.

But he said now the prison was no longer playing a "numbers game", he hoped to see the educational, drug treatment, and work skills programmes enhanced for the long-term inmates.

And he said he was even hoping to working more closely with Bermuda College and the National Training Board to ensure people had relevant job skills when they were released.

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