Call for halfway house
A halfway house for prisoners just released from jail should be reintroduced, the former head of the parole board said yesterday.
Ashfield DeVent, who was replaced as parole board chairman at the end of 2017 after six years, said that more prisoners serving long prison terms needed a realistic way to help return them to society.
Mr DeVent added: “We have a growing number of people serving life sentences, a minimum of 15 years. More people will serve 20 or 25 years before they are eligible for parole.
“I would ask anybody to imagine their lives 15 years ago. Imagine spending all that time behind bars, then getting pushed back into society.”
Mr DeVent, a former Progressive Labour Party Cabinet minister, said the present regime released long-term inmates into a changed world “almost with the inevitability of failing”.
The Transitional Living Centre, which accommodated up to 15 ex-prisoners, was closed in 2012 under the PLP and stayed shut under the One Bermuda Bermuda Alliance administration.
Mr DeVent said that “any government serious about rehabilitation” needed to reopen the centre.
He added: “They will tell you they have the Right Living Centre, but that is for people suffering with substance-abuse issues.
“I challenge this government to find the money and the will.”
Mr DeVent was speaking as The Royal Gazette obtained parole figures for the last ten years under a Public Access to Information request.
Last year marked a peak with about 30 per cent of inmates, or 24 out of 78, meeting requirements for release.
But only 32 inmates out of 170, 19 per cent, were granted parole in 2010.
Mr DeVent said the system “works” but warned the island remained “stuck in that punitive mindset”.
He added that “progressive” areas such as Scandinavia, where prisoners can receive conjugal visits, access to the internet and educational programmes, have a recidivism rate close to zero.
Mr DeVent said: “We want to lock people up and throw away the key, but that does not exist in reality — every prisoner will eventually have to be released.
“We need to do all that we can with regard to rehabilitation, retraining, getting their educational levels back up, while we have them behind those walls.
“Right now rehabilitation is not consistently being run. If any government cuts back, that’s where they cut, and that’s a huge mistake.”
Mr DeVent was appointed to head the five-member parole board in February 2012 by then attorney-general Kim Wilson.
But the board changed to a six-person team in December last year with PLP backbencher Rolfe Commissiong at the helm.
Mr DeVent said the parole board was “a real public service” and that many people failed to appreciate the tough appraisals carried out on applicants.
The government website said applicants had to serve at least one third of their sentence to be eligible for parole. It added: “They also must be deemed to be suitable and open to be supervised in the community with minimal risks to reoffend.
“The probation officer makes recommendations to the Parole Board, who then determines whether an offender in a correctional facility should be released from prison earlier under supervision.
“Generally, an individual who has been incarcerated for longer than 12 months can be considered for parole after carrying out one third of their sentence.
“An individual serving a life sentence must serve at least 15 years, unless otherwise stipulated by the courts, before being considered for release.
“Eligibility time does not guarantee release on parole. There are mandatory and optional conditions of parole orders.”
Mr DeVent said: “Parole is not an easy ride. You’re monitored constantly, tested for drugs. You can’t indulge in alcohol. Monitoring bracelets can be an effective tool.
“Some have even said they didn’t want the bracelet removed — that they weren’t ready yet. And I have seen people who were eventually rehabilitated.”
He added: “It could be better if we put more effort into it.”
Parole figures for ten years have been obtained by the Gazette via a Pati request.
However, the 2011 figures exclude Westgate, according to the Ministry of National Security.
• 2017: 78 seen, 24 paroled
• 2016: 115 seen, 29 paroled
• 2015: 110 seen, 26 paroled
• 2014: 152 seen, 36 paroled
• 2013: 156 seen, 31 paroled
• 2012: 131 seen, 35 paroled
• 2011: 73 seen, 59 paroled
• 2010: 170 seen, 32 paroled
• 2009: 135 seen, 36 paroled
• 2008: 129 seen, 30 paroled
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