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MPs clash in House over cuts to prisoner rehabilitation schemes

Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Mark Pettingill clashed with Attorney General Michael Scott as MPs rowed over sweeping cuts to the Justice budget.

Mr Pettingill complained it was illogical for funding on rehabilitation projects to go down while recidivism rates and violent crime go up.

Mr Scott argued simply throwing money at initiatives isn't going to work and that it would be more effective to evaluate what can be done more efficiently.

And the Minister caused an angry response from Mr Pettingill when he appeared to suggest he was raising concerns because he had a personal business interest.

“He is impugning my integrity personally,” shouted the BDA MP as the Budget debate on the Justice Ministry drew to an end.

The Ministry will get $27.3 million for 2010-11, a reduction of nine percent on last year's $30.1 million.

Mr Pettingill said prison admissions have gone up, with 525 people now in the system, an increase of 16 percent on last year's 451.

He said his 11-year-old daughter would be able to look at such figures and say it doesn't make sense.

Pointing to a recidivism rate of 40 percent, he said of prisoners: “Kick their butts. Make them use their time, not just spend their time when they are in prison.”

He complained about cuts in psychological, social, health, educational, vocational and recreational services.

“Where's the money for the hope? Where's the support for the people who are trying to do their jobs?

“Cut, cut, cut, cut in all the areas we need to address in order to stop recidivism. Young men are going back to jail because they have no hope.

“To give them hope you give them programmes: ‘Hey, we are going to support you, give you all the help we can to get you back on the straight and narrow.' The budget, to be crass about the numbers, doesn't reflect those needs.”

Mr Scott responded: “One swallow doth not a summer make. Nor a plethora of rehabilitation programmes doth a policy make.

“It's not the amount of money being thrown at the programmes. My job is to evaluate existing programmes to ensure we are doing less with more.

“We will evaluate independently all programmes to ensure we have the best outcome with use of scarce resources.

“I do not subscribe to, nor am I embarrassed by the simplistic analysis of Mr Pettingill. We do less of the things that are not working, and more of the things that are working.”

During his speech, Mr Pettingill had complained about Government's handling of tendering processes.

Mr Scott said he was not going to allow the lawyer to make comments based on “personal business”.

Responding on a point of order, Mr Pettingill said: “All I said was it would be nice if you let people know it's going to be open tender and not leave people up in the air.”

United Bermuda Party MP John Barritt said: “Throwing money at it doesn't necessarily fix it.”

But Mr Barritt asked where was Government's plan to maximise efficiency to save money, saying not enough cash was being collected from traffic fines.

“We need to be doing more, especially where it concerns revenue. We need revenue,” said Mr Barritt.

Mark Pettingill(Photo By Tamell Simons)

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Published March 10, 2011 at 9:04 am (Updated March 10, 2011 at 9:03 am)

MPs clash in House over cuts to prisoner rehabilitation schemes

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