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Hope and optimism as Corrections Week opens

Compassion and hope: The opening of Corrections Week attended by Premier Michael Dunkley, Senator Jeff Baron, Corrections officers and students from Saltus Grammar School and the Berkeley Institute

Long gone are the days when people imprisoned for breaking the law served their time and nothing but their time.

Belief in the ability of people to better themselves, to turn a new leaf towards rehabilitation and redemption, underlines today’s approach to people who find themselves behind bars.

That faith in people to turn their lives around runs deep in Bermuda, stemming, I believe, from a wellspring of hope and optimism that lies within each of us.

I saw evidence of that faith, hope and optimism at the opening of Corrections Week on the Cabinet grounds with the Premier, the Commissioner of Corrections and department officers.

With us were students from Saltus Grammar School and The Berkeley Institute, who had participated in an essay contest asking them what they would do if they were in charge of Corrections.

And it was in their words and ideas that one could see the belief in the essential goodness of people that has enlightened the department’s mission to “empower inmates to be responsible and productive citizens”.

There was Kayla Tucker, from Berkeley, winner of the contest, who recognised the need to provide prisoners with the right tools and education to live good lives beyond prison.

“We must help them,” she wrote, because prison can “serve as a new beginning” helping them “turn their lives around”.

There was Zantae Dill, of Saltus, who saw the work of corrections officers not as “a job”, but more as “an opportunity to better Bermuda’s youth”. We need to look after one another, Zantae said, rather than cast people aside.

And there was Daijon Taylor, of Berkeley, who saw the work of Corrections as an opportunity to make a positive impact on inmates’ lives, organising community service opportunities to bring out the best in them, growing hope and determination to move on; making prison just “a hurdle in their race to a better life”.

These young voices reflect the instinctive Bermudian commitment to care for each other, to see that people are given a fair shot to realise their inner goodness and to follow the right path.

The good news is that Corrections has a fantastic array of programmes helping inmates to do just that.

There are educational services from courses for the General Education Diploma, to vocational skills in carpentry, mechanics, computer skills, graphics, sewing, culinary arts and drywall.

There are gang intervention workshops, psychological services and counselling for substance abuse, anger management and victim empathy. There are services that help with job readiness, employment assistance, individual counselling, life skills training that includes parenting skills, and connections to community support services.

And there are prison chaplains to provide for spiritual enrichment and guidance.

This is a system that is built on compassion and hope. It’s a system that gives people the opportunities they need to turn their lives around and join the rest of us in the never-ending work to make Bermuda work for everyone.

As the Premier said in his national address in April, “Bermuda is too small and our people too important to ignore those who, through poor choices, may be incarcerated”.

Everybody counts. Everybody deserves not just a chance, but also a second chance.

Statistics indicate we are making headway.

Recidivism rates — the rate at which criminals find themselves back behind bars — has fallen to new lows. And prison occupancy rates are similarly low.

Last week, the commissioner said these encouraging signs were the result of teamwork, the teamwork of the men and women in the Department of Corrections. I could not agree more.

I would add that it is also a society success, driven by Bermudian faith, hope and optimism that the student writers from Saltus and Berkeley reflected so well in their essays.

• Senator Jeff Baron is the Junior Minister for National Security