Research Article: Exploring the infeasibility of enforcing mandatory in-prison rehabilitation in Jamaica. Picture shows website of Jamaica's Department of Correctional ServicesThe website of Jamaica's Department of Correctional Services.

[This is an excerpt from an article in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affiars.]


Rehabilitation and what it should entail remain contentious issues in penal practice. This article calls for further investigation into the pros and cons of forced rehabilitation from Rotman’s (Citation1986) humanistic and liberty-centred point of view. The article also juxtaposes the policy discourse of mandatory in-prison rehabilitation with the counter-discourse of formerly incarcerated persons. It questions the moral, ethical, and legal implications of this proposed mandate. The extant research literature is instructive ─ the most effective rehabilitation programmes tend to be voluntary (Seiter & Kadela, Citation2003), especially within a cultural and post-colonial context that values autonomy and agency. While forced rehabilitation may, therefore, be necessary in some cases, it can still have negative consequences.

The rich insights of participants afford us an understanding of how some inmates might respond to rehabilitation interventions that involve coercion. From their insights, we see that effective reintegration of individuals who may experience forced rehabilitation is a complex issue that requires careful consideration. The challenges highlighted in this article point to a need for the authorities to pursue mandatory in-prison rehabilitation as an absolute last resort after carefully considering each approach’s specific circumstances, potential benefits, and risks. Correctional practice in Jamaica must also be more evidence-based, respectful of human rights, and more focused on utilitarian penal outcomes rather than punitive ones.

Research shows that reducing recidivism requires that rehabilitation programmes are focused on highest-risk and highest-need inmates (Taylor, Citation2017). This RNR model is grounded in research evidence that suggests that focusing resources and interventions on individuals who are at the highest risk of reoffending and have the greatest criminogenic needs is more likely to yield successful outcomes. Such programmes address the underlying causes of deviant behaviour, empower individuals to take control of their reform, provide ongoing support and aftercare, are evidenced-based, and are evaluated for cost-effectiveness (Taylor, Citation2017). However, a more effective and ethical approach to rehabilitation must seek to combine elements of the RNR and rights-based models. Such an approach recognises that inmates have the right to rehabilitation services, which can effectively address their needs and risks while still respecting their human rights.

Evidence-based correctional practice in Jamaica also requires strengthening. The current situation is critical and can be improved with the government enforcing a results-based monitoring and evaluation system for correctional service delivery This intervention must include conducting readiness assessments and obtaining stakeholder agreement on outcomes and key performance indicators to monitor and evaluate rehabilitation interventions. Baseline data on indicators will also need to be identified.

There is also a need to reduce or formalise ‘underground activities’ through enhanced monitoring and surveillance, regular policy review, improved staff training, proper classification, reduced overcrowding and strengthened incentive-based systems. The Amendment to the Correctional Act in this regard is not enough. Additionally, the various opportunities for prison corruption (staff misconduct, impunity, Footnote31 retaliation against whistleblowers, contraband economy, sexual exploitation, nepotism, abuse of power, gang influence, etc.) question whether more resourcing will necessarily result in the development of more bespoke rehabilitation programmes which can be opted into voluntarily. Between 2019/10 and 2013/14, the DCS obtained government funding approval for rehabilitation activities totalling JMD 2.14 billion (roughly £11,179,360) (AGD, Citation2014). However, the DCS only spent 94% of the allocation (AGD, Citation2014). While essential non-financial resources are therefore lacking, the DCS must first tackle key governance issues to effectively utilise any additional financial resources.

The Jamaican state can take several steps to improve the consistency of education provisioning in correctional centres. These steps may include the Ministry of Education and Youth developing and implementing clear and comprehensive education policies that target the correctional service and the state dedicating resources for this purpose. It is also vital that flexible learning models are explored outside of a pandemic context and that the efficiency of current educational and skills training arrangements are evaluated. Correctional staff should also be provided with regular professional development opportunities to enhance their understanding of the value of education-driven rehabilitation. Teaching instructors also require ongoing training and should meet the qualification requirements of teachers within the community.

The government must put in place better safeguards to ensure that the rights of inmates are protected at all costs so that when they leave prison, they are enabled to function as autonomous citizens. Indeed, inmates have the right to receive opportunities to return to society with an improved chance of effective reintegration. This right should be supported by a non-destructive prison environment and a penal policy that maintain respect for the dignity of inmates and fulfil their basic human needs beyond survival (Rotman, Citation1986).

Dacia L. Leslie is a Senior Research Fellow, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social & Economic Studies, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica.