Presentation by Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon Timothy Harris on the Prison (Amendment) Bill, 2019 at the Sitting of Parliament on May 9th, 2019

As prepared for delivery
Presentation by Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon Timothy Harris on the Prison (Amendment) Bill, 2019 at the Sitting of Parliament on May 9th, 2019

I rise to commence the debate on the Bill shortly entitled the Prison (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Mr. Speaker, by now you would have fully recognized that from time to time it is incumbent upon this Honourable House to undertake the very necessary tasks of revisiting the statute books to revise, review, amend and update the various pieces of legislation that make up the fabric of our body of laws. The Bill before you represents one such endeavour.

Mr. Speaker, the Prison Act was passed in 1955, more than 60 years ago, pre-dating several of us in this Honourable House.

Since then, you would appreciate that there have been many changes that have accompanied the passage of time. In 1789, the U.S. Statesman, Benjamin Franklin, was recorded as saying the following, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

In hindsight, Mr. Franklin was speaking prophetically since that very Constitution has been changed at least 27 times within the past 200 years. The truth is, whatever is alive must endure some level of change if it is intended to survive and be fit for purpose. Our laws must continue to adapt and be adapted, as we ourselves move through life and times, and achieve all the imperatives of staying current and relevant and in tune with a meaningful and evolving democratic construct.

Mr. Speaker, the proposed amendment before this Honourable House is not a difficult one and is intended simply to update certain references in the law to bring them more into keeping with contemporary practices. In this case, the reference in the Prison Act to the position of “Superintendent of Prisons” is being proposed to be amended to “Commissioner of Corrections.”  Mr. Speaker, this is a more modern expression, which also more accurately reflects the enhanced role, responsibility and duty of the office holder.

Mr. Speaker, this is intended to initiate a major reform process of the current approach to incarceration of prisoners, their treatment during their time in custody, as well as rehabilitation.

My Government wants to create a more ennobling society – kinder, gentler, more forgiving and empowering.  The traditional punitive conception of our Prisons and the attitude that those who inhabit our Prisons are societal outcasts must no longer have currency and relevance.  A new kind of enlightened leadership is required to lead our “Prisons.”

The use of the nomenclature of Commissioner of Corrections is in keeping with the new ethos of rehabilitation, reducing recidivism, and empowering inmates to face society anew and be better adjusted.

Three countries in CARICOM: Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica have already moved to upgrade the administrative structure of the Prison Service, and have appointed a Commissioner of Prisons as Head of the Prison Service.

I will for the purposes of supporting the proposed Amendments to the Prison Act, refer to the Prison Service of one of these CARICOM countries, Trinidad & Tobago. Although the Prison Service in Trinidad & Tobago serves a much larger prison population, we can be guided by the basic structure and the strategic objectives that guide its operation.

The Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service is an arm of the Criminal Justice System and, like St. Kitts and Nevis, is a Division of the Ministry of National Security. It employs both prison officers and civilians to enable its efficient functioning and performance of a range of tasks related to its mandate of holding and treating incarcerated prisoners.  The prison service, therefore, is a unique entity, in that its operations are neither fully military nor civilian.  In the course of its operations, it reflects both. Some of the senior officers are Commissioned Officers, just as in the military, ranging from Superintendent of Prisons up to Commissioner of Prisons.

The amendments to the Prison Act make provision for a Commissioner of Corrections who has overall responsibility for the prison, a Deputy Commissioner of Corrections who, perhaps, may be given responsibility for Operations or Programmes, and a Chaplain who can provide spiritual and counselling support for inmates to prepare them and assist the reintegration process.

This Bill takes us further on our journey as a civilized people, making determined efforts to utilize our limited human resources in ways that conduce to the peace and prosperity of our land.

May this Bill have safe passage.

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