Child maintenance cases are on the rise, but unfortunately for some men, they fall victim to some of their unthinking, jealous or vindictive child(ren)’s mothers. They aren’t bothered whether the father is working or has another source of income. The end result is that those unfortunate fathers end up at Bordelais! There are also some mothers who know nothing about bringing up a child. They abuse and ill-treat the children, but yet, it is beyond me as to why a mother has not been hauled before the courts for child maintenance. I am yet to see that day!
Putting that aside, this is a huge problem at Bordelais. The place is already overcrowded and this is a serious issue. Now, when that delinquent father gets to Bordelais, does that means he is a criminal? He may be deemed to be a civil prisoner, but he is no criminal. But rest assured, when he gets there, he will be placed among seasoned criminals. This is where the school of hard knocks comes into play! Are we training him for a criminal life? Let’s look at the logistics.
Let’s say a father is sent to serve six months for not paying two thousand dollars of child support; this is what happens: When that father reaches Bordelais, he must get his uniforms, eating utensils, toiletries, a place to sleep and three square meals a day. Every day that he spends at Bordelais comes at a price, because he is on “state welfare.”
A six month stay at Bordelais, plus all those factors mentioned above, will surpass much more than the two thousand dollars owed, and at whose expense? The taxpayer! Isn’t that absurd and ridiculous? So there the father, sitting pretty in jail for the next six months, and the child gets nothing during that period. What happens to the mother who signed the warrant
for his arrest? She also gets nothing [while he is incarcerated.]
So tell me, then, who is at a loss? I guess it’s the state, because he MUST be taken care of at the facility. Wow! What would you call that ‘NOMICS? Court-a-nomics? State-of-nomics? I call it sheer stupidity! There is a saying that goes like this (translate in Creole) “wash your hands and wipe it on the ground” is it really worth it? I don’t think so!
I recall in 2004 I wrote a document to the Human Services people, or what we affectionately call “Social Welfare.” In the document, I made some recommendations that should be considered to curb that situation. Mind you, do not take me wrong, I do not support a father who has a job and doesn’t feed his child. He should be dealt with! But with the current economic climate, jobs don’t come easy, and many fathers are made redundant, so there is no income.
I suggested that rather than sending a delinquent father to jail, the Welfare Department should adopt the STEP program or something similar. The Magistrate would use his or her discretion to place the delinquent father in the program, which would
be mandatory. When he gets his earnings, a percentage goes to the child and the father keeps the balance. Therefore, the father stays out of jail and the child gets something, even it is not much.
In these tough economic times, belt-tightening should be considered in the court system. At Bordelais, the cost factor to maintain the facility and feed those “criminals” is huge, and creates a lot of burdens for us. When an inmate is sent up or remanded for a misdemeanor, it clogs up the jail. The cost is added to a cash-strapped Government. In the past, community service or extra-mural sentences were the alternatives to prison. These need to be reinstituted in order to reduce the inmate population.
I do hope that someone will read this and see the merit in it. This is serious business and leaves a lot to be desired.
Etheldred James is a Saint Lucian Corrections Officer with sixteen years of experience in the local prison system.