In Retrospect: Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it!
The following should serve to educate the PM’s professional mouthpiece, Jadia Jn Pierre Emmanuel, as to her boss’s original philosophy to “transform the penal system”, published as it was, by the Kenny Anthony government on Saturday, January 18th, 2003 in “Nationwide” [A publication of the Department of Information Services], following the official opening of the Bordelais Correctional Facility. – Dee Lundy-Charles
Back in 1958, Lord Farrington, a visiting British lawmaker, made a most damning condemnation of St Lucia’s Royal Gaol. As reported by the Voice, he described the Bridge Street prison as an “abomination” and expressed the view that “the only remedy is to blow it up with dynamite”.
On Wednesday this week, almost half a century later, Saint Lucia finally laid to rest the old Royal Gaol with the official opening of the new $48 million Bordelais Correctional Facility in Dennery. Bordelais also signals a fundamental shift in Saint Lucia’s approach towards the treatment of offenders, with new emphasis on rehabilitation rather than just punishment, as was the case in the past.
“I want to assure you that our switch from penal to correctional doesn’t mean we’re going soft on crime,” Director of Corrections, Hilary Herman, made it clear to dignitaries and other guests at the two-hour-long ceremony. “We’ll be tough on crime but, on the same token, we’ll concentrate on making every inmate a productive and tax-paying citizen.”
In a moving speech which generated considerable applause, Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, described the investment in Bordelais as “an unfortunate necessity” brought on by “historical circumstances (that) have placed the failures of the past at our feet.” He said it will bring St Lucia major benefits.
It will help authorities, for example, to deal more effectively with crime. It will enhance national peace and security by ensuring dangerous criminals are kept behind bars, and it will contribute to creating a more conducive environment for social and economic development.
“This investment in Bordelais should be seen as a clear and tangible signal of the Government’s commitment to curbing crime in St Lucia,” Dr. Anthony said, noting it will also bring an end to “the inhumanity and indignity of the old Royal Gaol”.
Bordelais, occupying 33.4 acres of hilltop Crown lands, is built to house 500 inmates. The old prison, built in 1827 for 60 prisoners, currently houses just over 400.
Bordelais comprises 18 building blocks, including a female unit, adult male unit, maximum security and condemned unit with adjoining gallows and cemetery, young offenders unit, remand unit, and segregation unit.
There is also a courtroom on the compound, workshops where inmates will learn various skills to help them find gainful employment on their eventual release from imprisonment, classrooms, library, gymnasium and chapel, among other modern facilities.
Bordelais allows for the separation of prisoners, which was not possible at the Bridge Street prison. As a result, young offenders will no longer come into contact with and be influenced by hardened criminals behind local prison walls. Under overcast afternoon skies, with intermittent rain and chilly gusty winds blowing in from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, Governor General, Dame Pearlette Louisy, cut a ribbon to mark the official opening of the facility. Prime Minister Anthony unveiled a commemorative plaque.
“The construction of this very institution was necessitated by acts of inhumanity,” said Home Affairs Minister, Sarah Flood- Beaubrun, referring to the “barbarity” of conditions at the Bridge Street prison.
“Conversely, the foresight and subsequent decision to construct this correctional facility was motivated and was an act of singular compassion.”
She noted that as far back as 1901, the Report of the Gaol and Police Commission had found the Bridge Street prison to be “unsuitable and inadequate.”
Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun, who has ministerial responsibility for the prison service, praised her predecessor, Velon John, and the Prime Minister for their respective roles in making the new facility a reality.
She said the new emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation is “testimony of our belief in the most important resource in our country–our people and more particularly, our youth”.
“On average at any one time,” she noted, “the majority of our prison population is between the ages of 18 and 35, young men, fathers who should be heading their households, building strong families, and contributing in a meaningful way to overall national development.”
“Lives will be changed and transformed for good in this correctional facility,” she said. “Something which happens very infrequently at Her Majesty’s Prison on Upper Bridge Street.”
Government recruited and undertook an intensive eight-week-long training programme for 78 persons who will serve as correctional officers at Bordelais. With support services from other professionals, they will oversee a range of programmes designed to help offenders turn their backs on a life of crime.
“With the construction of this prison, we have taken a decisive step to bring to an end the ridiculous and untenable situation of a penal system which cannot keep its prisoners behind bars,” said Dr. Anthony. “. . . it is now more difficult for hardened criminals to simply walk out of jail or scale the prison walls as was the case in the past.”
The Minister made it clear to the criminally-minded to expect to serve their full sentences when sent to Bordelais, as early release which occasionally happened to ease the overcrowding problem at Bridge Street will now be a feature of the past.
He is also hoping that critics of Bordelais, who said it shouldn’t be built, will grasp the philosophical basis and importance of the project and give full support to the Government in the fight against crime.