A number of inmates from HMP Northward Prison, Fairbanks and Eagle House involved in the Prisoner Learning and Development Unit were awarded certificates for their accomplishments on Wednesday.
A large group of inmates, including 47 from Northward Prison, seven from Fairbanks and eight from Eagle House were awarded certificates in English for office skills Level 1 and 2; City and Guilds Numeracy level 2 and 3 and various other vocational programmes by prison officials.
Inmate Kenny Whittaker was given a special award for his outstanding poetry. Most outstanding academic student was Allan Ebanks and Hasani Levy was awarded the Director’s Award for academics.
It was a special moment for inmate Allan Ebanks and emotions flowed freely when his mom Elvita joined him to accept his Most Improved award from Deputy Director Dwight Scott.
Speaking at the certificate presentation ceremony, Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray said there were some who might ask why prisoners should be given educational opportunities if they failed to take advantage of this in the past.
But he said the purpose of prison education should be defined not just in terms of showing prisoners the opportunities they have but an alternative to crime.
‘Whilst that is a fundamental goal, it is important to recognise that to provide prison education is important in itself in a civilised society because it is the right thing to do – it can only be wrong not to provide opportunities for learning.
‘Education and the process of engaging in learning has a value in itself which needs to be encouraged and recognised,’ he said.
Mr. Rattray further stated that education does not have to be solely directed towards qualifications for employment.
He said subjects like art, creative writing, drama and the prison choir can have a powerful effect on self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, raised aspirations and expectations which help to develop assertive positive relationships rather than aggressive negative relationships.
‘Education, particularly to tackle illiteracy and innumeracy, are important for social inclusion, not just employment,’ he said.
‘Having a job makes re-offending less likely and the right education, training and work to confront offending behaviour in prison makes it more likely that prisoners will find meaningful employment on release.’
Mr. Rattray said encouraging prisoners into education and training can be pivotal to a crime-free future but has to be part of a broader package, including help with finding work, maintaining family ties, addiction and behavioural support and securing suitable housing.
‘Moreover, we must realise that the association between basic skill levels and re-offending is complex and, at best, not yet proven. It is also the case that the relationship between employment and offending is not straightforward.’
Mr. Rattray also stressed that low education attainment at primary school leads to poor progress at secondary which leads to truanting, attitude and behavioural issues which leads to exclusion from the general public and for some to criminality and then prison.
‘This is an extremely difficult problem to try and tackle by the time offenders are entrenched in criminal behaviour,’ he said.
What he said needs to be done is, rather than criticise prisons for failing to rehabilitate prisoners, we need to look to causes of crime and preventative measures; measures that reduce the number of students leaving school with poor basic skills, reduce truancy and increase entry into further education.
But for those graduating he said he congratulated them for choosing a different route.
Mr. Rattray also said the unit continues to go from strength to strength.
Recent improvements to the programme included the introduction of City and Guilds qualifications, a computer lab, a well-stocked library and a comprehensive physical education programme.
Also through the Prison Fellowship there were intentions to introduce a restorative justice programme and a victim-based programme to achieve reconciliation between victims and those who offended against them.
Guest Speaker Jacqueline Morris also congratulated and encouraged the inmates.
‘Do not ever be tempted to say that because you are physically confined behind these walls, your mind and spirit and soul and potential are imprisoned.
‘Become the best you right now, right here in this place,’ she said.
‘Take the initiative in creating your own opportunities and do not wait for others to push you. Do not assume that if a door was closed yesterday that it will be closed today. You are unique with unique gifts and talents and as you strive for excellence, do not be afraid to take risks or failure.’
Ms Morris also left them with a quote from President Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope.
Donovan Ebanks, Deputy Governor of the Cayman Islands said, from the results he had seen, he was proud of the progress the inmates had made in the programme
He also stressed to inmates that sometimes life does not deal us what we want and things don’t always work out the way we planned but you have to find patience and not deviated from the right path.
The prison learning course has been ongoing since the 90’s when it was first introduced by former prison officer Adam MacIntyre and the Correctional and Rehabilitation Services. In 2005 Natalie Joseph-Caesar came on board as education coordinator and since that time the educational programmes have been externally certificated by accredited institutions.