Transforming the Culture of the Correctional Services in Jamaica: An Interview with Lt. Colonel John Prescod

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Lt. Colonel John Prescod, LVO, served as the Commissioner of Corrections for the Department of Correctional Services in Jamaica, for eight years after assuming the desk in December 1993. When he first assumed the responsibility as Commissioner of Corrections, he found a culture of habitual absenteeism on the part of Correctional Officers, a squalid and dirty environment, and rampant lack of discipline within the institutions. Seven years later, by the year 2000, the 25th anniversary of the Department, the focus had shifted from the incarceration of offenders, to their care and rehabilitation.

Commissioner Prescod and his team reshaped the Department's objectives to embrace a contemporary approach to correctional management, which has resulted in a steady downward trend in recidivism rate, from fifty percent in 1993 to a low of 25 percent in 1998. As the recidivism rate began to move up in 1999, Commissioner Prescod decided to take the process a step further. He introduced consultations for a "Rising to Meet the Challenges" (RMC) Strategy, to respond to perceived needs in the institution, through the improvement of the Human Resource Management Systems in the Jamaican Correctional Service. In this regard he established a system of succession planning and groomed successors who understood and supported the new culture. He left office as Commissioner of Corrections in Jamaica, in January 2002, and assumed responsibility as the Commissioner of Corrections in Bermuda as of May 2002.

To understand the cultural transformation instituted by Commissioner Prescod, it is necessary to understand the correctional system history. During the post-independence years the penal system in Jamaica was composed of three main entities: the Prisons, the Probation Services and the Approved Schools (Juvenile Institutions). This distinction of roles, with each being administered separately, and functioning independently in the implementation and execution of the correctional functions of the Government, resulted in an inefficient system plagued with inconsistencies and duplication. In 1975 in order to correct this problem, the three entities were joined to form the Department of Correctional Services, an agency of the then Ministry of National Security and Justice. The marriage resulted in a clash of cultures: old English prison orientation; English based community corrections; and a boarding school type of orientation for juveniles. Ordering, shifting, shaping and forging a united organization became an overriding challenge made even more complex by the multiplicity of primary stakeholder interests, and resulted in an organization that was constantly challenged by industrial action, disturbances and interdiction.

Prior to the merger in 1975, the conceptual function of the prison system was that of punishment. However, the merger forged new directions for the Correctional Services as opportunities were opened for rehabilitation and care. A major challenge related to redefining a culture that mirrored that of tradition and of society. In this culture, the offender was to be punished and that punishment began with incarceration; only the offender receiving the non-custodial sentence was worthy of and able to be rehabilitated, and furthermore those charged with the daily care of the inmates had neither accepted the notion of, nor were they administering the process of rehabilitation.

Author: Commissioner Prescod, why did you decide to take on the job as Commissioner of Corrections in Jamaica?

Prescod: I had no choice. At that time, I was a Military Officer, the Commanding Officer of a Battalion committed to service where duties called me. The then Chief of Staff called me into his office and asked that I go to the prisons to sort it out, as there were very serious problems within that service.

Author: What was there to sort out?

Prescod: What I found was contrary to any military environment known to me. …