The prison system in The Bahamas is comprised of various lockups in the islands’ districts. All individuals sentenced to terms exceeding three months are sent to the Central Prison in New Providence. The present population of that prison is 800, with most of the inmates being in the 16-35 age range. This means that the majority of the imprisoned population are in the prime of their productive and formative years. It is thus necessary to educate and equip them to be contributing members of the society, and to enhance their productivity and creativity as individuals and adults, as is being done in the general population and according to the EFA guidelines.
This is especially necessary in The Bahamas because of the high rate of repeat offenders, a rise from 38.8% in 1987 to 64% in 1998 (UNESCO, 1998). In 1998, the government appointed a Commissioner of Crime and, at the same time, expressed the opinion that the harsh legislation enacted in the past did not have any positive effects on either the individuals or the institution. A change was, therefore, required towards a rehabilitative rather than a punitive approach, using the penal system itself, the families of the inmates, the communities, and the government to effect this change.
Literacy Programmes in the Prison Population
In 1994, a pilot programme consisting of the core subjects: Literacy, Language, Mathematics, and Health Science, began in the maximum-security unit of the Central Lock-up. This facilitates the participation of inmates in the national examinations and, although statistics have not been provided on its success rate, it was stated at the 1998 UNESCO workshop that there has been a credible amount of success. Volunteers originally ran the programme but the government recently appointed four instructors to facilitate the courses.
The shortcoming of this programme is that it is only available to 86 of the 800 inmates, which is approximately 10.75% of the total population. Thus, while it may be a start, it is not equivalent to the emphasis placed on literacy training within the general adult population. Therefore, it is not in harmony with EFA standards, since it appears that not everyone within the confines of the prison system who needs literacy training has access to it.
Despite this drawback, however, plans are being put in place to bring literacy training in prisons on par with the wider society and the EFA guidelines. The following are the plans for academic expansion:
The Bahamian government is planning to launch a public education drive, targeting prison staff, support groups, families, and communities to sell the concept of rehabilitation for penal reform. This is in order to obtain the assistance needed to make the rehabilitative plan of action a reality.
As a subset of this plan, there are plans for the education of prison personnel with respect to the concept of “Corrections,” which is to include team-building programmes and instruction in the methodology of the various courses that are slated to be offered within the new system.
There are plans to expand the literacy programmes to include other prisoners that are not in the Maximum Security Unit, that is, education for all prisoners.
Only if these plans are put in place will the Bahamian prison system be in line with the programmes offered in the wider society and, thus, capable of meeting the EFA standards in terms of literacy training.
Skills Training in the General Adult Population
Skills training in The Bahamas is mainly geared towards young people between the ages of 16-24. This situation became more entrenched with the establishment of the 1994 Youth Commission, organised to prepare Bahamian youths for the technologically-driven world of the 21st century. In the late 1990s, the Ministry of Youth and Culture became involved in the following training initiatives involving youths, some of which have been institutionalised: