(Observer)Helping to usher in much-needed reform to Antigua and Barbuda’s criminal justice system by prioritising rehabilitation is the main goal of the country’s lone recipient of the 2023 Chevening Scholarship, Curtis Cornelius.
Cornelius, who works as a Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, is among 15 scholarship recipients from Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean who will be heading to the UK to read for postgraduate degrees in the academic year 2023/24.
The Antiguan is poised to pursue an MSc in Criminology with a focus on offender rehabilitation at the University of Leicester.
“I think [a proper rehabilitation programme] is lacking currently within our prison system … as a result of that lacuna, we have a system where persons who are convicted felons they go to prison, they come back out [and] they reoffend.
“Why is that happening? Because they are not given the opportunity to better themselves while in the prison system”, Cornelius explained this week.
Rehabilitation in the criminal justice context refers to the process of educating convicted criminals in as holistic a manner as possible, to afford them the best chance at reintegrating into their societies and reduce the likelihood of them committing other criminal offences.
Data gathered from both sentenced and remanded persons in six Caribbean countries from 2016 to 2019 as part of an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report on reducing prison populations showed that, “in aggregate terms, 41 percent of inmates surveyed in the six countries were recidivists or repeat offenders”.
That report – which covered the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago – further stated that, “In the Caribbean, roughly 40 percent of recidivists return to prison within six months to one year of release depending on the country”.
“Also, less than one in five prisoners has access to rehabilitation and re-entry services, which have been shown to reduce recidivism and repeat offending,” it added.
In addressing these issues, the report recommended things like “establishing programs to divert people who have committed non-serious offenses, and reforming judicial procedures and strengthening pre- and post-release services”.
Some efforts are being made on the ground here in Antigua and Barbuda, including through the Seeds of Hope initiative, which has sponsored inmates serving time at His Majesty’s Prison to pursue online studies in the Lifelong Learning Unit (LLU) at the University of the West Indies Five Islands campus.
While programmes like that one contribute to the overall goal, Cornelius says there is still so much more to be done.
“That only benefits a small amount of the prison population…what I want really and truly is for rehabilitation to be a focal point of our correctional facility, and not just a place where people go, spend time, come back out and reoffend.
“I know our Attorney General had some plans back in 2019 to have an Antiguan Parole Board, where rehabilitation would have been a huge [component]. So, I think that my focus now on this particular area will indeed benefit Antigua and Barbuda; we can get these plans off the ground.
“We as a society benefit when persons who go to prison come back out and do not reoffend, because we are ultimately the victims of these crimes,” he said.
The public prosecutor is only the latest Antiguan and Barbudan to benefit from the annual Chevening Scholarship, following the exploits of Jeniece St Romain, Malaeka Goodwin and Sharifa George back in the 2021/22 academic year.
He is also the country’s first male scholar since Kurt Williams in 2016.