Hitting the number one spot is the Seychelles and just ahead of the federation is the United States of America. To complete the picture, the US Virgin Island ranks behind St. Kitts and Nevis. The publication’s information is based on calculations of the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS).
According to ICPS information, the Seychelles with 786 prisoners at a rate of 868 prisoners per 100,000 gets the undesirable first place. The US follows with 2.2 million prisoners at 698 per 100,000, then St. Kitts and Nevis with 330 prisoners at 611 per 100,000.
It must be noted that using 100,000 of population is standard in such calculations for comparison sake. It might be mathematically and statistically correct, but it creates a distortion in perception. Some persons prefer the use of the percentage of population to make comparisons between countries. These kinds of numbers, given the country’s very small population, might suggest to someone not living here that they could easily find themselves before the big grey gates of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) in downtown Basseterre.
But beyond these numbers, the only prison on St. Kitts, Her Majesty’s Prison, has been the subject of debate for several years, but it is becoming increasingly urgent, as the prison population in the facility gets larger. Currently, the prison population, inclusive of those on remand and those awaiting trial, is about 330 persons, in a facility built in 1840 and designed to hold 60 inmates. Some structural changes raised the quantum to about 160 today, so that in any event, the prison remains overcrowded.
Those in the legal profession say there are many individuals on remand or awaiting trial in Her Majesty’s Prison on Cayon Street, and this has been a contentious issue for them. On talk radio, several in the community have accused the Police of adopting a strategy of seizing and holding suspects indefinitely while investigations are pursued.
This was a strategy, which eventual ran afoul of the Courts system, when one Magistrate told police to charge the individuals or release them. Officer of the Police High Command will inform you that is no longer policy and will point you to their recently released strategic plan for controlling crime in the federation.
Then there are those persons who are in prison because they are unable to pay, some for hire purchase goods and for several other reasons. Many are without a reliable source of income, as circumstances might have changed for them. Debtor’s Jail is how most people on St. Kitts and Nevis call it. There have been those in politics and other spheres of endeavor who have called for the abolition of Debtor’s Jail and to find a practical solution to the issues involved. It would appear that very little progress has been made on this front.
And there has been talk about building a new prison facility, out of town to provide more space. Political parties on St. Kitts have engaged the idea. To date it remains an idea, as the cost of design and construction remains under contemplation.
Meanwhile, some social workers believe that the current prison system is not working in favour of the country, as young men enter the prison doors because of minor offenses and leave as hardened criminals.