Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, By Andrew Clunis – It is costing the Government over half a billion dollars annually to feed inmates at the island’s correctional facilities.

Figures obtained by the Jamaica Observer showed that in 2020 it cost $13,000 to feed one inmate per month and the island’s prison population currently amounts to just about 3,700.

The revised Estimates of Expenditure for the current financial year show a food bill of $527, 374,000 million, with that figure expected to rise to $581,431,000 for the coming financial year 2022/2023 for diet charges.

The issue of the feeding of prisoners has been a vexed one for many Jamaicans over the years. It is popular opinion that prisoners should be made to work to pay their debt to society and feed themselves.

There are two farm prisons in Jamaica — the Tamarind Farm Correctional Centre in St Catherine and the Richmond Adult Correctional Facility in St Mary. But sources tell the Sunday Observer that there is very little taking place in terms of work and productivity on the farms which mostly lie fallow.

A source close to the Richmond Adult Correctional facility said: “There isn’t enough staff and we have to focus more on security, so farming takes a back seat. We do a little here and there but nothing on a wide scale. We supply some of the other institutions with eggs from a small chicken farm and our pig rearing is at an all-time low. I believe it is time for the authorities to take a close look at what is going on because there is enough land available for cultivation and production and we should be putting more into the system in terms of ground provisions, meat and vegetables. That would lessen the burden on the taxpayers and funds could be shifted to assist with more rehabilitation programmes.”

Richmond Farm once incorporated a large banana cultivation with cash crops mixed in, including corn, string beans, pak choi and cucumber.

A correctional officer at a high-security facility said many staff members are furious that the Government is laying out so much on feeding inmates and is calling for an audit of the services. “The Auditor General’s Department needs to look deeply into what is taking place in prisons. From where many of us sit we see this as a money-making thing. Jamaica is in problems in terms of fish heads…It’s a friendship thing and somebody needs to look at how the produce contracts are awarded.”

He continued: “You have many prisoners who desperately want to work. They want to be doing something. So why is a man sentenced to hard labour and he can laze about all day, sometimes making mischief. It is an absolute disgrace that so many acres of land at Richmond and Tamarind Farm remain under-utilised and are turning into forest and the institutions are buying things like yam, sweet potato, cabbage, callaloo and bananas. The taxpayers of this country need some answers.

“If there was better management of the men, they would be able to supply all of the fresh produce that is required,” he added.

Minister with responsibility for the correctional services Zavia Mayne and the Commissioner of Corrections Lt Col (Ret) Gary Rowe remained tight-lipped about the feeding programme in the service, refusing to respond to questions posed by the Sunday Observer.

Another area of concern raised by the correctional officer is in the area of dietary needs for inmates who suffer from diabetes and/or hypertension. “We are supposed to have nutritionists and doctors who screen and make recommendations for certain inmates with medical conditions. But from what I have observed they are just fed what is there and the daily menu leaves a lot to be desired.

“I know this prison, but what is served raises questions about where all that money is going. For example, every day there is rice and dumplings. Sometimes there is cornmeal porridge and crackers. They have recently introduced salt fish and there is a limited variety of meat kind. So, what is half a billion dollars being spent on annually?”