I wish to have the following letter published, in light of your story in yesterday’s paper titled, ‘Youth prisoners pardoned by President released from jail.’
It is a known fact among criminologists that persons who have been incarcerated for any length of time develop what we call a ‘prison mentality’ or a ‘jail-house mentality.’ It is a strange phenomenon that cannot be readily understood, especially by those who have never been incarcerated. Many people have difficulty understanding why criminals and ex-offenders behave the way they do.
In fact, even some of those who are victims of this observable fact and who act out, based on the effects of this phenomenon, deny the fact that they have developed this ‘mentality.’ A prison mentality could well be classified like schizophrenia, dementia, or one of the other mental diseases where the patient acts based on the effects of the disease but denies that reality.
In light of this fact, Adler, Mueller and Laufer, in their book, Criminology (6th edition), noted that those focusing on crime and incarceration must understand the biological, psychological, social and economic implications of the subject matter.
A person who has developed the prison mentality defaults to criminal behaviour in an effort to survive their world both inside and outside of prison. Sometimes it is a subconscious or default behaviour, other times the behaviour is a deliberate defiance of social laws and mores. Either way, the persons dealing with this phenomenon are most times experiencing a lack of the fulfilment or alleviation of their criminogenic needs. (Criminogenic needs have to do with the holistic desires of the formerly incarcerated.)
What the criminologist does is seeks to decipher the extent of the individual’s prison mentality and the degree to which the person is likely to engage in criminal behaviour as a result of his/her mentality. This information helps the criminologist to design programmes or suggest remedial help for the individual.
It is therefore a best practice recommendation that those who are returning from prison − especially on parole, probation (or in this case, having been pardoned by the President) − be subjected to programmes which deal in a formal way with their criminogenic needs.
Failing this, it is statistically likely that many of those released from prison will reoffend − committing worse crimes − as a result of not having satisfactorily dealt with their criminogenic needs or their prison mentality.
I therefore pray that the new administration will seek to establish a programme that deals directly with mitigating the transition of the ex-offenders back into society. Such an intervention will reduce recidivism (the rate at which offenders reoffend), and this will in turn reduce crime in Guyana.
While there is the notion that employment plays a large role in the lives of the ex-offender, it must be noted that a lack of job skills is only one of the problematic realities of the ex-offender. The ex-offender is also likely to have a housing need, a drug rehabilitation need, an academic need, a vocational training need and a spiritual need. All of which, if not met, could result in him/her reoffending. Therefore, for any ex-offender rehabilitation to be successful, it must be systematic, holistic and nationalistic (countrywide).
Urban Ministries Coordinator
Guyana Conference of