Similar to my views on the President’s declared intention to yearly pardon young non-violent criminals, I support his decision to pardon 11 non-violent female offenders. I am even more supportive since the offenders to be released are mothers. In a country in which fathers are very often absent and even when present, neglect their duties to the home, this decision of the President takes on even more significance. However the President’s determination to ensure these female offenders are home for Christmas worries me, since the period between his expressed intention and Christmas Day is pretty short. This does not allow for having in place all the things necessary to give us some assurance that their release could work for the best of those pardoned, their families and the society as a whole.
Editor, a mother imprisoned when her child was 12 years old and released six years later will be returning to a home where her son or daughter is an adult. So the question is, what has the prison authority, and by extension the government, done to prepare the mother for the new relationship that this development will demand? Let’s remember, quite likely during the mother’s confinement the daughter lived with a father who did little fathering and therefore has become accustomed to making her own decisions. Add to this the fact that usually most of the mothers who are incarcerated come from poor communities, were recipients of fairly limited formal education and indeed might have been struggling with the task of mothering even before their incarceration.
With no assistance intended to improve their parenting skills, isn’t their return to homes in which there are already adult women present (their daughters), tailor made for volatile relationships? Editor, many of us who grew up in areas and under conditions that are today defined as ‘ghettoes’ have seen this movie before. Mothers who have served a period in prison are inclined to be very protective of their off spring, determined to spare their children a similar experience. Children who have been fending for themselves for years often find such parents too protective, too harsh and perceive them as authoritarian.
Recently in the USA concern about the often problematic relationship between mothers who are ex-convicts and their children, led to a number of studies being conducted with the intent of informing remedial action. In the end it was advised that prior to their release those chosen offenders must attend sessions facilitated by social workers who have experience in working with families. It was also found that lack of frequent contact with their children on the outside can make the ex-prisoners’ return to the family challenging. Further it was also established that the biggest challenge to more regular contact with/visits from children to their incarcerated parent was the high cost of the travel to prison facilities. Children from low income families simply could not afford the cost of frequent visits. In some states this recognition led to a group known as the Welcome Home Ministries commencing a programme that offered assistance, ensuring that children were able to frequently visit incarcerated mothers; and institutied parenting training for females about to be released from prison. In Guyana, with the female prison located in New Amsterdam and getting there involving financing a journey which includes the payment of a steep toll for crossing the Berbice River Bridge, visits to parents are likely to be few for children from poor families.
Taking all this into consideration, what happens if on these mothers’ return to the homes, there is chaos growing out of both the mothers and children’s inability to adjust to the demands of this new relationship? What happens if this ends with daughters leaving the home because mothers insist on making all the decisions in the home without consulting, and holding fast to the old view ‘Two big omon cyan live in de same house’? What happens when young ladies frustrated and angry leave the homes defenceless? It is not enough for the President to merely tell us he is willing to take the chance of things going awry. This is not a game. There is the possibility of putting in place structured programmes prior to the offenders’ release that would reduce the likelihood of this happening; there is no excuse for not doing so.
Recently a letter appearing in the Stabroek News of October 19 spoke of the challenges growing out of the President’s decision to pardon non-violent young offenders. It would seem the President did not consider the challenges when making his decision. Now, just 2 months later action is again being considered that also will have un-catered for consequences which a person with a first degree in Criminal Justice would certainly be capable of anticipating. Who is advising the President on these matters? Is he seeking advice at all? Is this all about Christian zeal?