ICOPA XIV - Trinidad 2012

Official Statement by Anthony P. Gonzales and Catherine Ali, ICOPA Coordinators

Our Ref: 10/96                                                                                                                                                                                                12thJuly, 2012

Dear Friends of ICOPA,

             Thank you all for presenting and for participating in four days of dialogue at ICOPA 14, at The University of The West Indies, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago. There have been many positive responses and the organizing team enjoys the satisfaction of a job well done. An enormous amount of work was undertaken by Liz Griffith, Marilyn Ramon-Fortuné, Keshan Latchman, Gerard Modeste, Adrian Alexander and Jacqueline Roberts on a voluntary basis, for a cause they had never heard of up to a few months ago, and have come to appreciate as deserving of their energy. They are an exemplary team.

Dr. Anthony Gonzales, Interim Director of the Institute of International Relations, provided a home for the international conference at the University and saw its practical value particularly as many countries can no longer afford prisons and have not considered alternatives. His acceptance, and the support of the Principal, Professor Clement Sankat and Mrs. Elizabeth Mc Comie, effectively directed our initial planning efforts and gave status to the conference. Consequently we attracted students and staff from the Police Academy, the Prison Training College, and the Youth Training Centre, in addition to Criminology representatives from UWI, UTT and COSTATT - all of whom want to move forward together and continue the conversation in regular local fora. Perhaps we could rotate a half-day symposium through these venues at regular intervals.

The Dean of The Faculty of Social Sciences, Dr. Hamid Ghany, believed in this event. His confidence and recommendation of the involvement of Professor Anthony Harriott and The UWI Institute of Criminal Justice and Security, at Mona Campus, Jamaica, provided regional theoretical and praxis dimensions, and the breathtaking presentations of Horace Levy and Damian Ferguson. We hope to grow our new working relationships, and collaborate with Mr. Robert Geofroy, Head of the UWI Open University of the Cayman Islands. There, agencies wait at the prison gates for highly skilled prisoners as they are released. The successful computer repair and application training programmes taught at the Cayman prisons may be possible in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica upon receipt of a large number of retired computers from one of the ICOPA delegates, Brett Collins from Justice Action, Australia. The computers will be consigned to The Prison Reform and Transformation Unit, Ministry of Justice, Trinidad and Tobago, when a sponsor for shipping is identified. Wendy Hamblet, keynote speaker on Beyond Rewards and Punishments, offered introductory online courses, which she developed for S&A University in North Carolina. These steps towards changing prisons into centres of learning and human enrichment are most welcome because they advance the goal of a prison less society.

The Keynote speakers, Professors Vincenzo Ruggiero, Omuwbiko Agozino and Wendy Hamblet were inspiring. Their papers and all the conference presentations we received will be available online at: http://sta.uwi.edu/conferences/12/icopa/icopa.aspRecommendations, resolutions and photographs will also be posted there also and we are most grateful for the assistance of CITS staff, Daren Dhoray and Christopher Thomas in creating and maintaining the website.

The involvement of the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service, the participation of prisoners and officers and the use of their space for mediation training and the conference demonstrated an openness that is truly appreciated and we hope it will lead to mutual emancipator learning among abolitionists and institutions. President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, The Rt. Hon. Sir Dennis Byron, local judges, magistrates and attorneys-at-law, and Professor Anthony Bryan were among those interested in the cutting-edge thinking on criminal justice alternatives, reparative law and social measures as trajectories to penal abolitionism. Hal Pepinsky expects to be back in Trinidad in October at the invitation of the Judicial Institute, and may further assist Mr. Alloy Youksee and the mediation team Mr. John Rougier, founder of the Caribbean Association of Heads of Corrections and Prisons would like to consider regional cooperation with ICOPA for the radical reduction of prison populations.

To all the presenters from Trinidad and Tobago, thank you very much and please look out for a follow up meeting in July. To those who joined us from farther afield please let us know if we can join you virtually at related events in your area. Facilitators, assistants and chairpersons, especially Mr. Errol Simms, for facilitating the smooth Opening of ICOPA 14, your involvement are much appreciated.

The Fourteenth ICOPA Conference extended its reach in new ways through the expertise of administrative and technical teams. The LRC auditorium staff Bernice Thomas, Jerome Joseph, Rodney Jackman and Keigan Jones in collaboration with IIR technician Gerard Modeste, David Ramjattan and CITS, not only streamed the proceedings live online, but also brought panels together by SKYPE so that speakers from Germany, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago could speak to audiences around the world in real time. The student media team Mickel Alexander, Rabia Ellahi and Brendon O’Brian, tweeted, texted and emailed responses to social media participants and promoted and photographed the event. IIR Research Assistant Marissa Guerra and criminology student Diane Baptiste who were on hand throughout the conference to assist in innumerable ways gave the participants who attended the conference in person a warm welcome.

UWI’s Marketing and Communications Department handled the promotion and advertising and continued to send out press releases on the recommendations. UWI’s Multi Media Production Centre produced a brochure, which ICOPA enthusiasts are keeping as a souvenir and which has special meaning for those who were able to visit Theo Ferguson’s Hummingbird Sanctuary on June 16.

New members are always welcome, and of course we want to hold onto new friends, so please stay in touch with the NGO through our website at http://www.actionicopa.org. Justin Piche who set up that site is hosting ICOPA 15 in Canada in 2014, and has invited all interested to consider joining the committees to advance that effort. ICOPA 16 will held in New Zealand in 2016. Ruth Morris, founding member, would be pleased with the forward planning.

As we return to our countries and our lives, Trinidad and Tobago thanks all of you for being a part of something inspirational, which drew actual audiences of over 200 daily and a larger virtual audience. We wish Liz good luck as she returns to Belfast in July and we hope to see all ICOPA members again in Canada.

We will never really know the extent of our collective influence on penal abolitionism. We do know the influence of sponsors and sincerely thank The University of The West Indies, St Augustine Campus, The National Infrastructural Development Company Limited, LMCS Ltd., and The International Foundation for a Prisonless Society.

From The Land of the Humming Bird.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony P. Gonzales (PhD)                                    Catherine Ali

Interim Director                                                      ICOPA Coordinator

Institute of International Relations

Draft JA Report on the Trinidad Penal System

Crime in the Caribbean:

              The main cause of crime and violence in the Caribbean is that of drug trafficking. The increase in international drug trade has led to availabilities of firearms, resulting in 160 firearm murders, 450 firearm injuries and 1500 incidents that included the use of a firearm within Trinidad and Tobago in 2004. Fused with the large percentage of the population that has been excluded from Trinidad and Tobago's recent economic boom, this has fuelled the emergence of a gang culture.

              Violence in the Caribbean is also provoked by a steady inflow of criminal deportees. Deportees have experienced and adopted criminal behaviour in major cities such as London and New York and transferred such behavior to Trinidad and Tobago. An estimated 30,000 deportees were sent to The Caribbean areas of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana over a period of 15 years.[1]

              Another direct contribution to violence is a lack of education. This leads to high unemployment rates and ultimately, poverty. Unemployment is high between 15-19 year olds, with 43% experiencing unemployment and ultimately, poverty. This has contributed to an alarming rise in violent crime, much of it connected with drugs and gang activity. Poverty results in desperation and the need to survive and therefore, many people who are victims of poverty turn to crime. In particular, poverty leads to certain crimes such as drugs to heal emotional responses and robberies.

              Interestingly, Trinidad is one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the Caribbean. It is listed in the top 40 of 70 high-income countries in the world and is the leading producer of oil, gas and petroleum. [2] These issues are a result of uneven distribution of wealth. The wealthy populations are those comprised of private manufacturers and contacts within state corporations and politics. High poverty areas cover inner-city ghettos such as Laventille, where the poorest members of society live. [3]

              There is currently $114, 285.71 being spent in Trinidad per prisoner, per year in order to keep them in jail. A total of $400 million is required annually divided amongst 3500 prisoners. As for New South Wales, $100 000 is required per prisoner.

              According to the National prison administration, in June 2012 there were a 3500 prisoners calculated within Trinidad and Tobago out of a population estimating 1.3 million. The national imprisonment rate is 271 per 100, 000 for Trinidad in comparison to an Australian imprisonment rate of 167 prisoners per 100,000 with a total of 29, 106 adult prisoners during 2011.[4]

              Crime is particularly high in urban areas such as Port of Spain and San Fernando. In particular, over half of the country's murders are concentrated in six suburban neighborhoods of Port of Spain. There are between 368 and 391 murders on average per year within Trinidad & Tobago.[5]

              A significant increase in the homicides had been noted in the years prior to 2009 as murder rates went from 7.4 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 30.6 over 8 years. The highest recorded figures in the Trinidad’s history were in 2008, with between 544 and 550 homicides occurring. Within Australia, The homicide rate was 1.9 per 100,000 in 1996 and was at its highest in 1999, at two per 100,000. In 2008, the rate was 1.4 per 100,000, the second lowest recorded since 1996.[6]

Government Departments relating to prisons:

1.1 Ministry of National Security

              The Ministry of National Security has a new minister as of June 2012, Honorable Austin Jack Warner. The Ministry of National Security’s aim is to ensure public safety through a commitment of all available resources and funds towards the protection of lives and property. [7] With that being said, former National Security Minister, John Sandy has declared that an estimate of $400 million is required annually to maintain the prisons. [8]

1.2The Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service

              The National security budget is $5.2 billion with a special allowance of $1000 per month for extended security services. Such special allowance was initially for Police Services however, now include the Trinidad & Tobago Prison Service. (TTPS)

              The TTPS is an arm of the Criminal Justice System with relations to the Division of the Ministry of National Security as well as the Ministry of Justice. [9] The TTPS website states that there has been a change in the Prison Services’ Philosophy from retributive to restorative justice, resulting in modifications of prison operations, objectives, policies and overall culture. Restorative Justice attempts to identify harms or wrongs and promotes engagement and interaction to revolve it right. Ultimately, the Prison Service is committed to benefitting victims of crime, inmates and prison staff. [10]

1.3 Ministry of Justice

              The Government of Trinidad and Tobago created the Ministry of Justice in an effort to re-engineer the Criminal Justice System in consultation with all stakeholders from the point of arrest to the final determination of all criminal matters.

              The Ministry partnered with the Judiciary in 2012 to identify key areas of criminal justice administration that require immediate intervention. The Judiciary singled out the overhauling of pre-trial procedures and court construction.  Additionally, the Ministry has reviewed a number of pieces of legislation with a view to strengthening and modernizing the investigative capacity of the State, making legal representation more widely accessible, and quickening the pace of delivery of justice for offenders and victims alike.

              These initiatives have resulted in a number of statutory interventions, policy development leading to a realignment of our methodologies and programs as it relates to the management of offenders.

The following are the Units and Divisions in accordance with the overall vision and mandate of the Ministry:

The Legal Aid and Advisory Authority

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board

The Immigration Detention Centre

The Penal Reform and Transformation Unit

The Probation Division

The Police Complaints Authority

The Trinidad and Tobago Forensic Sciences Centre

             The Mercy Committee, Sentencing Commission and Witness Protection also fall under our remit.

              A specific unit underneath the ministry is that of Penal reform and Transformation. Gordon Husbands, as a director of The Director of Penal Reform and Transformation unit as well as Chief Welfare Officer of the Trinidad Prison Service, is responsible for efforts to be made in keeping inmates safe along with effective opportunities for integration into society upon their release.[11]

1.4 Penal Reform Task Force

              In 2002, the government of republic of Trinidad and Tobago assigned personnel to a specialized task force to focus on penal reform. It is headed by the commissioner of prisons, whom of which has powers under the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and use guidelines of prison management under the Prison Act Chapter 13:01. A new classification system has been developed according to prison services guidelines, for effective prison management. It involves: Using classification instruments and the same approach for all inmates. This will be re-enforced by assigning inmates to custody levels consistent with their background regarding violent and criminal behavior or mental illness.[12]


               The 9 prisons within the Islands include the Carrera Convict Prison (CCP), The Maximum Security Prison (MSP), The Women’s Prison, The Port of Spain Prison, The Golden Grove Prison (GGP), The Remand Prison, The Youth Training Centre (YTC), The Tobago Prison and Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre located in Santa Rosa.

              Overall objectives of the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Services are to ensure inmate safety by using effective security personnel and procedures. [13]Those who have received long-term imprisonment are trained in various labor skills to enable opportunities for employment upon their release. This extends to other recreational and educational programs for inmates.

              A specific view of the Prison Service's is that to protect society, the offenders must be successfully re-integrated into the community as law-abiding citizens. In order to teach inmates to understand their mental and emotional development and potential motivations for self-change, these prisons contain programs stemming from education and religion. The programs are designed to provide activities and opportunities such as skills training in computing, agriculture and arts such as music and painting. Life coping skills are also offered such as anger management, drug and alcohol rehabilitation as well as literacy education

Prisoner support programs:

Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Justice [14]

           CURB was established in 2005. It is primarily a network of 7 non-profit organizations where six of 7 founding CEO’s are ex-prisoners. The network of organizations aims to assist offenders, released offenders and victims by providing training programs. CURB also practice restorative justice - uniting victims with their offenders and creating law abiding citizens. They also assist in the fight of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation as well as prison abuse.

Is there not a cause? [15]

              ITNAC work with inmates from incarceration to release and beyond. It was Founded by Avonelle Hector Joseph 2002 and specialize in access to resources include medical care, food, clothing, bible studies and counseling. They are situated within the Youth training centre and Maximum security prison.

Vision on Mission [16]

              Wayne Chance established VOM, a former prisoner sentenced to 8 years. Whilst incarcerated in Carrera Island Prison, Chance found god and Conducted religious classes to other inmates. His organization currently provides a halfway house, job placement, academic courses, and spiritual counseling to offenders, ex offenders and victims. In particular, such programs are available within Port of Spain, Arouca and Carrera Island prisons.

New Hope Prison Ministry [17]

           Richard Barker who received a prison sentence of 13 years, established New Hope prison Ministry. Through good behavior and spiritual transformation, Barker was discharged early to then return as a teacher of health issues and bible studies. His organization attempt to reduce crime, re-offending and creating model citizens by providing services to the Maximum-security prison, Golden grove prison, Carrera island prison, Youth training centre, and The Royal Gaol state prison.

Evans Vision and Sound Ministry [18]

           Bernard Evans, CEO, formed EVSM. The organization delivers programs and services regarding aspects of Economic, spiritual, social and psychological transformations within offenders. As a businessman, Evans owns a furniture and upholstery factory where his programs relate directly to upholstery training and furniture making, as well as counseling, and health teachings.

The moving targets of Penal Abolitionism

Penal Abolition:

             The penal system refers to the current incarceration and punishment system in use as a response to crime. Penal abolition is a rejection of the current criminal justice system as a form of punishment and social control. At the core of punishment is the infliction of harm. Penal abolitionists argue that the penal system is a failure; it does not reduce crime or increase community safety. Rather, it is an oppressive mechanism of social control, and enables certain well-off individuals and groups utilise it for political, profiteering and power related goals.

Reasons for Penal Abolition

The penal system has failed:

  • The justification with which the penal system exists has been consistently rejected. It is an ineffective means to apprehend, rehabilitate or deter individuals from crime. It simply does not work.
  • It is criminogenic by nature; ruining lives, imposing itself on the little guys etc. Incarceration exacerbates existing harms and creates new ones
  • It is often in violation of human rights and civil liberties.
  • It fails to rehabilitate. Recidivism in Australia is 43.7%.
  • Resources are being continually stretched leading to ideological notions of crime, safety and justice becoming increasingly distorted.
  • There is no evidence of deterrence.
  • There is no evidence that authorities can accurately select individuals to incapacitate in order to prevent future harms.
  • The 'cold hand of retribution' is ill equipped to meet the needs of those in conflict.
  • Imprisonment is largely incapable of rehabilitating prisoners and indeed is counter-productive.

The Penal System is utilized for the wrong reasons:

  • Penalism as capitalism (profiteering in the carceral project, e.g. political lobbyism, private police, lawyering, private prisons, or what has been called the "Prison Industrial Complex" with its derivatives and their sale in the endless looping of media/entertainment conglomerates),
  • Penalism as power (politicians and other moral entrepreneurs),
  • Penalism as profession/career (the hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the so-called "Criminal Justice System," academic criminologists, etc.),
  • Penalism as related to ideas of the usefulness and efficacy of "punishment," and
  • Penalism as a complex cultural system managing social control/community building, stigma, human relationships, etc.

The Penal System is a mechanism for controlling minority groups:

  • Penalism is a construction that has much more to do with social paradigm thinking (that importantly and powerfully entails the sorting of humans by indexes of difference, e.g. sex, race/ethnicity, class, etc.) than community maintenance. Imprisonment is an instrument of oppression that targets the poor, people of colour, and other disenfranchised groups, continuing the legacy of slavery and colonization
  • Penalism is a collection of shifting and serial myths regarding "human nature," "human intentionality and action," resulting in a denial of the constructed nature of penalty and the acceptance of "truths" about "good and bad people," "criminals," and the like.
  • Penalism is designed by one group that is threatened by another group because of its tally of "differences." E.g. predominantly persons of color and minority ethnicity, men, the destitute, the mentally ill, veterans (almost half of the US ones in the Iraq wars), and very importantly those without a chance of succeeding in social life (e.g. those without education, family wealth, opportunities for stable employment, etc.).
  • The vast majority of people commit a variety of violent and non-violent "crimes" throughout their lifetimes. If everyone were held accountable for the law-breaking of their lives, few would be outside prison. Therefore, it is only accurate to say that the modern penal project does not respond to "crime," but chooses who shall constitute the participants of the so-called "Criminal Justice System.

High cost to the Taxpayer 

  • In Australia, youth and the mentally ill cost over $200,000 a year PER PERSON and recidivism rates over a 2-year period are over 60%.
  • In particular, the US criminal justice system is the most expensive government program in the history of the planet. California’s penal system takes more money from the state budget than public education. It is only a matter of time before Australia is next.
A Need for Change

             Currently, community problems are cross-fertilised and festering within our warehouses. A need for open discourse and exchange of ideas is required in order to move away from this failed approach. It is important to keep in mind that crime is a symptom of underlying problems within the broader community.

             A new approach to crime can be in the form of using a combination of transformative justice - Ruth's term (restorative justice + justice reinvestment) and building a community support system using peer mentoring with professional training.

Links to YouTube videos of the conference

ICOPA Media Release

Media Release Saturday June 16, 2012


             "During the four day International conference on Penal Abolition ICOPA 14, activists, scholars from European, American and Caribbean Universities, justice workers, local prisoners and ex-prisoners, and many other interested community members considered the value of penal abolition. An actual Mediation Workshop took place in the local prison with visiting experts, prison officers and prisoners" said Coordinator Catherine Ali.

             "At the end of the conference hosted by the University of West Indies, Trinidad and Trinidad Prison Services agreed to accept and distribute to prisoners a container load of computers that were offered by corporations and government departments from retired stock" said Ms Ali.

             "Gordon Husbands, the Director of the Penal Reform and Transformation Unit agreed to accept all computers donated to prisoners held in Trinidad and Tobago prison system. This is a concrete result from the conference giving the opportunity for education, training, access to legal information to our prisoners" said Ms Ali.

             "A request was also received from the Caribbean Pastors to receive 'Conflict Management and Mediation Training' in order to carry these services into Trinidad and Tobago prisons. Another religious group asked for mediation services for a youth camp" said Ms Ali.

             "The final day was held at the Prison Training College, at Bandoo Trace Tumpuna Road, involving prison and police staff, YTC Lads, local and foreign delegates and having influence on the local institutions" said independent observers.

             "During the Conference, scholars and local practitioners revealed shortcomings in prevailing penal policy and explored alternative strategies giving the results the public expects" said Ms Ali.

             It was resolved that the next Conference will be held in Canada in 2014

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Website: http://www.actionicopa.org


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