Some ex-prisoners are criticising the State for what they say is a lack of proper programmes to aid inmates when they are released from prison.
The lack of such programmes is being cited as the reason why some ex-inmates re-offend and find themselves right back in the prison system.
Former prisoners Dane Manickchand, Richard La Croix and Stacey-Ann Beckles raised these concerns while speaking yesterday at a Joint Select Committee meeting inquiring into the challenges of prisoner re-entry into society and prisoner reintegration services of Trinidad and Tobago.
La Croix, who served 14 prison sentences for various offences ranging from marijuana and cocaine possession to larceny, said his long list of convictions was due to insufficient re-entry support.
“You might say, wow,” he told the Committee, “but there was nothing put in place by government that when I re-entered society back then that I could have gotten a job in some business place or other.”
La Croix said after his 14th stint in prison, he made a conscious decision to change his life.
Manickchand, who was released from prison after serving nine years, said even after earning a degree and changing his life, he still finds it difficult to find employment.
Manickchand was convicted in 2001 for the crime of false imprisonment, stemming from the April 2000 kidnapping of Camille Bobart.
He was released in 2010.
He said he has always been honest and up front with potential employers about his conviction.
He told the committee that he held a job as a litter prevention warden for three years but his contract was not renewed due to an unwritten policy that persons with criminal records cannot be hired in the public service.
Manickchand said he was even told by an MP to change his last name to avoid being recognised.
He lamented that he has been turned down for even menial jobs.
“I am a degree holder who went for a work in JTA to pack shelves and was refused,” he said.
“I have lowered my standards and it is not a problem for me because bills...at the end of the day you have to pay your bills and I have tried...and to be honest, if I had shut my mouth and didn’t say I had a conviction, I would have been employed today.”
Manickchand said parliamentarians must also bear some blame for the stigma attached to persons who have been convicted of crimes.
“The State is also complicit in many ways,” he said.
“For instance, in Parliament, how many times for political mileage across the floor have they stated this one has a conviction or that one has a conviction? How do we expect members of the community to want to hire somebody when you yourselves in Parliament are throwing talk at each other...”
Beckles said her challenges when she was released from prison began with trying to renew her documents.
Beckles had been arrested and charged with drug trafficking at Piarco International Airport, in 2001. She was released in 2016.
Beckles, now a reverend, said when she was released, all her documents were expired and she had to come up with $1,700 to pay for a new driver’s licence.
She added that she faced several instances of marginalisation because of her record, which hampered her ability to gain employment. She said one of the first organisations that gave her a job was the ex-prisoner rehabilitation organisation Vision on Mission. Commenting on the challenges ex-prisoners face when reintegrating into society, Prison Officers’ Association president Ceron Richards agreed that there are few employment opportunities.
He said most employers require a certificate of good character and are reluctant to hire anyone who has a criminal record, regardless of if they have been rehabilitated.
Richards said there are employers, particularly in the security industry, that hire ex-inmates. But he said the ex-inmates are often exploited by these agencies because the employer knows they are desperate for employment and are unlikely to be hired elsewhere.
He called on the State to implement measures to prevent this.
Richards also suggested that businesses be offered incentives to provide employment for ex-inmates.