Britain to Jamaica: In Lieu of Reparations, Here’s a Prison

Rebuffing calls for reparations to Jamaica for the slave trade, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced British funding for a new Jamaican prison.

Prime Minister David Cameron chats with Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller and  St Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony at a reception at Buckingham Palace, London, to welcome Heads of State and Heads of Government to the UK before they travel to the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday July 27, 2012. See PA story OLYMPICS Royal. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron chats with Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller and St Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony at a reception at Buckingham Palace, London, to welcome Heads of State and Heads of Government to the UK before they travel to the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday July 27, 2012. See PA story OLYMPICS Royal. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron chats with Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller and St Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony at a reception at Buckingham Palace, London, to welcome Heads of State and Heads of Government to the UK before they travel to the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday July 27, 2012. See PA story OLYMPICS Royal. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Jamaica this week, he rebuffed calls to apologize for the transatlantic slave trade and discuss reparations. Instead, he announced that Britain will contribute close to $38 million towards the building of a new prison -- which he hopes will be used to house Jamaicans deported after committing crimes in Britain.

The offer hasn’t gone over well as Cameron probably hoped.

“It’s an insult to the people of Jamaica,” Jamaican lawmaker Mike Henry told the BBC, referring to Cameron’s refusal to discuss reparations.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Jamaica this week, he rebuffed calls to apologize for the transatlantic slave trade and discuss reparations. Instead, he announced that Britain will contribute close to $38 million towards the building of a new prison — which he hopes will be used to house Jamaicans deported after committing crimes in Britain.

The offer hasn’t gone over well as Cameron probably hoped.

“It’s an insult to the people of Jamaica,” Jamaican lawmaker Mike Henry told the BBC, referring to Cameron’s refusal to discuss reparations.

Henry, who boycotted Cameron’s parliamentary address, led the effort to force a vote on reparations in the Jamaican Parliament, which took place in January. The motion, which passed unanimously, stated that on behalf of those who were enslaved, Jamaica is entitled to receive reparations equivalent to what former slave owners received after abolition.

The motion also stated that any money Jamaica received would be used to pay off Jamaica’s debt and fund education, infrastructure, and health care, with a portion set aside for African Jamaicans to be repatriated to Africa.

Leading up to Cameron’s visit, Jamaican leaders called on the U.K. to acknowledge its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade by opening talks about reparations, but Downing Street has not conceded to their requests.

On Thursday, Cameron, the first British prime minister to visit Jamaica in 14 years, acknowledged that slavery had left wounds that “run very deep,” but stopped short of an apology and dismissed the idea of reparations. Instead, he announced an agreement to build the prison, which will have space for 1,500 inmates.

Currently, conditions in Jamaican prisons are marred by “overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of sufficient medical care,” according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an institution of the Organization of American States that promotes and protects human rights in the Americas.

According to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, a research organization that studies crime and criminal policy, Britain has the third highest prison population in Europe, after Russia and Turkey. Foreign nationals make up 12 percent of the British prison population, or 10,481 people, according to a report by Prison Reform Trust, a U.K.-based prison reform organization.

The British government said in a statement Wednesday that Jamaicans are the third-largest group of foreign nationals serving time in the country’s prisons. More than 600 Jamaicans are currently in prison in Great Britain.

Juliet Lyon, director of Prison Reform Trust, told Foreign Policy that there are more sensible ways of dealing with foreign nationals in prisons, “not the least of which would be doing case by case reviews given the high numbers who are thought to have been trafficked or coerced into drug importation offenses.”

Lyon added that although her organization supports efforts to improve Jamaican prison conditions, it may be more sustainable in the long run for British aid to address the endemic socio-economic problems that send Jamaicans to jail in the first place.

“If a choice could be made, it might be better to spend overseas aid on supporting Jamaica to get to grips with poverty, drug addiction, and drug-related offending,” she said.

Image credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. Twitter: @megan_alpert

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