THE Bahamas leads the region in prison occupancy rates, coupled with the third highest rate of repeat offending, according to a new Inter-American Development Bank report.
The report adds that the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services is overcrowded by 173 percent, with overcrowding affecting the majority of inmates.
Additionally, the report found that differences in The Bahamas were very pronounced when compared to other countries in the region where 65 percent of males compared to 23 percent of females resided in overcrowded conditions.
The details were outlined in the IDB’s Regional Comparative Report – Survey of Individuals Deprived of Liberty: Caribbean 2016-2019. The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago were the countries surveyed.
“In all countries, male inmates experienced overcrowding to a greater extent than female inmates,” the IDB noted. “These differences were very pronounced in The Bahamas, where 65 percent of males compared to 23 percent of females resided in overcrowded conditions, and in Guyana, where 62 percent of males compared to 21 percent of females lived in overcrowded cells.
“The lowest levels of overcrowding were in Barbados, where two percent of the males and none of the females lived in overcrowded conditions.”
The report also added: “The highest overcrowding overall was in The Bahamas, with 77 percent of inmates on remand and 62 percent of those sentenced living in overcrowded conditions, and the lowest in Barbados (sentenced, one percent; on remand, two percent).
“The biggest discrepancy was in Trinidad and Tobago, with 23 percent of sentenced compared to 51 percent of on remand inmates living in overcrowded conditions. In contrast, in Jamaica, more sentenced inmates, 43 percent, were overcrowded than inmates on remand – 18 percent.
“In The Bahamas, recidivism, understood as self-reported re-incarceration, was high among prisoners in most of the countries studied, with the highest rate found in Barbados with 60 percent, followed by Trinidad and Tobago.
The Bahamas, and Suriname, were each approximately 50 percent each.
“Most of the repeat offenders in all countries have been to prison two or more times before their current incarceration.
“In The Bahamas, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, the largest proportion of the inmates roughly 50 percent had been in prison more than three times. In Guyana – 49 percent, Jamaica – 41 percent, and Suriname – 39 percent, the largest proportion had been in prison only once previously.
“…Looking at the time between the current confinement and the immediately previous incarceration, two groups make up most of the recidivists: those re-incarcerated more than two years later and those re-incarcerated within the first year.
“About half were re-incarcerated more than two years after being released – Jamaica, 59 percent compared to roughly 45 percent in the other five countries, and, except in Jamaica – 24 percent, another roughly 40 percent were imprisoned again within a year. In Guyana, Barbados, Suriname, and The Bahamas, roughly a quarter lost their freedom again in less than six months, and the very quick return to prison is cause for concern.”
The IDB also studied homicide rates in the region, finding that homicides in The Bahamas have increased “significantly in recent years, from 25 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 32 in 2014, well above the regional average, 16, and approaching the high rates in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
“The homicide rates in Barbados homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 and Suriname, five in 2013 have remained relatively stable since 2000 at substantially lower levels than other Caribbean countries.
“Suriname had the lowest homicide rate of the six countries examined and was below the global average of 6 per 100,000 inhabitants. Finally, the homicide rate in Guyana (roughly in the middle of the group of six countries) rose from 10 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 20 in 2013.”
Dis-aggregating Caribbean data by the countries studied, the IDB said the highest percentage of homicides committed with firearms occurred in The Bahamas with 82 percent, while the lowest percentage was in Suriname and Guyana both at 25 percent during the specified period.
The Bahamas also leads nations in relation to access to firearms by civilians.
“…The list is headed by The Bahamas, with 19 weapons per 100 inhabitants, followed by Suriname,16, Guyana, 16, Jamaica, 9, Barbados four and Trinidad and Tobago, three.”
The survey data showed no clear relationship between the homicide rate and the rate of firearms in the hands of civilians. For example, while Suriname had the lowest homicide rate and the highest rate of firearms in the hands of civilians among the six countries examined, Trinidad and Tobago had one of the highest homicide rates and the lowest rate of firearms in the hands of civilians.