Jamaican Land for UK Prisoners – the People Say No!

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A prison for Jamaica, but no apology?

Last week, on his first official trip to Jamaica, David Cameron met with Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and it was announced that Britain would be donating over £300m in aid to countries in the Caribbean for the development of infrastructure, £30m for hospitals to become more resilient for natural disasters, and £30m for improving management of public services across the Caribbean.

At the same time, it was also announced that in a deal with Jamaica, Cameron would be investing £25m to build a new 1,500-celled prison that would, as of 2020, contain repatriated Jamaican prisoners serving a sentence of four years or more in the UK. Cameron stated: “It is absolutely right that foreign criminals who break our laws are properly punished but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the hardworking British taxpayer”, and with more than 600 Jamaican citizens currently in UK jails making up the third largest population, to many, this decision may indeed make sense.

But for some, neither the aid nor the donation for the prison (of which Jamaica would need to contribute a whopping £30m (J$5.5bn) to complete its construction) would be received with thanks. The announcement consequently led to anger and renewed calls for an apology for the slave trade and reparations for Jamaicans from the Jamaican people, their Prime Minister, and the Jamaican diaspora at large. But why is there such anger and frustration?

The history

The slave trade of the 16TH – 19th century, of which Jamaican ancestors were victims, saw the horrific enslavement of up to approximately 20 million Africans who were kidnapped, sold and taken from their homeland to work on plantations in America and the islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, for the economic good of Britain and other European countries. With the enclosure of these people deemed necessary to produce the tropical raw materials that would be fed into the manufacturing processes back in Britain, this act produced the largest forced migration in history and was undoubtedly fundamental in the economic growth and success of Britain that is still being reaped to this day.

The world reacts

With the history of the Jamaicans and British intertwined as it is, it seems no wonder that the intentions of Cameron, whose ancestors were also beneficiaries of the slave trade to a tune of £3m in today’s value, were met with trepidation and hostility. An apology and reparations to the tune of billions of pounds, the Jamaican people say, is what is owed and will be the start of the healing process for a country damaged by their past, not a share of just £360 million and a prison.

Many have weighed in on the argument as to why an apology and reparation should or should not be given, with the main argument for compensation being that the effects that this historical enclosure produced are still felt by the descendants of the slaves to this day. The effects, many say, are evident in the high level of poverty and crime that Jamaica has experienced, consequently resulting in the large amount of migration from the country to the UK. In support of this view, the Jamaican diaspora have started a petition for the Jamaican government to reject this offer.

Only time will tell how this fight for justice will conclude. What I will say to Jamaica is this – regardless of whose fault the current economic and social state of Jamaica lies with, a beneficial conversation in your fight for equality, justice and healing might well include a call for your country to unite, forming a social movement that cannot be ignored during this time at which you are in the world’s spotlight. Currently, there is no guarantee that aid of even £2 billion would aid you in your quest if it is not offered under equitable terms and utilized in the best way by yourselves. Your collective action might not even stop at calls for the prison to be rejected, but might also include lobbying for an evaluation and reformation in the way that the donors and global institutions regulate aid and how it is best utilized, renewed discussion on how advancement can be achieved by the unification and cooperation of all countries (including those once colonized and those once colonial) for sustainable development for all (including other developing countries), and consideration into how your land could be used not for a prison that will benefit the UK, but used more constructively for the benefit of all. Jamaica, your time is now!

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