Jamaica Reprise

I went to Jamaica in 1998 to see if cyber understanding could help a developing nation. This expressed the Berkman Center aspiration that cyber should benefit poor peoples as well as big corporations. We did not go to Jamaica with a specific project in mind, thinking it unwise to come in with a program from outside. Our goal was (and has continued to be) to amplify an indigenous Jamaican program. We were pointed to a rehabilitation program that had taken root in Kingston’s prisons. The hope for our involvement was that we could help change the culture of the correctional system to turn its focus from punishment to rehabilitation and re-entry, and by doing so, help attack the problem of crime. Our mode of doing this is by teaching digital skills, by creating a digitally facilitated communication space in which work can be featured and issues discussed, by stimulating and moderating discussions among adversaries designed to bring them together, and by doing research and evaluation studies of the process of justice. It is on this last that I am particularly seeking collaboration.

On March 31, 2005, an attempted escape fromthe General Penitentiary in Kingston by an inmate, perhaps by a group of inmates, sparked the deaths of a guard and the deaths of three inmates, with many more beaten. This event has focused attention in Jamaica from all quarters on the need for aggressive implementation of our program of rehabilitation and skill training by both inmates and warders, and program for constructive re-entry by inmates back to civil society when they have completed their period of incarceration.

The Commissioner of Corrections, Major Richard Reese, is a man of vision and extraordinary managerial skill. He is determined to bring about constructive change. He has partnered with Kevin Wallen, the leader of the S=SET program of computer labs and digital skill training. The three of us together are establishing a cyber school. We offer training to both inmates and staff. Richard Reese is our principle, Kevin Wallen our head tutor. We have a curriculum so far of introduction to programming through robotics; music-making, and audio-visual editing; story telling and recording workshops, and finding new roles by exploring alternative scenarios of situational ethics.

We are building a financial base to support the program (1) by running benefit music concerts in Kingston on the first Sunday of each month, proceeds going to the SSET program, and (2) the Harvard Alumni School Assn of Jamaica will host an executive education program titled “Cyberspace and Business” as a benefit to raise corporate support for the program.

We have the attention and participation of the UN Development Program in Jamaica. I believe that our approach to the problem of crime and corrections has merit and is generalizable to other places.

We have the opportunity not only to help Jamaica address its deepest problem, but also to demonstrate new ways of using technology to help a poor country.

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