Gibraltar likes to boast about the enormous improvements that we have seen in the last quarter century: beautification projects, affordable housing, growing economy, state of the art air terminal, dual carriageways, tunnels etc. Is this the only way that we should be measuring our success as a community? I think not. One of the most important criteria by which a community should judge itself by is how it treats its less fortunate members. There are many in Gibraltar. I would like to concentrate on one group ex-prison inmates.
Ex-inmates have been punished by serving their term of imprisonment. On release, the main problem that they face is not finding anyone who is willing to employ them. Having a job helps to give a person an identity, to become self sufficient and to start to regain his dignity. It boosts self confidence and esteem. Without a job the person feels worthless and unable to fend for himself and his family. The likelihood of re-offending increases and in a large majority of cases becomes an inevitability. The result is a return to prison and the awful cycle begins again.
There is no doubt that these persons often do not help themselves. This is not a reason that the doors of employment should be closed to them. It is more reason to make a greater effort to help them into employment and provide them with the necessary support so that they can remain in employment. Easier said than done? Yes, of course but that is an argument to make a bigger effort to help them not to ignore them. Often these recidivists are the product of difficult family circumstances coming from broken homes, with a history of alcohol or drugs abuse at home etc. They need a leg up and they need understanding, and guess what, Gibraltar has the advantage that the problem in numbers not being that big, so it should be possible to give personalised and targeted help.
Is there a solution? Certainly my information is that most ex-inmates seek but cannot find employers who will take them on. The will exists on their part to work. What they need is the opportunity. If employers do not volunteer the openings, then some encouragement or cajoling is required. We are not talking of highly qualified individuals. We are talking, in the main, about persons who can be employed as labourers or unskilled workers on construction sites or in the service sector.
How does one encourage or cajole an employer to employ ex-inmates? The government offers the private sector a large amount of business. I am sure it is not beyond the realms of possibility to use this as an incentive for employers in the private sector, mainly in the construction sector, to employ some of these ex-inmates. It cannot and need not be a condition for being eligible for tendering for government contracts but it would not be difficult to make it widely known that this might be well looked upon in deciding who a contract will be granted to. This is especially relevant now at a time that the government has announced that it will be spreading construction work more widely amongst local companies.
It is important that having been to prison should not be seen as a fast track to employment. This is a question of careful management but the numbers involved are not so large as to warrant such criticism of a scheme to help ex-inmates into employment. Every successful re-integration of an ex-inmate into society by giving him gainful employment brings with it the benefit of one less repeat offender. In turn this reduces the cost to society on many fronts, not only the cost of imprisoning the individual over and over again but also the cost to victims of crime by reducing the number of repeat offenders.
It may seem an unachievable ideal. Undoubtedly the suggestion is open to ridicule and criticism but we are a small enough community that is sufficiently wealthy to try it and keep trying it until it works for one person, then a second and then for many more. We would lose very little and we would gain another measure by which our community could be judged as a caring and better community than others.