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U.S. Ambassador’s HIV Program gives hope to inmates in penal institutions in Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica – U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Brenda LaGrange Johnson has lauded Children First’s Creative Projects for Change and the Department of Corrections for the work both organizations have done under the U.S. Ambassador’s HIV Prevention Program.

The Children First’s project entitled, “Let’s Make a Difference,” was last year given a US$26,000 (J$1.8 million) grant to fund an anti-stigma and discrimination project amongst inmates and staff at five of the island’s correctional institutions through training sessions, edutainment fairs, and sensitization sessions with visitors to the institutions.

The nine-month project began with an initial phase focusing on sensitization sessions with inmates and officers, while a second phase focused on sensitization with visitors and relatives as well as implementation of action plans by the trained inmates with the support of officers and the Children First team. There was also voluntary confidential counseling and HIV testing for inmates and visitors under the project.

Claudette Richardson-Pious, Executive Director of Children’s First, Deputy Director of Corrections June Jarrett and the superintendents of five correctional institutions recently called on Ambassador Johnson to report on the success of the program. She was shown a video conveying the project’s impact on inmates, prison officers and family members.

Speaking to the group, Ambassador Johnson congratulated the Department of Corrections and Children First for their close cooperation on this project. “It’s obvious to me that everyone involved recognized the need for such a sensitization project in Jamaican prisons and I’m encouraged that the inmates themselves are now passing on the message to their peers and families. HIV/AIDS can be a merciless disease and no one should have to suffer through it alone,” she said.

Ambassador Johnson further stated that she was heartened by comments from the inmates who sent thanks to the U.S. government via video. “Level of stigma is…being totally eliminated.” “AIDS is not a death sentence. It is not just a gay disease.” “Things can only get better, thanks to U.S. Embassy support.” “I had given up. It gave me hope.”

In thanking the ambassador for the grant, Mrs. Richardson-Pious noted that culture is a very important vehicle to promote messages of tolerance and understanding. For her part, Deputy Commissioner Jarrett said the program has broadened the knowledge base of inmates and officers, who are now more receptive to information on HIV/AIDS.

The Ambassador’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Program is part of the United States’ commitment to combating HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and the Caribbean, consistent with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program is supported by the Caribbean Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Global AIDS program of its Centers for Disease Control.

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