Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) understands the need for the Government of Jamaica to take effective measures to combat the scourge of crime and violence. The government must not simply “do something,” it must do the right thing.
Preventative detention guidelines/details must be publicly published
We note the recently announced concept of ‘preventative detention,’ which the Attorney General has publicly opined is a lawful measure. JFJ is of the view that the concept and principles behind preventative detention may not be clearly understood by the public or all police officers. While announcing it in the domestic violence context, the government has made clear that it will generally apply to other crimes. For clarity, we ask that the government set out in writing for the public exactly what the concept of preventative detention entails, how it is expected to work on the ground, and the legal underpinnings for the same. We also ask that any guidelines that have been issued to the police in relation to how preventative detention may be utilized to deprive persons of their liberty be released to the public without delay. This would ensure that the public and the police are adequately advised of how it is intended that this concept of preventative detention would be implemented.
Increased powers of detention must be matched with increased safeguards
We endorse the Attorney General’s reminder to the police of their awesome powers and the need to exercise such power in keeping with the law. This comes in a context in which the police already breach existing restrictions on detention, raising concerns about the safeguards that will accompany this new, enhanced measure. Presently, people are frequently detained without charge, mostly in poor communities, not told the reasons for their detention, and are detained for unlawfully excessive periods – leading to serious abuse. With the rollout of this enhanced detention measure, existing safeguards must be strengthened, not diminished, to avoid exacerbating this legacy of abuse. Without this, the well-intentioned strategies of the government may end up producing greater harm than good, as they have in the past.
Introduce written Notices of Detention
In this regard, we ask the Government to institute a requirement for the issuance of written notices of detention for all police arrest and detentions. The notice would include the reason(s) for arrest/detention, and the particulars and circumstances of the detention. This would provide a record for detainees in cases of dispute, and a procedural safeguard against abuse. This written record could take a similar form to the report receipts which are currently being successfully utilized by the JCF.
JFJ has also written to the Attorney General and the Minister of National Security requesting a meeting to discuss our ongoing concerns in relation to detention practices. The ministers would be well aware that it is the public who must pay for any misstep or unlawful detention by our own police officers.
We are all afflicted by crime, so we would all welcome any measure that can lawfully bring a reduction in crime. Let us ensure that by our crime fighting measures, we create partners for peace. We will not create partners for peace by arbitrarily arresting people.