JFJ Welcomes Government Formation of Working Groups to Tackle Detention Issues

Thursday, September 04, 2014, Kingston, Jamaica – Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) wishes to congratulate the Ministers of Justice and National Security on taking some steps to correct the systemic problems plaguing police lock-ups and  correctional and remand facilities. We note the recent announcement of the formation of three ‘working groups’, each headed by a governmental entity, and each tasked with specific responsibility to present a draft report and recommendations by the end of September.

Over the last fifteen years, JFJ has witnessed, documented and reported on Jamaica’s detention practices, especially in relation to police lock-ups, have adversely affected the lives of many Jamaicans. In fact, complaints from members of the public about arbitrary detention and abuse inside lock-ups outnumber any other issue we have dealt with as an organization. It is an incontestable fact that Jamaica’s general detention practices breach Jamaica’s own constitution and Jamaica’s laws including the Bail Act and the Constabulary Force Act, as well as international human rights standards.  This patent violation has been consistently recognized by both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the United Nations for the past decade in reports to the government.

JFJ must note for the record the issues affecting police lock-ups and those affecting prisons are distinct and should not be confused. JFJ is disappointed with the decision to marry the issues of police lock-up and prisons, which serve functionally different groups of people, and are currently administered by different government bodies. By marrying the issues, we are conflating those who are convicted with those who are un-convicted. This reinforces the belief of many within the society that there is no distinction between the two groups, and that detained persons are ‘guilty till proven innocent’.

We would therefore strongly suggest a separate focus by the sub-committee on detention practices and conditions inside lock-ups, especially in light of the unique issues faced by pre-trial detainees who are often wrongly called ‘prisoners’. The protections and standards for individuals in pre-trial detention settings are well established in international human rights instruments, and ought to be adhered to. The entrenched disregard of these and their absence in domestic legislation have led to the abuse of far too many Jamaicans

Over the last few decades, numerous Jamaicans have lost their lives in police lock-up, including Agana Barrett, Ian Forbes, Vassell Brown, Kamoza Clarke and now Mario Deane. There are also the numerous untold stories of the unspeakable irreparable damage done to persons in police lock-ups, many of whom were released after protracted periods of time without ever facing a single charge or after being proven innocent.

This Government’s current study of the detention issue is a signal step, which can be a turning point in how persons in detention are treated. It could eventually help us as a nation to correct some of the systemic injustices meted out by a detention system in need of serious reform.  JFJ stands ready to offer any support it can to the case for reform. Too many Jamaican have died in police lock-ups for us to settle for anything less. JFJ is committed to do its part to correct this grave problem since we are of the view that injustice to one is injustice to all.

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About Rodje Malcolm
Rodje Malcolm manages advocacy at JFJ. He works primarily on international human rights mechanisms and the rights of children.