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Carla Maria Gullotta: Have we learnt nothing from Mario Deane's death?

Published:Friday | May 6, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Carla Maria Gullotta

Nearly two years after the brutal death of Mario Deane in the wake of a police lock-up beating, we have not seen any improvements in the operation of correctional facilities and station jails.

Revelations from commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams, about the number of deaths and ill-treatment of individuals in state custody, should drive us to take action in this regard. The fact is that we already know what is needed to address some of the issues in our correctional institutions but lack the political will to get it done.

The recommendations of a subcommittee of Cabinet, regarding the safety of persons in state custody, made last year, provide a good platform for change to be made to the correctional system.

The subcommittee recommendations addressed the issues of children in lockups, persons arrested for petty crimes, and the steps needed to improve conditions of detention cells. That these recommendations have not been taken on board for implementation does send a very uncomfortable signal about our commitment to upholding the human rights of Jamaican citizens.

The national and international outcry which followed news of Mario Deane's death appears to have faded from our collective conscience. His death highlighted the weakness in what is a broken law enforcement system and should have marked a watershed moment for us as a country. But, alas, it appears we have not matured out of our nine-day wonder syndrome.

We have to seriously break out of the mould of reacting to a crisis by creating national outcry, forming committees that make recommendations, and then doing no justice to the issue by neglecting to implement the potential solutions and holding those responsible accountable. If we cannot get beyond the nine-day wonder on lock-ups and correctional facilities, Mario Deane's death would have been in vain.

 

ANOTHER UNLAWFUL INCIDENT

 

Our correctional facilities continue to be incubators for the conditions that make it ripe for another Mario Deane-type incident to happen. It is not a matter of if, but when, another awful incident will happen in our lock-ups and correctional facilities? And what then?

Will we become incensed, all over again, and form another committee, only to have the recommendations of whatever report is produced ignored? When will we break out of this senseless cycle?

We have to realise that our lock-ups and correctional facilities have become crucibles for increased criminality. By not improving the conditions and changing the way prisons and lock-ups operate, we are shooting ourselves in the leg and contributing to the very crime problem that these facilities are intended to guard us from.

A cultural shift among law-enforcement and correctional-service officials is desperately needed, because it is evident that only lip service is being done to the business of rehabilitation.

Officials speak about the need for prisons to be places where criminals come to get a new lease on life, but that talk is not backed up with the necessary investment in the facilities that will create the programmes and conditions which will effectively impact the lives of inmates so that they can truly turn from a life of crime and violence.

Officials also seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that not everyone who ends up in a lock-up or prison is a criminal. It is not uncommon for innocent people to be arrested or convicted.

Subjecting innocent people, and I dare say, criminals, to the inhumane conditions and overcrowding in these facilities is a violation of their human rights.

If we are serious about the rehabilitation of inmates and the protection of human rights for persons in lock-ups, we must remind ourselves of why we were so incensed by Mario Deane's death, and move from concern to action, so that no other citizen will lose his/her life at the hands of the State.

- Carla Maria Gullotta is Italian consul to Jamaica and executive director of Stand Up For Jamaica, a human-rights groups that carries out rehabilitation work with inmates in the island's correctional facilities. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and sufjmedia@gmail.com.