Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Editorial | Surprised at Gen Anderson

Published:Monday | December 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We admit surprise at what, essentially, is a circle-the-wagon and blame-the-messenger retort by police chief Antony Anderson to the public defender's recent statement about the squalid conditions in which people have been detained under the state of emergency in St James.

Frankly, we would have expected a more measured and sophisticated response from someone of General Anderson's background, who didn't grow up in the police force and genuinely wants to transform the constabulary into a professional, efficient and service-oriented organisation.

We are concerned that, in this instance, he sounded like someone in danger of being sucked into the so-called 'squaddie syndrome' that has proved to be a major hindrance to change in the police force.

At the same time, the observations by Arlene Harrison Henry, the public defender, and General Anderson's intervention will hopefully reopen a debate about the state of police lock-ups and prisons, and nudge the Holness administration towards new investments in this area. The Government might even reconsider its attitude towards the standing British offer to help Jamaica finance a new correctional facility.

 

CURBING CRIME WAVE

 

The matter of contention is Mrs Harrison Henry's recent appearance before Parliament's Internal and External Affairs Committee to testify on findings on the treatment of persons who have found themselves in detention under the states of public emergency, separately in force in three areas of Jamaica - the parish of St James and the police districts of St Catherine North and West Kingston.

This is the kind of thing that we expect of the public defender, who is charged by an act of Parliament to look out for, and help in the protection of, the welfare of persons whose rights have been, or might be, infringed by the State.

These states of emergency were declared, starting January this year, to combat a rising wave of murders in Jamaica, especially in St James, and, on the face of it, could be said to have had success. Nationally, homicides have declined by around 20 per cent, and in St James by about two-thirds.

But Mrs Harrison Henry reported that of 3,687 persons detained in St James up to October 9, only 139, or 3.8 per cent of them, had been charged with criminal offences. But when you subtract the persons detained for petty matters, only 2.3 per cent of the detainees were charged with criminal offences. Record-keeping was also sloppy.

 

Broader Discussion

 

What ignited a broader discussion, and seemed to cause the ire of General Anderson, was Mrs Harrison Henry's description of the squalor she and her team found at the places of detention in St James. General Anderson, in an interview with Nationwide News Network, conceded that at one point, during the early period of the states of emergency, conditions were not ideal.

Then he said this: "The concerns at some of the stations existed before we took in persons under the state of emergency. It was what police were living in, but it was no concern once police were living it."

General Anderson creates a false dichotomy by attempting to draw up ramparts in supposed protection of police officers - presumably against uncaring bleeding hearts who have greater concern for the welfare of criminals than law enforcers.

Conditions in lock-ups and prisons are bad for the jailed and jailer. Both are diminished. Human rights aren't selectively applied.

If General Anderson achieved anything with his remarks, it was to align himself with, as well as strengthen, those police officers who use grievance as a tool to maintain and reinforce the identity of the squad resisting transformation.

In 2015, David Cameron, the then British prime minister, announced a proposal under which the United Kingdom (UK) would allocate £25 million towards the building of a start-of-the-art prison, under a scheme that would include repatriation of some Jamaicans serving time in UK jails. Andrew Holness, then in opposition, ridiculed the idea to his political advantage. One consequence is the overcrowded and squalid lock-ups to which Mrs Harrison Henry referred.