Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Alice Hogarth | The sorry state of affairs of the incarcerated mentally ill in Jamaica

Published:Saturday | August 8, 2020 | 12:15 AM

The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre has often been named a “dungeon”, like in medieval times with their filthy conditions. The deplorable conditions there, and the fact that many people, including those who are mentally ill, have been put away there, are a matter of grave concern.

It seems there not much regard for the mentally ill locked away in that“dungeon” and more than 100 inmates still left languishing. And there seems to be no urgency to address this matter.

The powers that be need to understand that there are lives at stake, not buildings.

In 2006, the Criminal Justice Administration Act was amended for those “unfit to plead”, to have detainees in a therapeutic environment with professional services so they can return to the court within a reasonable time. Responsibility was placed on the commissioner of corrections to submit a report on behalf of the defendants, at least once per month, on the condition of the defendants. Reports were to be reviewed by the judges of the respective courts so they could issue fitting directions, and a register of the summary of the reports was to be submitted. But this did not happen, and one does not see anyone being held accountable for the lapse.

Under Section 25E: Persons found guilty but insane can be detained “at the Governor General’s (GG) pleasure” and a report every six months submitted to ascertain the condition of the defendant. However, persons were still being held at the GG’s pleasure after March 1, 2007 and would have to apply to the Court of Appeal, then the Supreme Court, if at the GG’s pleasure, for the amendment did not automatically make this conversion. A constant review was asked for, for persons incarcerated without conviction, as in the case of Noel Chambers. This was not done, and no responsibility or accountability was demanded.

Constitutionally, the State is responsible for those “unfit to plead”, to have them speedily return to court for trial, and this responsibility lies with the state authorities. They are accountable for these persons’ medical care, fair treatment and for adequate facilities to be provided and properly staffed. Also for documentation to be submitted within specified times. This has not been done.

LACKS ACCOUNTABILITY

Inmates were brought to court only on the court’s request and not when they were “fit to plead”, and monthly reports were not submitted by the Department of Correctional Services, which is critical for the courts to know when they are fit to plead.

It is being said that the reports were not directed to any particular individual or department and, although provisions are in the legislation, the system lacks responsibility and accountability. Persons “unfit to stand trial” must be legally assisted by the Legal Aid Council, which is lacking in its responsibility to represent the accused, whether “fit or unfit to plead”, to prevent them languishing indefinitely.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 10, of which Jamaica is a signatory, declares a fair hearing by an impartial tribunal when a person is criminally charged. Mandela rule/109 deals with those persons “unfit to plead”, which says, “They have not been tried and cannot be held criminally liable and should not be incarcerated”.

This sordid saga, continued when George Williams, another inmate released recently from the “dungeon” after 50 years without a trial, gets only worse.

POOR AND POWERLESS

His family’s attempts for an earlier release were futile until the European human rights organisation with power and influence hired a lawyer who helped his release. The truth is “Dag nyam yuh suppa eena Jamaica when yuh poor and powerless. Yuh suck salt t’ru a wooden spoon.” Trust mi pan dat dey one. An’ wose, wen yuh mentally challenge.”

Nothing seems to have changed – justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.

There have been reports that a multimillion-dollar project to assist the mentally ill frittered away.

Because of limited space, my recommendations will highlight the Mandela rule/109 “Unfit to plead”: “They have not been tried and cannot be held criminally liable and should not be incarcerated.”

Also, what is most legally binding are the fundamental breaches of their human rights when detained to await trial, which have exceeded the maximum sentences for those convicted and more breaches for those detained in inhumane conditions.

All must be removed from the general prison population and those fit must be released to their families or to the State, in healthy humane facilities for their proper care and treatment, with generous compensation for their pain and suffering.

Those who are unfit must be released to adequate medical care facilities for psychiatric counselling. Most of all, there must be justice for Chambers’s death, so his family can be financially compensated for their tragic loss. The relevant authorities responsible for crimes against humanity and breaches of their oath to serve the people of Jamaica must be held accountable and face consequences. The lives of our mentally ill must matter, hence justice must be served.

Take heed! Proverbs 28:27, “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.”

I rest my case.

Alice Hogarth is the founder of Movement for Justice and Upliftment. Send feedback to alice.hogarth@yahoo.com