Jailbreaks dishearten cops
Despite spending more than $120 million to refurbish lock-ups across the island last year, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was unable to prevent the escape of 32 prisoners who tunnelled or found other ways out of seven guarded police stations.
The 32 add to a total of 43 prisoners who escaped police custody last year, eight of whom escaped while undergoing treatment at hospitals, while two escaped from the Port Antonio station guardroom and the Maggotty Police Station CIB office. Another man escaped police custody at the Family Court on Duke Street in Kingston.
According to Assistant Commissioner of Police Leon Rose, head of the Services Branch, the Savanna-la-Mar Police Station accounted for the most escapes last year, with nine inmates fleeing.
It was followed by the Portmore Police Station, more popularly called '100 Man' in St Catherine, which accounted for seven escapees; the Montego Bay lock-up with six; the Spanish Town Police Station with five; Linstead Police Station with three escapees; and Hunts Bay and Half-Way Tree with one escapee each.
Two inmates escaped police guard at the Kingston Public and Spanish Town hospitals, while one inmate escaped from the Port Antonio, Savanna-la-Mar and the Cornwall Regional hospitals each.
"The Jamaica Constabulary Force is always concerned about jailbreaks. It is disheartening when it happens because you must remember that we first have to investigate a crime, seek suspects, arrest them, and then they are to be taken to court," said Rose, noting that it is also the police's responsibility to safeguard such individuals until they face the court or until they are bailed or released upon police investigations.
"When a person escapes and it is not in those circumstances, it must be of concern to us. It means that somebody who we have removed from the street through the criminal justice system has gone back to the street without being properly released or while their case is being processed," he argued, emphasising the wasted efforts of investigators and arresting officers who initially brought the suspect to book.
While there is no evidence to suggest structural defects at the lock-ups from which the suspects escaped last year, preliminary investigations have revealed that the escapes could have been aided by police negligence.
"The matters are currently under investigation, but I can say that in some of the escapes there is clear evidence that some measure of supervision was lacking," he said, noting that criminal culpability on the part of the police is always an aspect explored in jailbreak investigations.
Rose could not say for certain if any senior officers would be criminally charged in relation to the escapes, noting instead that each investigation will first have to be completed, and the file submitted to the director of public prosecutions, who will give her ruling.
In the event there is no criminal culpability, said Rose, the matter may then be turned over to the force's internal disciplinary mechanisms.
"These escapes would have had to have risen to a particular level in order for us to determine criminal negligence," he said, adding that no one is above sanction in the event that criminal negligence is recognised.
Rose rebuffed allegations that inmates may have escaped as patrolling officers are often overworked and sleepy during the jailbreaks.
"This is not to say that police work is not very laborious and that it does not demand long hours. We hardly have police officers who work 40-hour workweeks, we work long beyond that," he said.
It was not immediately clear last week how many of the escapees had been recaptured by the police this year, but at least three of the five who cut away a section of their cell at the Spanish Town Police Station on December 19 were accounted for, he said.
One was turned over to the police by parents, one rearrested while another was reportedly beheaded while on the run, the police reported.
Reports in the media on the weekend indicated that, in the latest Force Orders, Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams indicated that, going forward, all cells are to be searched thoroughly once every 48 hours in addition to regular daily searches currently in effect.
This latest move is expected to assist law enforcement in discovering any further attempts at jailbreaks.