Detainees have rights, too
THE EDITOR, Sir:
I write in reference to the story 'Lost in lock-up!' that was published in The Sunday Gleaner of November 29, 2015, where the mother of a man who was arrested on a gun-related offence was apprehended at a particular location (Half-Way Tree) and then transferred for detention to another location (Central) without notice.
Prominent defence attorney Bert Samuels made the important point that the practice of transferring detainees from one location (lock-up) to another, without adequate notice to the their families [emphasis mine], is dangerous, and that it often results in persons being missing. It, in fact, engenders the opportunity for corruption, misconduct and the violation of detainees' constitutional rights.
We acknowledge that some detainee transfers are inevitable because, among other things, they may have other cases in other jurisdictions. Detainees must, however, never be transferred unless for justifiable and exigent health or safety reasons, and when that occurs, their attorneys and family members must be notified promptly.
It should never be a case where detainees are transferred from one location to another by the police for the sole purpose of teaching them a lesson, as is the practice in some of our lock-ups. This is a blatant abuse of our detention system, and it must cease to exist. There must always be reasonable and rights-protective checks when detainees are transferred, as the ethical standards of administration dictates.
A fundamental overhaul and the implementation of a policy reform of our penal system to establish greater clarity of purpose and protections against abuse, including enforceable regulations and guidelines and reasonable legislative restraints, consistent with international human-rights standards, is imperative. This reform should provide for the aggressive oversight and enhanced accountability of detention officers.
This fundamental shift to bring about such a necessary change would, effectively, ensure the safety and security of detainees and reduce the number of transfers that could prolong their legal proceedings and separate them from counsel and their families.
There is no question that the result of arbitrary transfers of detainees is loss of access to legal representation; inordinately long detention time; and the hellish confusion, devastation and errors for the families, counsel and the detainees themselves.
The policymakers must make it mandatory for the police to maintain proper records of detention at all lock-ups so that detainees can be properly tracked and accounted for. Equally important and imperative is the duty of the police to make contact with the families of detainees and supply adequate information as to their location, the nature of the offence for which they were charged and what procedures to follow.
In the context of international partners and human-rights bodies scrutinising Jamaica's lamentable human-rights disgrace, immediate action must be taken to address this untenable practice, and detention officers who act maliciously, and with impunity, must be severely disciplined.