Fri | Dec 4, 2020

Letter of the Day | We failed Noel Chambers

Published:Saturday | June 6, 2020 | 12:11 AM


THE DEATH of Noel Chambers, a mentally challenged prisoner, points to many failures.

Failure of his family, whose attitude to the mentally challenged mirrors that of the majority of Jamaicans in how we view and treat persons with mental illnesses and those in prison.

Failure of the commissioner and the Department of the Correctional Services, which have the responsibility of care for those committed to their charge.

Failure of the churches and the chaplaincy ministry in the exercise of our Lord’s teaching on the judgement of the nations: “I was ... sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:43)

Failure of the custos and justices of the peace (JPs).

The Justices of the Peace Act, 2018, in Section 7 (2), states: “ A justice shall (b) (ii) ... whenever possible and subject to the availability of the justice, perform such other community-based activities as the custos may require (such as visits to prisons, children’s homes, and homes for the aged).”

The State, through the Justices of the Peace Act, 2018, ensures that the human rights of inmates in prisons, children in orphanages, and the elderly in homes for the aged are not neglected.

In a 2011 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) press release, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck urged JPs to visit the jails regularly and demand that they are kept in proper sanitary conditions and that inmates are rightfully detained. He also emphasised that when they visit the jails, they must pay careful attention to the station’s logbooks to ensure that persons are not detained beyond the time for which the law provides and ensure that the jails are habitable.

Mr Chuck said that keeping the jails clean was one aspect of delivering and ensuring justice to accused persons and that the vigilance of the JPs could help to improve the infrastructure.

It should be noted that the justice minister, during this current administration, has consistently emphasised the need for the JP to make these visits.

According to commissioner of INDECOM Terrence Williams, Mr Chambers, who was in prison, experienced “the decomposition of life”! This is frightening and speaks to our unhealthy practice of dehumanising others, especially people who are mentally challenged.

Mr Williams also said that Mr Chambers was one of the 146 inmates. That list of names should have been available and examined by the JPs.

Let us, as a people, embrace the responsibility of respecting the human rights of our fellow citizens and, above all, let the custos rotulorum of the parishes and JPs ensure that justice is served to all regardless of race, class, or creed.


Mandeville, Manchester