Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Inmates have constitutional rights, too

Published:Saturday | September 19, 2020 | 12:07 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Many Jamaicans are familiar with the term ‘constitutional rights’ but very few know what their rights are under the Constitution. A recent visit to one of Jamaica’s police lock-ups in the Corporate Area highlighted a breach of one such right that should be afforded to Jamaican citizens; the right to equitable and humane treatment by any public authority in the exercise of any function.

Pursuant to Section 13(6) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act 2011 it is pellucid that “No person shall be subjected to torture or inhumane or degrading punishment or other treatment.” This is a right afforded to all Jamaican citizens, including inmates who have been detained under the custody of the State.

State of Lock-ups

It is a well-known fact that the police lock-ups are significantly overcrowded and woefully unsanitary. These prevailing conditions, in my opinion, fall short of the constitutional right to humane treatment.

The lock-ups are also used as holding areas for persons detained pending their court date. Therefore, it is totally possible that an innocent person who has been held because he or she is merely suspected of committing a criminal offence will also be subjected to these deplorable conditions. One particular lock-up in the Corporate Area provides a cup of tea and one fried dumpling for breakfast. For lunch, inmates are given one piece of chicken back or turkey neck with a scoop of rice and a festival to be saved for dinner. For the inmates who are lucky enough to have visitors and a strong support system, their visitors are allowed to bring them snacks and a cooked meal on Sundays.

Earlier this year, the St Catherine Health Department ordered the immediate closure of the Spanish Town police lock-up due to rat infestation and other unsanitary conditions. The chief health inspector revealed that the cells were plagued by rodents, inadequate ventilation, sewage overflow and roaches. Many Jamaicans would dread the thought of their dogs living in this type of condition, let alone human beings.

In addition to dealing with these issues, COVID-19 now presents a grave threat to the inmates and correctional officers if adequate protocols, and facilities such as handwashing stations, are not put in place and observed. A mandatory order should be made for all inmates to be provided with masks and sanitiser, not only when leaving the lock-ups for court, but whenever they interact with any inmate or correctional officer.

Greater emphasis is needed to ensure that consistent inspection of our jails and lock-ups are done, and that the necessary actions are taken to eradicate such repulsive conditions. The Government may also need to consider increased funding to the Department of Correctional Services in order to satisfy these basic human rights. For human beings to be confined, subjected to such conditions is an indictment on our Government, our Constitution and the people of Jamaica.

I am not advocating for inmates to be placed in a luxury hotel; however, basic human rights must be afforded to inmates who are held under the custody of the State. I urge the minister of national security and the minister of justice to visit any one of Jamaica’s prisons or lock-ups unannounced to witness the true condition. We cannot expect proper rehabilitation to occur within our prisons if the conditions are not conducive to facilitate such. We must remember that even inmates are humans first, and their constitutional rights are not extinguished merely because they are detained.

MATTHEW HYATT

Attorney-at-Law

matthew.hyatt_1@hotmail.com