Wed | Jul 26, 2017

‘Lice and chinks’ lock down Freeport lock-up

Published:Wednesday | January 11, 2017 | 1:37 AMChristopher Thomas

Western Bureau:

Unhygienic conditions, which well-placed sources say include a major infestation of ‘lice and chinks (bed bugs)’ has forced the public health authorities in St James to order the closure of the lock-ups at several police stations, to include those at Freeport Police Station, in Montego Bay, which is the hub of policing activities in the parish.

 While not confirming the infestation, Lennox Wallace, the chief public health inspector for St James, told The Gleaner yesterday that all was not well at several police lock-ups and that his department is now working to fix the situation.

“Those persons who are in custody at Freeport, they are to be removed to different locations in the parish or out of parish, for full treatment of the cells so as to bring them to acceptable public health standards,” said Wallace.

“We are in dialogue with the police, and we are working to have this done by Tuesday of next week.”

The situation, which is expected to impact judicial activities in the parish, came to light during the opening of the St James Circuit Court’s Easter session on Monday when prosecutor Claudette Thompson informed the court that the Freeport police lock-up would be temporarily closed, and its inmates relocated, to facilitate repairs at the facility.

“The Freeport lock-up is supposed to accommodate 130 inmates, and with its closure for repairs, most of the inmates will be housed elsewhere, in some cases out of parish,” Thompson explained to presiding High Court Justice Bertram Morrison.

“Some inmates will be housed at the Barnett Street station, but that facility can only house 55 persons. Seventeen of those in custody will be housed out of parish.”

In speaking to the matter yesterday, Wallace said the St. James Health Department had identified major health issues at some of the parish’s lock-ups from in early November. He said the issues include prisoners contracting illness or injuries as a result of being housed under unhygienic conditions.

“In November, we identified certain conditions and acquired the necessary materials to treat the area, at Freeport. We are currently assisting prisoners who would have been injured, and ensuring that they maintain a good state of health,” Wallace explained.

In addition to the Freeport lock-up, Wallace said his department is having challenges at the Coral Gardens Police Station and the Spring Mount Police Station among others.

"There are other stations we would have had challenges with, such as the Coral Gardens station, where there are minimal problems and that is currently being dealt with,” said Wallace. “The occupational health and safety officer is en route to the Spring Mount station, as well, to deal with a public health challenge there.”

And, in highlighting the long-standing issue of the lack of mandated inspection of lock-ups by the police hierarchy in the parish, Wallace said the lack of proper maintenance of the cells, and failure to provide reports about the conditions of the facilities, contribute to the current situation.

“Maintenance is a problem, and where certain conditions are identified, sometimes it is based on the personnel not reporting them to the health authority for us to come in and mitigate these situations early,” said Wallace.

Efforts to contact Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the Area One, Assistant Commissioner of Police Warren Clarke; and senior superintendent of police Marlon Nesbeth, proved unsuccessful as they were both reportedly involved in top-level meetings.