Dennie Quill, Contributor
IF HALF of what Raymoth Notice says about homosexual acts against prisoners, particularly the mentally ill, is true, this is an appalling state of affairs.
Dr. Notice, who was at one time in charge of prisoners' health care, is familiar with the subject and he raised concerns at a recent meeting of the St. Catherine Parish Council.
He also wrote a letter of complaint to Commissioner of Corrections, Major Richard Reese. What I found most amazing about this horrible situation was the response from Commissioner Reese. In effect, he was asking Dr. Notice to do the investigations and provide the evidence of the alleged abuse.
Come on, Major Reese, that's your job. If under your watch abuse is taking place, you are ultimately accountable. Is there a duty to protect inmates from abuse? You should immediately launch an internal criminal investigation because crimes are being committed. The last time I checked buggery was still illegal in Jamaica. The police should be called in and the perpetrators punished.
I got an understanding of what goes in local prisons from a former inmate who served time at the General Penitentiary. He painted a grim picture of corruption at an institution that was rotten to its core. There were examples of sexual abuse, bribery, theft, murder, etc.
Warders should be made accountable for what happens under their watch. They can't simply turn a blind eye. Worse, if they are implicated in the illegality and are found to facilitate the abuse they should be punished.
Maybe you, too, have watched the HBO drama series called Oz: Behind these walls. Oh, the scenes of sodomisation, drug running, murder, etc. There was even an attempt to test an 'ageing pill' on inmates. It helped to shine a light on prison abuse and to confirm that it was not only happening in Jamaica but in the United States.
EXPOSING PRISON RAPE
This prompted Human Rights Watch to undertake a three-year study to expose the problem of prison rape in the United States. The 300-plus-page report, called 'No Escape', documented the nature and extent of the problem that was often denied by prison officials. This significantly influenced the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in July 2003, which became law in September of that year.
Human Rights Watch called it a major step forward in the efforts to protect prisoners' rights.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 establishes mechanisms to combat sexual assault in prison, among them:
A National Commission to study prison rape, report its findings to Congress and develop national standards for preventing prison rape for review by the Attorney General.
A national clearinghouse on prison rape within the National Institute of Corrections. This clearinghouse will provide information and assistance to authorities responsible for preventing, investigating and punishing prison rape; and requires the National Institute of Corrections to provide training and education programmes for federal, state and local prison authorities.
So, while the problem is not unique to Jamaica, there needs to be a will to deal with it. According to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, "The horrors experienced by many young inmates, particularly those who are convicted of non-violent offences, border on the imaginable. Prison rape not only threatens the lives of those who fall prey to their aggressors, but it is potentially devastating to the human spirit. Shame, depression, and a shattering loss of self-esteem accompany the perpetual terror the victim thereafter must endure."
Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist who may be reached at denniequill@hotmail.