High proportion of J'can men among aliens in Florida prisons
Lovelette Brooks, News Editor
GRAMMY-WINNING reggae star Buju Banton, who was found guilty of drug charges in the United States Middle District Court, Florida Division, last week and who now faces 15 years to life imprisonment, will join the ranks of thousands of Jamaican males incarcerated in the United States.
Statistics gleaned from the Bureau of Research and Data Analysis of the Florida Department of Corrections show that as of February 11 this year, 857 Jamaican men were serving time in prisons in that state alone. This figure does not include those who are housed in local jails (police lock-ups).
The data also show that as of February this year, Jamaican men (listed as confirmed aliens meaning not having US citizenship) account for the third-largest group of Caribbean nationals in Florida's prisons today. Cuba has 2,376, the largest number, and Puerto Rico has 1,895 (see table on Page A3). Haitians are the fourth largest group of Caribbean natives in Florida prisons and their total is currently 645 males.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green, commenting on the high number of Jamaican males incarcerated abroad, said most are serving sentences for drug trafficking, murder and violence.
He told The Sunday Gleaner that while the Jamaican Consulate in the various countries where Jamaicans are locked up monitors the situation, the police here have been working jointly with law-enforcement officers abroad on cases of particular interest.
"When they are wanted here for crime, but are held overseas, we work closely with overseas authorities, and we have quite a few cases working on, mainly in America, the United Kingdom and Canada," he said.
The primary legal circumstances
surrounding a large percentage of Jamaican male prisoners stem from criminal charges such as drugs, robbery, drug trafficking, and theft as non-violent crimes, and gun charges, assault, and murder as some violent charges, the Florida Department of Corrections lists.
Buju, whose real name is Mark Myrie, has been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, knowingly and intentionally possessing a firearm in furtherance of and during the course of a drug-trafficking crime, and aiding and abetting others in using a communication facility in the commission of a felony. The slender Rastafarian is now in a lock-up awaiting sentencing.
Another Jamaican, Ian Thomas, who was charged jointly with Buju in December 2009, has pleaded guilty to his crimes. He, too, is awaiting sentencing.
Researcher and writer Ayata Christi, who has done work within several correctional facilities in Florida, and who interfaces with many Jamaican inmates, shares her perspective on 'the dilemma' they face being caught on the wrong side of the law.
"Most of them are between 18 and 22 years of age and are given long sentences ranging from 10 to 20-plus years. Although these criminal offences and offenders require appropriate punishment, some of the sentences seem excessive," she said.
"Many Jamaican youths enter the USA and find themselves in the wrong place without prior knowledge of illegal activities. They are unable to give law enforcers information that will make their sentences lighter or they simply did not want to inform on the others, thus they were given unwarranted sentences for minor offences. In addition, they don't have the finances to 'buy' their freedom either," Christi said.
It is her view that Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals are easy targets with little or no defence working for their legal protection under American law.
"Jamaicans who live in and/or frequent America must learn the laws of each American state where they intend to reside. As well, they should learn the US laws for the pivotal self-protection necessary for their defence in the event they find themselves in the hands of any state or US judicial system," Christi suggests.
entering illegal space
It is a view shared by Dr Kadamawe Knife, lecturer in social entrepreneurship at the University of the West Indies.
"Jamaican migrant young men get into trouble with the law for various reasons. It is difficult for such persons to enter the formal space which does not embrace them. So it is highly likely that they will enter the informal illegal space, and therein lies trouble," Dr Knife said.
The doctor, who works with inner-city youths, explained that the yearning to earn a living to better their lives and the lives of their families is also a strong pull factor for getting involved in illegal activities abroad.
Referring to the United States in particular, Dr Knife points to built-in biases against Jamaicans and Guyanese.
"This is linked to the narco-trade of which these two Caribbean countries are strongly linked. So a red flag goes up for these countries in matters relating to drug trafficking," Dr Knife said.