Wed | Sep 28, 2022

Editorial | The real crazies of the Blackstock case

Published:Thursday | June 6, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Forgive us the purposeful indelicacy. The people in the criminal justice and law-enforcement systems are crazier than the mentally troubled defendants they allow to be lost, and forgotten, in proverbial cracks. They have been doing the same thing for decades, yet expect a different, or even better, outcome.

The latest evidence of this insanity is the case of Walter Blackstock, whose case was highlighted by this newspaper last week. Mr Blackstock was recently bailed on a murder charge, for which he is yet to be tried. He was in jail for 31 years. This former policeman, to be charitable to those who run the place, was lost in prison.

These officials might have been given the benefit of the doubt if Mr Blackstock’s case was unique, or even unusual. But according to Hugh Faulkner, the executive director of the Legal Aid Council, there are more than 300 similar cases being investigated by his agency – of people being behind bars for a long time without anyone knowing when they will have a hearing. They are in a sort of judicial purgatory, without any clear prospects of expiation.

Under Jamaica’s Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, if a court determines that a defendant is unfit to plead or stand trial, the judge may order that the person be remanded in custody at the “court’s pleasure”.

But, the judge’s power isn’t limited to ordering a detention in a lock-up, or prison. The court, under Section 25 (C), (2) of the act, can order that the person be admitted to a psychiatric facility, with appropriate supervision, for treatment. The judge many even make an order for the guardianship of the defendant.

This newspaper doesn’t know how often, or if judges ever utilise these powers, other than bald orders for person to be remanded, although there is the implied automaticity of treatment in any such ruling. Mr Faulkner’s investigation will, perhaps, shed some light on this matter.

It is clear, however, that there was at least a passing appreciation on the part of legislators that Jamaica’s antiquated prisons weren’t the best, and only, places for mentally ill persons to receive treatment, return to good health and be fit to face the justice system. Unfortunately, the State has been irresponsibly lacking in fulfilling the intent of the legislature, and what ought to be an obligation to its citizens.

NO DECENT FACILITIES

There are no decent general health facilities, much more psychiatric wing, in the island’s 18th-century maximum security gaols, and the authorities have vacillated over, and, more recently, squandered to partisan political advantage, the opportunity to build a modern prison with such facilities. Further, the health minister, Christopher Tufton, has argued that the island’s lone psychiatric hospital, itself in need for upgrading, is inadequate for the treatment of people from the prison system.

Even with these shortcomings, if people did their jobs, and there was a deep a sense of justice among those who swear felicity to it, cases like Mr Blackstock’s, the 300 and more being reviewed by Mr Faulkner, and the many others that have come to the public’s attention over the years, ought not to have happened.

When a judge remands a person who is unfit to plead or stand trial, Section 25 (D) of the act requires that he/she also directs the commissioner of corrections “to submit to the court” monthly reports on the condition of the defendant. These are supposed to be reviewed by a judge. The court is required to maintain a register of person remanded as unfit to plead as well as of the reports of the commissioner of corrections, who, if he fails to submit them, “shall be called before the court to explain the omission”.

While the law doesn’t expressly place a burden on prosecutors to follow up on these issues, it would seem logical that they, too, would maintain a similar register and, as part of their commitment to justice, and in the interest of judicial efficiency, periodically review these as they would with any other case.

No matter the pleadings, none of the players come out of this matter looking good. Their behaviour is the classic definition of insanity.