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Poor leadership, outdated laws hurting inmates

Published:Thursday | December 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu-File

A COMBINATION of outdated legislation and poor leadership at some of the island's adult correctional centres is contributing to the denial of basic human rights to persons incarcerated to the extent that it is now a matter of grave concern for the Office of the Public Defender.

Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu on Tuesday expressed dismay that despite passage of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in April 2011, too many of the rules and conditions governing treatment and care of inmates continue to be grounded in outdated concepts far removed from the realities of 21st century thinking and reality.

"We are still unhappy," he told the public forum hosted by Jamaicans for Justice for its human rights year in review, at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) Auditorium, New Kingston.

"We published a report that looked at what was happening in the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre as it relates to someone who was waiting to be deemed fit to enter a plea to a criminal charge ... the person died. At the time he died, he was deemed fit to plead. Now one of the things that contributed to his death was the lack of a sort of objective system of searching cells for weapons," the acting public defender disclosed.

Despite a comprehensive report on the issue, when a team from the public defender's office visited the institution three months later, nothing had been done improve conditions.

"The problem still existed," Mukulu shared with the audience. "So we went down to St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre to see what obtained there, and we're happy to report that they had much more than we expected in terms of searches, and that was an institution that had not had any deaths in the last three or so years.

"In our view, it was a factor of leadership. Some of our adult correctional centres are not being led, ladies and gentlemen, by people who are sufficiently conscious of the obligation that they have to protect the lives of those who are in those institutions."

Slow Parole Act reform

The frustrated attorney-at-law cited the slow pace of reform in respect of the Parole Act as another example of a system mired in the thinking of the past.

"We at the Office of the Public Defender are running impatient," admitted. "When we look at the sentence that the Parole Board is giving our inmates, it takes you back probably 70 years, when the idea of giving fully and clear reasons was not so much thought of in our jurisprudence.

"Now that we have the Charter of Rights, there is really no excuse for the policy or decision that we are receiving, and when we say to some of the inmates, 'well, we've produced a policy paper, we want to get some movement on this,' you can understand when they say to us, 'That's gonna take another 10 years, I might just rot inside these walls'."

To press home its case for urgent and comprehensive amendment to this particular piece of legislation, the Office of the Public Defender has indicated that it will be visiting the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre during this week to identify four prisoners to use in a test case in the courts.