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Death hangs over persons in custody

Published:Monday | May 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Terrence Williams

The Independent Commissions of Investigations (INDECOM) has once again put on the front burner the "unacceptable" violent deaths of persons in state custody, arguing that despite comprehensive policy change, many in lock-ups are losing their lives at the hands of both agents of the State and fellow inmates.

Commissioner of INDECOM Terrence Williams said yesterday that since a subcommittee of Cabinet made recommendations regarding the safety of persons in state custody last year, nothing meaningful has been done to address serious concerns in correctional facilities and police lock-ups.

Following the promulgation of new policy to deal with persons in detention centres and correctional facilities, the Government proclaimed that the changes would move Jamaica into the 21st century in terms of the treatment of persons in lock-ups and correctional centres.




Significant changes were proposed in the policy paper crafted by the subcommittee of Cabinet in the wake of the death of Mario Deane in August 2014, after he was severely beaten three days earlier while in police custody at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay, St James.

Deane had been detained by the police for possession of a ganja spliff and his subsequent death had brought into sharp focus conditions in lock-ups and detention centres.

Yesterday, Williams again shone the spotlight on the issue.

The INDECOM boss said that since July 2013, 24 persons have died in state custody, 12 apparently by natural causes. However, three committed suicide, and nine were killed by violence allegedly perpetrated by state agents or fellow inmates.

"We are concerned, however, that since all of these measures were recommended, since all of these problems were recognised in the detention system, we don't see where anything meaningful has been done," Williams declared.

"If you are running a professional police force or professional correctional service, one of your prime functions must be to safely keep the persons who are in your custody," he said.




Williams also highlighted a disturbing trend in police lock-ups where incident areas are being tampered with. He charged that before INDECOM investigators visited the scenes of incidents at detention centres, the areas were cleaned up.

He called for the construction of "purpose-built remand centres" to which remandees in police lock-ups could be transferred in order to reduce the time persons remain in police lock-ups.

The INDECOM head wants specialist training for persons assigned to prisons, remand centres, and lock-ups in the conduct of their duties to include managing vulnerable prisoners.

He said closed-circuit camera systems should be installed in lock-ups to act as a monitor for these detainees and the persons guarding them. This will also play a part in addressing escapes from lock-ups.