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Prison horror - Former inmate bemoans conditions ‘not even animals live in’

Published:Sunday | October 20, 2019 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle - Contributor
Hugh Wildman: The State has an obligation to protect the human rights of the prisoners and ensure their human rights are not breached
Bert Samuels: It cannot be a defence of the State that they are departing from the provisions of the Charter (of Rights) because they cannot afford to build a modern, humane prison...

A former inmate, who claims to have suffered inhumane and degrading treatment while he waited for four years behind bars for his appeal to be heard, wants drastic steps to be taken to remedy some of the deplorable conditions in local prisons.

The man, who The Sunday Gleaner has chosen not to identify, won his appeal but said he daily relives the conditions in prison that he claims have affected his mental health.

“Terrible, terrible,” is how he described some of the horrors and torment he faced in prison.

The man said that, while the authorities are taking steps to rehabilitate and educate prisoners, priority should be given to providing proper toilet facilities for them when they are locked down each day from as early as 4 p.m. until the next morning.

“I dreaded lockdown time because I had nowhere to defecate at nights in case I had the urge to do so,” he said.

“We had to improvise ways to deal with it and sometimes newspaper was one of the things used at nights and then stuffed into the water jug given to each prisoner. We just had to endure the stench until we were let out in the morning,” he disclosed.

“People might say what I am saying makes them feel nauseous, but it is the truth and not even animals live in that condition,” he said.

According to the former inmate, some prisoners cut off the tops of plastic bottles or use the water jug to urinate in at nights and “right now each time I see a plastic bottle, it reminds me of my ordeal in prison”.

He said he wanted people to know that there are many innocent persons in prison because of vicious lies told on them.

“I am one of those persons, but thank God I have gained my freedom.”

He added: “Although I could have been released from prison after three years, I remained just to have my appeal heard so my name could be cleared.

“Prison life is not easy, so I just want to tell the young men who are engaged in criminal activities to stop.”

He said he could have been out of prison within a year of his conviction if the notes of evidence of his trial in the Home Circuit did not take more than two years to reach the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal, in freeing him in 2017, bemoaned the fact that transcripts were taking years to be placed in front of it. Checks last week revealed that the situation had not improved significantly, due to a shortage of court reporters.

The former prisoner said he has since filed a suit against the State.

A prison official said he did not have much to say on the issue, but emphasised that it was not only the prisoners who were suffering but also the correctional officers who daily have to deal with the prison population.

Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels said there are several sections under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that deal with how people must be treated civilly and humanely while in custody. He referred to Section 13 (6) of the Charter which states that no person shall be subjected to torture or inhumane and degrading treatment.

Samuels said section 14 (5) further states that any person deprived of his liberty shall be treated humanely and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person.

“It cannot be a defence of the State that they are departing from the provisions of the Charter because they cannot afford to build a modern, humane prison,” the attorney stressed.

Samuels is calling for the government to put in place proper facilities for body waste so that there are no further violations of the Charter of Rights. He added that the violations affected not only the prisoners but also the warders who have to work in those conditions.

“In my opinion, these breaches can be challenged in court for damages to be paid,” he added.

Attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman sees the long delays in the preparation of the transcripts of trials and the hearing of the appeals as serious breaches of prisoners’ constitutional rights.

“The State has an obligation to protect the human rights of the prisoners and ensure their human rights are not breached,” he said.

Wildman is of the view that, given the social and economic circumstances facing the country, appeals should be heard within a year. He said the State must ensure that faciilties are in place for that to be done and that it can be sued for the delays and the inhumane conditions prisoners have to endure during their incarceration.

Last month, court reporters responsible for taking notes of evidence at trials in the circuit courts, and the preparation of transcripts in appeal cases, staged a sit-in to protest against the unfavourable conditions they have been working in for several years.

One of their grouses was the shortage of staff that has left them overburdened with work.

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes had a lengthy meeting with them but, last week, some of the court reporters told The Sunday Gleaner that there was no significant improvement in their working conditions.