Joking with our jails - INDECOM still concerned about the treatment of persons in police lock-ups
Twenty-five years after Agana Barrett, Ian Forbes, and Vassell Brown suffocated in an overcrowded cell at the Constant Spring Police Station, not much has changed, causing the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) to again turn the spotlight on the worrying conditions in which persons are held in police lock-ups in Jamaica.
The oversight body says that since 2010, it has received almost 200 complaints from persons detained by the police, and it believes there are many more cases which were not reported.
"What we need to understand about detention is that any Jamaican can find themselves in a police lock-up," argued Commissioner of INDECOM Terrence Williams.
He said that contrary to the law, persons are being held longer than 24 hours at police stations without the intervention of a justice of the peace (JP) or a senior officer who is mandated to ensure that detainees' rights are respected.
"If they have a man in their custody over the time allowed by law, they must go for the JP. It will be incumbent on the police to find the JP, and we need to ensure that happens," said Williams during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner last week.
"Every lock-up ought to have a custody officer, a police of a good rank, who is in charge of lock-up. And when a constable brings someone in, the constable should explain to the custody officer why the person is being brought into custody. That's a check on the constable," added Williams.
UNLAWFUL, LENGTHY DETENTIONS
He argued that this is not the case at many police stations islandwide, and indicated that since 2010, INDECOM has received 131 complaints of unlawful detention and 59 complaints of unduly long detention.
The Mandeville Police Station accounted for 16 of the complaints, the most from any individual station over the period, while 12 were from persons held at the Constant Spring Police Station and 11 from detainees at the Half-Way Tree lock-up.
Williams said that persons are often subjected to overcrowding and inhumane conditions in lock-ups as some cops use delay tactics to keep them behind bars.
At other times, persons are transported from one station to the next by the cops in order to keep them confined.
There have also been growing concerns about inmate-against-inmate violence and police abuse; inhumane treatment by 'trustee' prisoners; and a general lack of oversight by officers at lock-ups.
"What happens now is that you have to charge people before you give them bail, but sometimes you don't have enough to charge. So the police will keep them in jail until they get the evidence to charge them," said Williams.
"In other countries, you have a situation where persons are granted bail before being charged. There are a lot of things that can be put in place to prevent that system from being abused, and you can have judicial intervention in it," added Williams.
He said that during a recent tour of the Denham Town Police Station he saw nine persons who were detained for extended periods without being charged, nor had they been visited by a justice of the peace.