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Living Hell

Published:Saturday | February 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM
The Horizon Remand Centre.
Manfred Nowak, United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's tarnished image earned from years of unacceptable treatment of children and adults under state care has been dealt another severe blow.

The United Nations' special rapporteur on torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment, Manfred Nowak, said the conditions in Jamaican lock-ups are inhumane.

Nowak has painted a grim picture of the treatment being meted out to boys under state care. He also made chilling revelations regarding the treatment of persons in detention.

"I was most concerned about the appalling conditions of detention in general, which reflect a complete disrespect for the human dignity of persons in conflict with the law," the special rapporteur said.

Nowak revealed that his visit to the St Andrew Juvenile Centre for Boys in Stony Hill showcased a disturbing system of repression and regular corporal punishment.

"The boys in remand were never allowed to leave the buildings, depriving them of any recreational activities in the open air," said Nowak.

Harsh at horizon

The special rapporteur described the conditions at the Horizon Remand Centre as very harsh, notwithstanding the presumption in law that detainees are innocent until found guilty.

He attributed the outbreak of the disturbances earlier this month at the Horizon facility to the frustration resulting from the conditions of detention, and humiliation by warders.

"The resulting suppression of this frustration by the authorities through the use of force can only be described as excessive," Nowak said.

He contended that rather than maintaining order, some officials used the incident as an opportunity to administer corporal punishment, leading to severe injuries.

In corroborating Nowak's observations, forensic specialist Dr Derrick Pounder said there were indications that many of the victims had been beaten, although they were defenceless.

Inadequate care

The forensic specialist was also critical of the inadequate care being administered to detainees and inmates in need of psychiatric attention.

Nowak said persons detained without charges, remandees and convicted persons were being held in the same facility, often sharing cells which are dark, filthy and without toilet facilities.

"There is a general atmosphere of violence and aggression in almost all places of detention and the frequent use of beatings as a form of punishment," Nowak said.

He added that it was apparent that detainees had no knowledge of or trust in any complaints mechanisms available to them.

Nowak referred to a detainee who is being held without being charged for five years - a breach of his constitutional rights.

The UN investigator said the police lock-ups across the island hardly fared better.

Police custody, Nowak said, was characterised by overcrowded and filthy cells infested with rats, cockroaches and lice, and an unbearable stench.

"Many cells were in complete darkness, resembling caves and with poor ventilation ? . The time detainees were allowed outside of their cells, including toilet use, was extremely limited," Nowak said.

Nowak has recommended that while torture, in the classic sense of the word, is not rampant in Jamaica, the Government needs to ratify the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, degrading treatment or punishment. He also said torture must be criminalised under domestic laws.