Wed | Jun 16, 2021

Death in custody

Published:Tuesday | July 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

This particular publication is, in part, based on information extracted from this Special Investigations Unit (SCU) report prepared by INDECOM's SCU on the matters of death in custody and death of the mentally ill when in confrontation with the police. The contents of the report will be tabled in the Houses of Parliament and, by extension, made public at a later date.

More often than not, when statistics regarding the number of fatalities for a year, a month or a quarter are published, the assumption is made that these are all police shootings; this, however, would not be accurate. This is because when a citizen dies while in the custody of members of the security forces, this is also a police fatality. In fact, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) currently divides allegations against the police into 23 separate categories. Death in custody is one of them.

In custody of the State

This particular allegation materialises whenever a civilian dies while in the custody of the State, whether in a holding cell or a correctional facility. The cause of death is not considered before an investigation is initiated; the death just has to occur while that civilian is in the custody of the state.

At this point, the commission's investigators make their own inquiries. if no foul play is discovered, meaning, there was no misconduct, abuse or non-action on the part of the state, a report is done to state the circumstances of the death and the appropriate action is recommended. On the other hand, if foul play is discovered, a report is done, submitted for charges to be considered.

Formally, whenever a death in custody occurs, instructions are issued by the director of complaints for the particular parish for an investigation to be launched under following terms of reference; to determine circumstances surrounding individually reported cases of death of detainees, while in the custody of the police; to determine whether there are reasons to suspect that any person is criminally culpable for the death; to examine the police reporting, recording and investigation of these deaths; and to make recommendation for future actions.

The SCU investigation covered the period January 2005-February 2012. The data were provided by the Jamaica Constabulary Force - Detention and Courts Branch. According to the information received, for the period 2005 through 2012, more than 30 persons died while in the custody of the state.

Poor background

It is interesting to note that according to the data provided by the Jamaica Constabulary Force, all persons dying in custody were male and of Jamaican nationality. The information also suggested that the men were generally of poor socio-economic background, with general lack of family support. Some of the deceased were remanded pending the outcome of a psychiatric evaluation as they were displaying elements of mental illness.

The SCU report details what INDECOM considers "special cases", as they involve the death of civilians who are mentally ill in the custody of the state, as well as death of the mentally ill in confrontation with the police. Detailed analysis on variables such as the leading cause of death, age range, the policies and legislation in place, as well as recommendations made by experts in the field, are all contained in the report.