Wiredja Online News Logo

WiredJa Online News

Wiredja Online News Logo

WiredJa Online News

JAMAICA | INDECOM Exposes Plight of Mentally Ill Persons in Ja's Prisons

  • Written by Calvin G Brown - wiredja.com
  • Published in local news
Featured INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams, has observed that the mentally ill represent a vulnerable group in the prison population and are in need of urgent attention. INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams, has observed that the mentally ill represent a vulnerable group in the prison population and are in need of urgent attention.
KINGSTON, Jamaica June 4, 2020 - The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has turned its spotlight on mentally ill persons who have been lost and languishing in Jamaica’s prisons, some for in excess of forty years despite not being convicted for any crime.

In his report for the first quarter of this year, INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams says there are at least seven persons who remain in the island's prisons having already spent 40 or more years each, despite not being convicted for any crime.

They are among 146 people now in prisons ‘at the governor general's pleasure’, the court's discretion, or because they were deemed unfit to plead, after being accused of various crimes.

Williams observed that the mentally ill represent a vulnerable group in the prison population and are in need of urgent attention.

Mr. Williams described conditions at facilities that house inmates with mental health issues as deplorable, noting that an examination carried out this year by the Medical Officer of the Department of Correctional Services indicated that "the conditions were less than desirable, that there was a lack of adequate lighting and ventilation in the cells, that there were sharp edges at the cells which would cause danger to mentally ill inmates, that there was bed bug infestation of the building and complaints that at nights rodents are in the building." 

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDEOM) has called for the establishment of psychiatric facilities for prisoners with mental health issues following the death of a man who languished at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre for 40 years without trial.

At a news conference on Wednesday, the independent commissioner pointed to the case surrounding the incarceration and death of Noel Chambers who was deemed unfit to plea when he was charged with murder and incarcerated on February 4, 1980.

Chambers died in the prison recently after spending 40 years without being tried, despite being deemed fit to plead on two occasions.

In his report for the first quarter of this year, Williams charged that at the time of his death Chambers was in a deplorable physical condition. He said Chambers was a victim of inhumane treatment.

"When found by INDECOM upon his death, he was chronically emaciated, severely malnourished. His body was covered with vermin bites, and there were live bed bugs, popularly called in Jamaica 'chink' all over his body and he was suffering bed sores. It is clear that he was a victim of inhumane treatment in our prisons,"  Williams said during a digital media briefing.

Mr. Williams said a Department of Correctional Services report stating that Mr. Chambers was convicted is inaccurate. 

"The Department of Correctional Services reports that he was convicted of murder and deemed unfit to plea, which of course, the two things cannot be true.... When we did our investigation, checked the records, his committal document from the court showed that he was in fact not convicted of any offence but was unfit to plea and was being held on remand to see if his fitness to plea would improve," Mr. Williams reported. 

"The Department of Correctional Services reports that he was convicted of murder and deemed unfit to plea, which of course, the two things cannot be true.... When we did our investigation, checked the records, his committal document from the court showed that he was in fact not convicted of any offence but was unfit to plea and was being held on remand to see if his fitness to plea would improve," Mr. Williams reported. 

INDECOM is recommending that the government establish a psychiatric ward for inmates with mental health issues. Williams says there needs to be a system for review of cases of inmates who are fit to plea and those who are detained beyond the period they would have served in prison for a particular offence.

While noting that there are 146 mentally ill patients in custody, Williams said there are nine individuals who are fit to plea, however, they have not returned to court. There are at least 15 people who have been incarcerated for more than 30 years.

The INDECOM Commissioner noted that Chambers was not an isolated case, pointing to the example of another inmate, identified only by his initials “LF” who has been locked up for 19 years, at the governor general's pleasure, for the offences of housebreaking and larceny as well as assault at common law.

According to INDECOM, LF's psychiatric condition is fit to plead, but the last listed court date was 2001.

In another case, “MB” has been incarcerated for 31 years at the governor general's pleasure for an offence of burglary with intent. MB was also listed as fit to plead during his last psychiatric examination. His last listed court date was 1989.

“These detentions awaiting trial appear to exceed the maximum sentences following a conviction or the prevailing tariff for similar offences,” said Williams.

“These cases highlight systemic failures in reviewing indeterminate detention. It is a clear breach of the constitutional rights of persons who are detained in inhumane conditions and/or for an extended period without trial,” added Williams.

The INDECOM boss argued that the situation of mentally ill people detained in prisons, and in particular those deemed unfit to plead, is a matter which should be concerning to all parties responsible for the care, detention, and safeguarding of citizens in the custody of the State.

He said the cases highlighted, and the wider situation, are indicative of a disregard for local legislation and human rights conventions which are unambiguous in the matter.

The INDECOM report, which will be submitted to Parliament, has recommended several changes that the agency said would address the root causes of the issues.

Among the recommendations are:

  • The passing of legislation that people held under the governor general's pleasure be automatically held under the court's pleasure. The onus should not be on the detainee to apply for this change;
  • An examination by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of all the cases for those unfit to plead to determine whether or not there is still a viable prosecution available against these accused individuals;
  • Putting systems in place to ensure the timely review of unfit to plead cases, such as the establishment of a review board, to ensure re-enlisting by the court when the inmate may be fit to plead;
  • The reinstatement of the forensic psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital or the establishment of a similar type of facility to house those deemed unfit to plead. Such an institution should be properly staffed with varying specialists and areas for recreation designated, all of which will aid in the treatment provided;
  • The hiring of full-time psychiatrists and nurses to ensure adequate treatment is administered and the duty of care upheld thorough training of correctional officers to lend support to the psychiatric staff;
  • Where there is no family forthcoming to assume responsibility, strict care ought to be taken by the correctional staff to ensure the correction rules are followed; and
  • Upon their release there should be a written apology by the State and compensation awarded for the breach of their constitutional rights. In the event of death these remedies should be awarded to the family.
Last modified onThursday, 04 June 2020 11:20
  • Countries: Jamaica