Sun | Aug 9, 2020

AG: Have the prisons not learned from past cases? - Calls mount for audits, intervention for inmates lost in system without trial

Published:Friday | June 5, 2020 | 12:27 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

There are mounting calls for the Government to commence an immediate review of the processes that could lead to mentally ill people accused of crimes getting lost in the prison system for several years without a trial.

This comes on the heels of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) highlighting how 81-year-old Noel Chambers died without facing a judge after waiting for 40 years behind bars.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte says she is keeping abreast of the developments in this case even as INDECOM says there are at least 146 other inmates facing a similar plight.

“How come inmates are still being ‘discovered’ in our penal system? Did the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) learn nothing from previous lost-in-custody cases?” the attorney general asked in a social media post.

FAILURE IN THE SYSTEM

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has admitted that there is a failure in the system after so many years of similar cases popping up.

“Bellevue [Hospital], which is where these persons should be, resists taking these persons because they feel they don’t have the necessary security to deal with them. At the same time, the correctional services don’t have the facilities or personnel to properly deal with these mentally unfit persons,” he told The Gleaner yesterday. “A solution needs to be found, but at the moment, one is not emerging, but it is something that the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of National Security, and the Ministry of Justice need to ... [solve] as quickly as possible.”

Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda said that an audit of the DCS is on the cards.

“The ministry will not only look at the way forward by examining the findings of the INDECOM report, but it will be ordering an audit of operations, which concerns how the DCS interacts with our court system,” Samuda said. “It will not be done in piecemeal fashion.”

Samuda reported that the ministry convened a meeting with Commissioner of Corrections Gary Rowe, who The Gleaner was unable to reach by phone yesterday despite several attempts.

The Jamaica Psychiatric Association yesterday added its voice to calls for a review of Chambers’ case, along with the 146 other cases referenced by INDECOM. It urged the Government to ensure that persons with mental illnesses are afforded their human rights and treated with dignity without stigmatisation.

Stand Up Jamaica Executive Director Carla Gullotta is urging Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton to intervene to provide adequate personnel to meet the demand of psychiatric services in the island’s correctional facilities.

There is reportedly only one psychiatrist currently working in the correctional system.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com