Institutions exist to nurture

Institutions exist to nurture

Friday, June 05, 2020

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Dear Editor,

Such men as Mandela, Gandhi and Humphrey have put forward the axiom that the defining characteristics of a society's personality are observed where its institutions and its most vulnerable members interact.

Among Jamaica's most vulnerable citizens are the poor and the incarcerated. Regardless of the reason for your detention, your guilt, or your innocence, unless the circumstances surrounding your detention involve some celebrity or infamy, you are at risk of being forgotten and lost in “the system” or, as the INDECOM January to March 2020 report posits, “detained at pleasure”.

The case of Noel Chambers — discarded for 40 years at the bottom of the abyss called the prison system — is one case too many. Yet, Chambers' case is not unique; some may recall the case of Robert Robinson, a mentally ill man detained for simple larceny in 2002, suddenly rediscovered in 2019. To me, it is obvious then that an audit of all centres of detention and incarceration must be conducted, so that justifiable account can be given for every last inmate.

There is a greater point which has continued to loom over our heads, however: We are all vulnerable!

Daily, Jamaicans interact with organisations, both public and private, and are met with disrespect or subjected to poor service quality. This eats away at the collective and individual self-esteem of Jamaicans. How can people have national and individual pride when organisations mandated to serve them treat them as expendable? This sets the foundation for further dehumanising treatment abroad.

Jamaica is a society of passionate and creative people, but we have been hardened by plagues of crime, poverty, income inequality, among others. Any gains we make in development and human rights need to be nurtured, so we learn to demand the best at home, and hold themselves accountable to delivering the best as well. Let us not only be mindful of these things, but also engage in their practice.

Themba Mkhize

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