We must shed this institutionalised culture of neglect


We must shed this institutionalised culture of neglect

Monday, June 29, 2020

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The absence of swift, meaningful response to so many tragedies and abuses down the years has encouraged the view that most Jamaicans will soon forget, and their leaders only give lip service.

The delay in striving to build national unity around the anti-crime fight springs to mind. So, too, the inadequacy of action in addressing rampant indiscipline on the roads.

And also, the failure after many years of vicious dog attacks, leading to death in some cases, to frame laws which adequately hold dog owners accountable.

The news media can't be excused. All too often newsrooms simply move on to the next news story, entirely forgetting to follow up on the ones before.

Yet, there have been cases in which public outrage led to decisive action. As we have done before, we reference the overhaul of Jamaica's electoral system after decades of electoral fraud, bolstered by political tribalism and violence. Today, Jamaica's electoral system stands as an example to the world.

We note the Ananda Alert system which responds to reports of missing children. It was launched in 2009 and named in honour of 11-year-old Miss Ananda Dean, who was abducted and murdered the previous year.

The Ananda Alert has done much to alert the nation to children running away and lured away from home; and the larger issue of child neglect and abuse.

Most Jamaicans are still struggling to come to terms with the case of Mr Noel Chambers, an 81-year-old man who died in prison in January after spending 40 years behind bars without trial. A report done by the Independent Commission of Investigations told of how he was locked up at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre since February 1980, after he was deemed mentally ill and therefore unfit to plead.

The report tells us that, at the time of his death, Mr Chambers was in terrible physical condition.

“His clothing was filthy and his body showed evidence of chronic emaciation. He was covered with what appeared to be vermin bites, live bedbugs, and he showed signs of having bed sores,” the report said.

The Government has pledged to ensure speedy action to ensure there is no recurrence.

However, it has since turned out that many others now in prison are in a similar situation to that of Mr Chambers. Why is that?

Perhaps, a kind of 'institutionalised' culture of neglect or 'care fatigue', in the context of the wider disgraceful conditions within the prisons, caused people with knowledge to wash their hands like Pontius Pilate.

Truthfully, the Jamaican population which, in the main, has forthrightly rejected talk of upgrading and modernising prisons, can't absolve itself.

As psychiatric consultant Dr Geoffrey Walcott reminds us, “The punitive consequences based on the societal contract is that persons (in prison) are stripped of their right to freedom. But they are not stripped of the right to (protection) from cruel and unusual punishment...”

Dare we hope that the shameful death of Mr Chambers will at long last push the Jamaican population and, by extension, their leaders towards comprehensive and lasting prison upgrade?

Perhaps the death of Mr Chambers, like that of young Miss Ananda Dean, will not be in vain.

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