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JFJ questions increase in death of inmates

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, December 10, 2013    

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OUTGOING executive director of rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) Dr Carolyn Gomes is calling for answers to why more people are dying in police lockups.

"Our paralegal flagged for the board at the last meeting, that there has been one death in custody per month, for the last three months that has come to us," Gomes told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

According to Dr Gomes, the incidence seen by JFJ as "totally unusual" and was worrisome since, before now, they had been documenting "one (death in police custody) every six to nine months".

"That flag raised a question... as to why are people dying in lock-ups, what's happening?" the JFJ outgoing director asked.

Only in May this year the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) revealed that at least 12 detainees die annually while in state custody. It also said that between 2005 and 2011, 36 people died in police lock-ups while 59 died in remand centres. INDECOM, which is the body mandated to investigate actions of the security forces and other state agents that result in death or injury at the time, said many of the deaths in lock-ups involved the mentally ill who are often treated as "lesser beings".

The Police High Command has, however, denied those claims stating that official figures reflect that 29 people died while in police custody over the period mentioned by INDECOM. It said seven died from health-related issues, six were found hanging in their cells while the cause of death for nine others was listed as unknown. Responses for the remaining seven are outstanding.

"... inmates who remain alive outstrip those who die by 660 per cent. By no means are we saying any one life is more significant than another, but the report obscured the fact that inmate deaths were an infrequent occurrence," the high command said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Police High Command also said INDECOM's report failed to highlight that many deaths were due to natural causes such as ulcers, HIV and intestinal bleeding, and none has been the result of confrontations with the police.

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