KINGSTON, Jamaica - The Police High Command has refuted recent claims by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) about deaths of prisoners in police-lock-ups.
INDECOM at a press conference Wednesday said that at least 12 detainees die annually while in state custody. Between 2005 and 2011, 36 people died in police lock-ups while 59 died in remand centres, said INDECOM, the agency mandated to investigate actions of the security forces and other state agents that result in death or injury.
INDECOM added that many of the deaths in lock ups involved the mentally ill who are often treated as “lesser beings” as was the case with five inmates who committed suicide at the Port Antonio Police Station in Portland.
However, in a statement Thursday night the High Command denied those claims, saying that official figures reflect that 29 people died while in police custody during the period. Seven died from health-related issues, six were found hanging in their cells and the cause of death was listed as unknown for nine others, it said. 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 police statement said.
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 police.
In referencing the Port Antonio Police Station deaths, the High Command said mentally ill inmates are treated fairly as other inmates and that special provisions are made for them, adding that police record indicate that only three committed suicide, one died from a severe ulcer and the fifth from injuries received during an altercation with another inmate. Additionally, the High Command said that there were no confirmed reports from certified mental health professionals that any was mentally ill.
INDECOM also said that police officers needed to be properly equipped and trained to handle mentally ill inmates, as in most cases they do not exercise patience as their training manual dictates, and that less lethal devices be used when dealing with them.
However, those provisions are already in place, the High Command said, noting that outside of training, officers are encouraged to work with local mental health representatives and that over 7,600 non-lethal weapons, including batons and pepper spray, have been issued since the start of the year.
“Interestingly though, there are countless cases in which encounters between members of the Force and the mentally ill result in them being assisted to one of the agencies designed to deal with such individuals, with family members expressing gratitude, and in some instances, relief. But these stories are never told,” the police statement said.