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Prison review

Cabinet subcommittee to examine treatment of inmates in custody

Tuesday, August 19, 2014    

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A Cabinet subcommittee has been set up to develop a strategic response to treating prison inmates following the death of Mario Deane, who was beaten while in police custody earlier this month.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting yesterday updated the Portia Simpson Miller-led Cabinet on Deane's death and the short-term measures being implemented to minimise the likelihood of a recurrence.

However, a media release from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) did not provide any further details on what was reported to the executive.

Contacted prior to the release of the statement from the OPM, Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding, who will be heading the subcommittee along with Bunting, told the Jamaica Observer that he was not at liberty to discuss Cabinet matters. Bunting, on the other hand, failed to respond to messages left on his mobile phone.

Simpson Miller, who finally broke her silence on Deane's death at a People's National Party meeting in North West St Ann on the weekend, announced that she had requested an update on the probe into the death of the 31-year-old Deane, who died in hospital after being beaten allegedly by fellow inmates.

Deane, who was in custody for possessing a small quantity of ganja, was allegedly beaten after an officer delayed processing his bail because of an offensive comment he made.

Two fellow inmates have since been charged with his death.

Yesterday, the OPM said Bunting is to also review a revised Lock-up Administration Policy which was received from Acting Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, yesterday.

"The policy contains new arrangements pertaining to the care and protection of persons in police custody, and is in keeping with a directive from the minister to the Police High Command to undertake an immediate and comprehensive review of all procedures and arrangements governing detentions," the OPM said. Bunting is also said to have received from Hinds a status report on the number of prisoners in police custody as of August 16.

Deane's death has drawn much condemnation from groups and the general public.

Among the latest groups speaking out was the Jamaican Bar Association, which said it took note of the man's death with distress, alarm and consternation.

"We understand that the police have made certain pronouncements in respect of the matter, and that two civilians have been charged with murder arising from the death of Deane, caused by severe trauma and blows to his body while in police custody. However, the Jamaica Constabulary needs to understand that, while an individual is in their custody they are responsible for the welfare and life of that individual. They are agents of the State, and so the State is ultimately responsible for that individual should harm befall him while under the control of the State," the association said in a media release.

The association further noted that certain allegations have been made against police officers involved in the matter, as is often the case in such incidents.

"The matter is under investigation and, while the Bar Association does not wish to pre-empt the findings of any investigation into the matter, it cannot ignore the fact that for far too long, members of the Jamaican armed forces have acted detrimentally and with undue violence against citizens of this country, seemingly with absolute impunity," the association said.

"Where police officers breach the rights of individuals, either deliberately or by their failure to maintain the appropriate standards, and such breach results in harm or damage suffered by that individual, the officers must be made to pay and not the taxpayers, who in effect are the ones made to pay when compensation is made from the public purse," the association continued.

Members of the legal fraternity said they have, for many years, lamented the deplorable, unsanitary and inhumane conditions of police lock-ups and prison facilities, and sent letters of complaint to the authorities with no response or improvement in any meaningful way.

Detainees and prisoners, the association noted, are beaten in custody, crammed into overcrowded and unhygienic facilities, which pose grave health risks for prisoners and correctional/police officers alike.

"Detainees are denied their right to see their attorney or to be provided with adequate facilities to instruct their attorney and are denied their fundamental right to be brought before a judicial officer within 24 hours of being taken into custody, in breach of the Bail Act," the association added, noting that citizens continue to be rounded up and incarcerated for minor offences.

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