Prison’s medical care system gets poor grade

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

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THE US Department of State has classified as "poor" the medical care system throughout Jamaica's prisons, which have only three full-time doctors and one full-time nurse on staff for a corrections system with approximately 4,000 adult inmates

At the same time, the State Department's 2013 Human Rights Report, which was released last Thursday, said that only four part-time psychiatrists cared for the 225 diagnosed mentally ill inmates in 12 facilities across the island.

According to the report, "prisoners in need of dentures and unable to eat the prison food encountered difficulties gaining access to a dentist". Furthermore, it said "prison food was poor and prison authorities frequently ignored inmates' dietary restrictions".

Additionally, only approximately $200 was budgeted to provide each prisoner with three meals per day. It said at least 14 prisoners died in detention during the year, including 12 from natural causes, one during an altercation with prison guards and one by hanging.

The report said, too, that that prison and detention centres were severely overcrowded and presented serious threats to life.

"Overcrowding and poor living conditions remained severe problems, and with a maximum rated capacity of 4,652 inmates the corrections system contained approximately 4,000 adult inmates, including at least 200 women and girls. There was considerable overcrowding in particular facilities since some capacity was unusable due to staffing shortfalls and because the rated capacity reflected both high and low security facilities and most inmates were held in high security facilities," the State Department said.

It added: "Conditions at the juvenile lock-ups were poor", noting that investigations into the Moneague, Half-Way-Tree, Admiral Town and Glengoffe juvenile detention facilities revealed that minors reported contracting fungus from the conditions in the cells and from sleeping on cold concrete. Juvenile inmates also complained of roaches crawling over them during the day and at night. At the Admiral Town lock-up, jailers let juveniles out of their cells for only five minutes each day to bathe and use the toilet. And at both Admiral Town and Half-Way-Tree the minors were provided with bottles in which to urinate.

The Horizon Adult Remand Centre, which was built originally as a warehouse, held 488 inmates including some of the country's most hardened criminals, approximately 80 per cent of whom had links to criminal gangs, said the report. It said authorities did not clearly separate detainees according to their different stages of criminal procedure as persons were detained without charges, remandees and convicted criminals shared the same facility and often shared cells.

At the St Catherine Adult Correctional Institution in Spanish Town, inmates shared dark, unventilated and dirty cells. Designed to hold 800 inmates, the facility held 1,263 while cell blocks intended to hold 50 detainees held an average 138. The report said police officers at the facility reported that mentally ill detainees were locked in the bathroom of the holding section. Authorities also held some detainees in the prison's medical facility. Inmates remained in their cells from 3:00 pm to 9:00 am with no means to address their hygienic needs. These conditions at times led to violence and serious health problems among prisoners, the document said.

Meanwhile, the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston held 1,659 inmates exceeding the facility's 800-person maximum capacity, while the Hunt's Bay lock-up held prisoners in 11 cage-like structures which were open in varying degrees to the elements and the gazes of passers-by. The report said cells were crowded with up to 10 people per cell, as a result, cells were often soiled with garbage and urine.

At the Fort Augusta Women's Prison, the nearly 300 inmates had no indoor water supply and had to obtain water from a central source in containers they provided themselves.

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