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INDECOM: Hunger strike at St Catherine-based prison

Thursday, December 31, 2020

THE Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has confirmed a report first carried by the Jamaica Observer of a hunger strike by some inmates at the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre. The inmates reportedly launched the hunger strike in protest against harassment and abuse by warders at the penal facility.

In a statement yesterday, INDECOM, the security forces oversight body, said that it started preliminary enquiries into the scope and extent of concerns raised at the prison, as reported in the media.

The Observer on Tuesday reported that prisoners had refused to eat and were on strike as a direct response to an “upsurge in warder harassment” over the Christmas holiday period.

Allegations were also that a number of prisoners was assaulted during a search of blocks at the facility during the period.

This is believed to be in response to the killing of a warder there last month.

The allegations have, however, been denied by the Department of Correctional Services, which called for an independent investigation into the matter.

Yesterday, INDECOM said that its personnel visited the correctional facility, conducted preliminary enquiries and requested and received access to records.

“Initial enquiries reveal that some inmates had commenced a meal protest pursuant to their objection to a recent operation within the correctional centre,” INDECOM said in its statement.

“The commission will investigate whether any abuse, assault occasioning bodily harm or wounding took place, and the nature and extent of the meal protest,” it added.

A day earlier, human rights group Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ), too, confirmed protests in some sections of the facility and reported that its attorney had collected statements detailing alleged abuse from inmates.

SUFJ said it was very disheartening to learn that during the Christmas period inmates were subjected to abuse.

“Our attorney visited the institution... and collected several reports which talk about severe beatings, batons used to evict inmates from their cells during the nights and destruction of personal belongings. Some blocks are on hunger strike and inmates do not come out from their cells.

“SUFJ stands in [reminding] everybody about inmates' rights and the need to keep a professional behaviour and calls for swift action to be taken against the correctional officers who have been involved in the reports of abuse. We have contacted INDECOM, as we consider such episodes a serious matter and believe they will receive the full attention of the Department of Corrections,” the SUFJ statement issued on Tuesday said.