Legislation coming to crack down on prisoners with cellphones

Legislation coming to crack down on prisoners with cellphones

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, October 16, 2020

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THE Government is moving to amend legislation governing the island's prison system to allow criminal charges to be levelled against inmates found with contraband, with the heaviest punishment going to those found with communication devices.

For years there have been reports of prisoners continuing to operate their criminal enterprises from behind bars with cellular phones smuggled into even the maximum security institutions.

But, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Senator Matthew Samuda says that is one loophole which should be plugged with amendments to the archaic Corrections Act, which is desperately in need of modernisation.

“The ministry will soon carry to the Cabinet, for its approval, the new Act to govern the correctional services. We expect to have this tabled in Parliament for debate and subsequent approval in no longer than three months,” said Samuda, during a media briefing hosted by the security ministry yesterday.

“This will create a modern legal framework for us to operate within, and will give the men and women who lead the correctional services the tools that they desperately need to ensure they run the correctional services in a particular manner,” declared Samuda, who added that every effort is being made to improve the facilities at the prisons.

He noted that close to $50 million has already been spent to improve the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre's hospital block and the block which houses bedridden inmates.

“This would have come, though budgeted previously, it would have been prioritised as a result of earlier reports made by INDECOM [Independent Commission of Investigations],” said Samuda.

In its first quarterly report for this year, titled “Detained at Pleasure: Institutionalised Human Rights Breaches”, INDECOM told the story of Noel Chambers, who was incarcerated at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in February 1980 after he was deemed unfit to plead to a murder charge.

Chambers died in January of this year after spending 40 years behind bars without being tried. The report noted that, at the time of his death, Chambers was in a deplorable physical condition.

“His clothing was filthy and his body showed evidence of chronic emaciation. He was covered with what appeared to be vermin bites, live bedbugs and he showed signs of having bed sores,” said the report.

According to Samuda, some changes have already been made to the maximum security institution to prevent a repeat of the experiences of Chambers, but more needs to be done.

“The truth is, the prisons don't need a patch job, they need significant infrastructure development in a structured and systematic manner. The Government is clear that we will need a prison infirmary to adequately house those inmates who stay with us long enough to become infirm and need particular care.

“We are so very clear that we will need to move rapidly with the development of a forensic ward to deal with mentally challenged inmates. Conversations are already under way between the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Local Government, and we will keep you up to date,” added Samuda.

He said the nation will also be kept informed of discussions for a new prison, but that process has just started.


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