Correctional system needs 21st century upgradeMonday, February 15, 2021
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) report on the treatment of detained boys at Rio Cobre Juvenile Correction Centre reinforces a feeling that the agency is among those striving to fulfil its mandate.
INDECOM felt moved to do a special investigation and report following allegations of abuse, misuse of power, and inhumane treatment of detainees at the juvenile centre.
The report is not all bad. INDECOM says “numerous positive aspects were identified”, including good meals, good access to medical care, hygiene and sanitation, as well as leisure and sport.
On the negative side, while we are told that some allegations could not be conclusively confirmed, it's clear that investigators were disturbed.
Says the report: “Wards considered that punishments lacked accountability and were arbitrary and draconian; further the wards complained that there was no appeal process, and their complaints about mistreatment are neglected.
“Whilst such claims could not be fully substantiated or corroborated, and some of the survey interview findings were somewhat contradictory, there remained a perception that the granular detail that was provided, and site examination, did lend to their reports having substance...”
And: “[T]here were aspects of the children's detention which were not in conformity with legislative framework or best practices and require remedy.”
There were reports of misbehaving children being stripped down to their underwear — a measure aimed at preventing suicide — and locked away for lengthy periods.
Says INDECOM: “The nature of such detention for children, already confined in a secure unit, for reportedly minor misdemeanours is regarded as potentially inappropriate, as well as hazardous... The commission was informed that in June 2020 a ward was placed in the jail block, where he had a seizure, but the key could not be found. It was later discovered that a member of staff left the premises with the key to make a duplicate.
“According to the wards, they are instructed to undress to their underwear and isolated in the jail block, where there are no bed sheets to cover the sponge mattress upon which they sleep... If such accounts are true, this would not be in keeping with international standards.”
The story of the missing key is appalling, given Jamaica's history of terrible disasters at such facilities, not least the fire at Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in 2009 which left five girls dead.
Of course, problems at Jamaica's juvenile detention centres can't be divorced from the overall correctional system, including adult prisons which are, in most cases scandalously outdated, infrastructurally and otherwise, and unable to provide proper rehabilitation programmes.
State minister in the Ministry of National Security Mr Matthew Samuda tells us something we already know that “the correctional services have suffered greatly because of chronic under-investment and neglect”. Successive governments have felt no pressure from the public to modernise or 'humanise' correctional facilities. Put bluntly, most Jamaicans don't care about prisoners and juvenile detainees.
Obviously, it can't happen immediately, because of resource challenges made infinitely worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic. But soonest possible, regardless of popular attitudes, Jamaica's leaders must act to drag the correctional system, including administrative attitudes, into the 21st century.
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