The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) press briefing last week, as usual, highlighted the Commission’s Quarterly Report.
The January – March, 2020 Report focused on Jamaicans who are “detained at pleasure” in our prisons. Persons in this category are either children found guilty of a capital offense; persons found unfit to plead by the Court; or persons found by the Court to be guilty of an offense but who are adjudged by the Court to be suffering from a mental disorder. According to the Department of Correctional Services, there are 146 mentally ill inmates who have been detained at the Governor General’s/Court’s Pleasure/Unfit to Plead- Awaiting Trial at Tower Street, St. Catherine and Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centres. The INDECOM report notes that seven have been in jail for between 40 and 49 years; one who has been incarcerated for 49 years apparently last appeared in Court in 1970.
The detailed report on the death in January of one of these inmates, 81-year-old Mr. Noel Chambers, sent the Jamaican public reeling in horror and disbelief. Mr. Chambers had been in prison for 40 years without trial, and died in appalling conditions. (I understand also that mentally ill inmates are housed in the same area as LGBT prisoners, and the issues with HIV-positive prisoners at Tower Street Correctional Centre, where Mr. Chambers died, have been documented). What amazes me though, is how little anything has changed. Why has nothing been done? We have known about prisoners “lost in the system” – but this is the most terrible and tragic example yet. There is shock and horror for a short while – and then, a disconcerting inertia and inaction follows. Until the next time!
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said he is “embarrassed” by the horrible neglect and death of Mr. Chambers, hinting at a proposal for a new prison.
The Jamaica Psychiatric Association has responded with a strong statement – pointing out that this problem is nothing new. Here is their release, dated June 4 under the signature of the Association President, Dr. Earl Wright:
The Jamaica Psychiatric Association responds to INDECOM Reports on the death of Noel Chambers and the plight of 146 person with mental illness held without trial.
The Jamaica Psychiatric Association notes with grave concerns the revelation made by INDECOM of 81- year-old Noel Chambers who reportedly died in prison after 40 years of incarceration without trial. It also acknowledges the plight of another 146 persons with mental illness who are being held without trial based on the INDECOM report. The Association expresses its profound condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.
The unjustified incarceration of an individual is a violation of the fundamental human rights which are safeguarded under several treatises including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability which, interestingly, Jamaica was the first country to have signed.
The Association would further like to highlight the situation of Ivan Barrows, who was lost in the prison system for 31 years without trial and who was released in 2001 and subsequently awarded damages of 9 million dollars for unjustified 28 years of incarceration.
The Jamaica Psychiatric Association is calling on the relevant authorities, including the Department of Correctional Services and the Ministry of Justice, to conduct an immediate review of Mr. Chamber’s circumstances in prison and the 146 cases mentioned. They must ensure that that their human rights are safeguarded and reduce any liability on the part of the State.
The Association is also requesting a review of protocols for the provision of timely and appropriate psychiatric care for any such individual.
We further note that the approved amendments (2007) to the Criminal Justice Administration Act and the Legal Aid Act, making special provisions for the treatment of those suffering from mental disorders who come in conflict with the law, have not been implemented.
An unjustified incarceration has major human rights implications as individuals may choose to take the matter before the local courts or to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.
The Jamaica Psychiatric Association is advocating for individuals living with mental illnesses to be given the same human rights as others; be treated with dignity and without stigmatization.
Due to the neglect over the many years by successive governments this issue must now be given high priority by the Ministries of Health & Wellness, Security and Justice. We are not attributing the problem to any single ministry but we are requesting that these ministries work collaboratively to solve this long standing problem.
This message is endorsed by The Jamaica Psychiatric Association.