COVID-19 crisis in Jamaican prisons: a call for the most vulnerable to be released

In my last news update, I wrote:

It was disturbing to learn recently that only 10 per cent of the prison population has been vaccinated (was a truly concerted effort to get them vaccinated ever undertaken?) Now even more worryingly, we learn that 58 prisoners and 38 staff members have tested positive. 

In his State of the Nation presentation in the Upper House of Parliament today (September 24), Senator Matthew Samuda, under whose portfolio the prison system falls, reported that currently there are 58 positive cases of COVID-19, seven of whom are hospitalized. 38 members of staff have tested positive and are in isolation. He reported that two inmates and three staff members have died since the pandemic began, all during the first wave. Senator Samuda shared his full presentation on Twitter – the link is here. Details of the COVID situation in prisons can be found on pages 17 – 19. There is no breakdown of cases by institution, whether juvenile or adult.

Senator Matthew Samuda is the Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security.

Senator Samuda also reported that approximately 300 inmates and 300 staff have been vaccinated. He also notes the current total prison population is around 3,700, including approximately 300 juveniles. Two of the prisons, housing 2,500 inmates, were built in the nineteenth century; one is more than 100 percent overpopulated. Not ideal conditions at all for COVID-19, especially with so few vaccinated.

Ms. Carla Gullotta of Stand Up for Jamaica.

Now Stand Up for Jamaica, the human rights NGO founded in 2007 and headed by Maria Carla Gullotta, has expressed deep concern over the COVID situation in the prisons.

Here is their latest statement (the bold type is mine):

COVID-19 prison cluster is becoming a crisis

Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) is raising alarm about the poor way in which the COVID-19 prison cluster is being managed. The number of cases within correctional facilities is increasing steadily and this fact is being lost in the overall numbers that are reported on each day. The situation of the spread of the virus within correctional facilities is accelerating and the rate of vaccination among inmates remains very low.

It is against this backdrop that Stand Up for Jamaica reiterates its calls for immediate steps to be taken to reduce the population in police lockups, remand centres and correctional centres by releasing from detention anyone that fits the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ criteria for at risk groups:

Persons 60 years and older 

Persons with a weakened immune system

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy

Persons with chronic illnesses including heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease and diabetes

URGENT action is specifically required towards children detained in lock ups, remand centres and correctional centres for being deemed uncontrollable. Those minors did not commit a crime and their isolation from their families is cruel and leads to depression and aggressive behavior.

Also, anyone:

being held on remand for inability to pay cash bail

incarcerated with a release date in 2020

incarcerated for failure to pay fines

inmates who are entitled to receive parole

Stand up for Jamaica appeals to the Ministry of National Security to swiftly act to reduce the risk for inmates and correctional officers to a dramatic spread of COVID/-19, in an environment where protocols cannot be fully implemented.

The Tower Street Correctional Facility in downtown Kingston. Work began on the building in 1845; it is truly Dickensian, inside and out. In January 2021, 21 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the prison.

3 thoughts on “COVID-19 crisis in Jamaican prisons: a call for the most vulnerable to be released

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