Right Steps & Poui Trees


INDECOM’s Special Report on Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre Raises Serious Concerns

The 3rd and 4th Quarterly Reports of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) were tabled in Parliament today. The former contains a Special Report on the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre, one of the four juvenile correctional and remand centres operated by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). This report raises a number of serious concerns about the treatment and well-being of the children in State custody at that facility, as well as the effectiveness of oversight mechanisms that are supposed to protect those children.

I am posting copies of the two reports tonight. I will write more in days ahead.


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The Death of Noel Chambers: “…a comprehensive audit…has been commissioned”

On January 24, 2020, Mr Noel Chambers died in the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre.

INDECOM 1st Quarterly Report 2020 - Noel Chambers - blog picOn June 2, 2020, the public was made aware of Mr Chambers’ death when the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) released its First Quarterly Report for 2020 at a digital press conference. The details given about Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death were horrifying and outraged the country.

“At the time of his death Mr. Chambers was 81 years old. He was incarcerated on February 4, 1980 and had been in prison for 40 years without being tried. He was being held at the Governor General’s pleasure, deemed unfit to plead to a charge of murder. Therefore he was being held in custody without being convicted for an offence….

At the time of his death he 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 (‘chink’) and he showed signs of having bed sores.”

(p. 5, INDECOM First Quarterly Report 2020)

In the days following news of Mr Chambers’ death, we were told that more details regarding the circumstances surrounding his death and the government’s response would be given when Minister of National Security Horace Chang gave a statement in Parliament. The Department of Correctional Services, which manages the prisons, falls under the Ministry of National Security.

On June 16, 2020, Minister Chang gave a statement in Parliament.  This is the text of the statement…

Minister Chang statement re Noel Chambers blog pic

PARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT on death of Noel Chambers

…and this is a link to the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica’s (PBCJ) recording of the sitting of the House of Representatives that day. Minister Chang’s statement about the death of Mr Chambers begins at approximately 23:30 in the recording.

PBCJ Min Chang Parliament 16-6-2020 Noel Chambers statement pic

I have a number of concerns arising out of this statement, but the one I want to focus on here is the audit announced in Paragraph 4 of Minister Chang’s statement:

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned. This audit is expected to not only reveal the circumstances specific to his death but also to thoroughly examine the procedures involved in the treatment of inmates who are deemed unfit to plead. In the interim, I wish to outline the details of preliminary findings from the special investigation undertaken by the Department of Correctional Services.

“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned.” This is what the Parliament was told and by extension the country as a whole. This is put forward as a major mechanism for uncovering the details surrounding Mr Chambers’ death, for accountability and for recommending changes in the systems that allowed for his incarceration and death.

“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Chambers has been commissioned.”

  • Who commissioned the audit?
  • Who is carrying out the audit? What body? Which individuals?
  • What are the terms of reference of the audit?
  • What resources and powers have been granted for the carrying out of this audit?
  • What is the timeline for the completion of the audit?
  • To whom will the audit report be sent once it is completed?
  • Will the audit report be tabled in Parliament? Will it be made public?

If the answers to these questions are not made public, it will be difficult – if not impossible – for the public to hold the government accountable for this process and any subsequent action.

One reason why greater transparency is absolutely necessary is that this audit process may be being carried out by entities and/or individuals responsible for the circumstances that led to Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death.

More information is necessary, Minister Chang.

We need to remember that it wasn’t the Ministry of National Security that brought Mr Chambers’ death to public attention. Without INDECOM’s report, we would not have known.

 

 

 

 


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.#AToZChallengeJamaica: I is for Indignity

I had all sorts of things in mind for my “I” post: iguana, INDECOM, IMF, Integrity Commission, even ice cream (as in Devon House). And then on Wednesday (June 7) I read the following letter in the Gleaner:

Gleaner 7-6-16 Letter of Day heading

Gleaner 7-6-16 Letter of Day text

Indignity. Prison visitors treated with indignity. Treated in a contemptuous, insulting, humiliating manner.

Tower Street Correctional Centre

Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, Kingston

 

This is not an isolated experience or complaint, and it isn’t to say that all staff within corrections and remand treat visitors contemptuously. But it is to say that there is a systemic problem which often makes it difficult for family members to maintain meaningful contact with a relative who has been incarcerated, though undeniably such contact can be vital to the prisoner, the family, a process of rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into society.

One comment following the letter online points to a similar situation experienced at Fort Augusta, the women’s prison, and mentions a lack of shelter for visitors waiting to go inside, a problem that exists at a number of facilities.

Gleaner 7-6-16 letter comment

I know one facility at which the absence of a shelter for visitors is a real concern for the staff, who have asked for such a structure to be built, even a temporary one. I guess, though, that this is very low on any list of priorities.

Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre

Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre, St Catherine

The Core Values of the Department of Correctional Services are posted on its website. Among those values is respect. Systemic focus on respect reduces indignity.

DCS mission statement etc