Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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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The Building Across the Road from the General Penitentiary

I know very little about the building across the road from the General Penitentiary (now called the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre), but have wondered about its history. Google map - GP and building across streetIt is a striking building, even in its derelict state.P1240734

I noticed it some time ago on a visit to the prison, which is itself in need of much repair and is certainly not suited for housing the men it does. The overcrowded, inhumane conditions do not lend themselves to the rehabilitation of the inmates in the custody of the state. Perhaps the condition of the building across the road is a visible reminder of things that have fallen apart.

JNHT website re General PenitentiaryThe Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) website does mention the site on its list of past JNHT projects, referring to it as “the General Penitentiary Staff Club and Support Facilities compound” and says the following:

Tower Street – General Penitentiary

Parish: Kingston

Archaeological Impact Assessment Project (AIA)

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) has concluded a Heritage Assessment on lands situated at the General Penitentiary Staff Club and Support Facilities compound along Tower Street, Kingston Jamaica. This Heritage Assessment was carried out in response to the National Housing Trust’s (NHT) proposed development of inner city housing solutions on these lands

A team from the JNHT carried out an archaeological appraisal (survey) and architectural assessment of the proposed development area. Our main objective was to identify cultural heritage resources, appraise their worth and their potential contribution to the advancement of the community’s sustainable development.

Kingston was officially founded in 1692 after the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Port Royal. The city expanded from a small seaport town to a spreading city due in large measure to the creation of a number of townships which helped to increase its size. In the early 19th century, the town expanded in both easterly and north-westerly directions. Rae Town was one of the earliest of these planned extensions.

Most of the buildings along Tower Street possess exquisite Jamaican Georgian architecture, and along with the General Penitentiary, are fundamental features of the Tower Street historical streetscape. They are of great architectural and historical significance. It is important that these buildings be preserved and integrated into the proposed development.

I was told that neither the buildings of the Staff Club compound nor the prison buildings are on the JNHT list of declared sites.

This is a closer look at the site on Google maps, on which I have scribbled a few labels. The main derelict building is circled, with the arrow pointing to the front entrance. 2 shows the parking lot and 1 indicates the front gate of the prison across the road. 3 shows another nearby derelict building, pictures of which I have also included in this post. Google map - GP & parking lot

The main entrance to the building is open and is flanked by doorways labeled Lecture Rooms No.1 and No.2, harking back to a time when the building was used for training for correctional officers. P1240392

The door to Lecture Room No.1 still has a padlock on it, a rather ironic touch in the circumstances.

When you look through the front door, you can see the staircase and the doors to the two Lecture Rooms on either side.

P1240413P1240418

Standing at the left end of the front porch…P1240434

…looking into Lecture Room No.2…P1240432

…with the list on the wall of 45 Qualities of a Good Prison Officer.P1240427 - 45 Qualities

A walk down the porch along the left side of the building leads to the back of the structure, some of which seemed to be in slightly better condition.P1240653

Standing at the back, I could see through the hallway past the staircase, out through the front door, across the parking lot to the front of GP.P1240513

The porch along the right side of the building leads to a section that is made of brick on both storeys…Building across from GP showing right side

An open door off that porch revealed some signs of more recent habitation.

The short road running along the left side of the parking lot is labeled Tower Street on the Google map, but it isn’t THE Tower Street; it is a side road which has a dead end.

P1240706

Looking the other way, down the road, you see a smaller building in disrepair and the front of GP.

P1240661

This building is in two sections facing a small courtyard.

P1240606

Both sections are in poor condition…

P1240688

…but still show some of the distinctive features of the building.

P1240683P1240694

I was very surprised to learn from some correctional officers who were in the parking lot that parts of the main building and the smaller building were used by some correctional officers for changing and even for staying overnight. Anyone having to use these buildings, particularly the upper storeys, is at real risk of injury and it raises an issue regarding provision of facilities for correctional officers who work at the correctional center.

So far I have found little information about these buildings and obviously there is much more to be found out regarding their history and any plans for what is to happen to them. This is the third post in my series on derelict buildings and I had far more information in the first two. I’d be interested in any information or leads anyone can provide. But today I felt like posting these photos, which I took a few months ago. So here they are!

 


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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