Wed | Apr 24, 2024

Prison pain - From bedbugs to water woes, elderly inmates live in filth, says INDECOM

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2020 | 12:15 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
George Williams, a mentally challenged elderly man, walks free from the St Catherine Parish Court in Spanish Town on June 24 after being detained in prison for 50 years without charge. Jamaican prisons have been described as unsanitary and operating in con
George Williams, a mentally challenged elderly man, walks free from the St Catherine Parish Court in Spanish Town on June 24 after being detained in prison for 50 years without charge. Jamaican prisons have been described as unsanitary and operating in contravention of local and international guidelines.

The country’s two largest correctional facilities now house 103 inmates over the age of 60, and the Independent Commissions of Investigations (INDECOM) says the conditions under which they and other prisoners are being held violate both local and international rules.

Overcrowding and other health violations threaten to worsen the elderly’s vulnerability to the new coronavirus, which killed 126 people in Jamaica and infected almost 7,200 up to Tuesday.

Breaches have occurred in other adult correctional centres in which another 20 inmates over the age of 60 are being held.

The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre houses 77 inmates aged 60 and older, with a total population of 1,637. The St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre has 26 prisoners over the age of 60 in a population of 800.

Established at first to facilitate the trading of slaves, Tower Street was commissioned by the British colonial government to be used as a prison in 1845. The facility was built to house 800 people.

St Catherine was built by the British in 1655 as a holding area for slaves but later became a facility for inmates condemned to death. The prison was built to accommodate 450 people.

SHOCKING REVELATIONS

In its second quarterly report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, INDECOM inquired into the treatment of inmates over the age of 60 years across six adult correctional institutions.

This probe is a follow-up to the shocking revelations surrounding the death in custody of 81-year-old Noel Chambers on January 28 at Tower Street.

The oversight body examined each institution in relation to physical conditions, healthcare, records, as well as compliance with the correctional institution rules and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners.

According to INDECOM, non-compliance was observed with Nelson Mandela Rule 12, which sets out the accommodation standards for cells and dormitories.

The oversight body reported that overcrowding at both Tower Street and St Catherine was routine as cells designed to house one inmate currently have up to four persons.

“As a result of the overcrowding, the space available to inmates in some of the cells was limited. The inmates compensated by tying their belongings to the cell walls and using makeshift hammocks to store their personal effects. Inmates sleep in these hammocks, which hang from the ceiling,” the oversight body reported.

INDECOM was unable to determine if Tower Street was complying with specific rules established by the correctional services in relation to oversight regarding food quality, cell inspections, and infectious disease as there were no records to show adherence to the standards.

At St Catherine, there was not uniform adherence to the rules, said INDECOM.

RESOURCE CONSTRAINTS

Prison officials highlighted resource constraints when quizzed about compliance.

Breaches were observed at St Catherine as there was no water in toilets and inmates had to use a bucket-filler with water from a drum to flush toilets. Live bed bugs, or ‘chinks’, were found in mattresses.

Partial compliance with the Mandela Rule 109 was observed as inmates with mental illness frequently received treatment by doctors, but the healthcare service seemed restricted.

Another breach was exposed by INDECOM as it said that prisoners who had not been tried by the courts were not separated from convicted persons.

As at July 31, 2020, there was a total of 2,916 inmates housed at the seven adult correctional facilities across the country, of which 123, or four per cent, were aged 60 years and older.

The other adult correctional centres investigated include Tamarind Farm, South Camp, Richmond Farm, and New Broughton Sunset.

Of the 102 female inmates housed at the South Camp Adult Rehabilitation Centre, only two are 60 years or older.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com