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Report on Prison Conditions in Jamaica

In criminal justice matters, Jamaica has been rightly praised for its de-facto abolitionist stance on the death penalty: nobody has been executed on the island since 1988. However, the alternative to death is imprisonment. For many years, NGOs, the UN Human Rights Committee, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and various independent and internal reports have expressed serious concern about the conditions in which Jamaica detains its prisoners.

Trough general human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and regional treaties such as the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, the international community has laid down basic standards of treatment which must be accorded to all. Over the years these have been supplemented by instruments directly concerned with prisons, including the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1957), the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988), Te Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990) and Te Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1985). Tere are also a number of instruments which relate specifically to medical and disciplinary staff working in prisons.

Tese instruments have been developed by the international community as a whole. Tey represent the basic human values which must be maintained in any decent system of imprisonment, and set out the very minimum standards which any prison regime must meet. Most fundamentally, Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that ‘All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.’ Of course, a State should treat all persons, in prison and outside, with humanity and respect. However, a special obligation arises when the State chooses to deprive individuals of their liberty. Such people become dependent on the State for every aspect of their lives. Tey are deprived of the opportunity to provide the necessities of life for themselves: their access to food, to bedding, clothing, medical care, exercise, even fresh air and light is entirely dependent on the prison regime in which they find themselves. Whether or not they will live in a way which respects ‘the inherent dignity of the human person’ is almost entirely dependent on whether the State which imprisons them is committed to protecting this dignity.

Jamaica is a signatory to the major human rights conventions, and has committed to be bound by the standards and values which they embody. However, over the years the Inter-American Commission and the UN Human Rights Committee have found Jamaica to have violated basic prisoners’ rights on numerous occasions. A series of cases before these bodies contain consistent and repeated findings of squalid physical conditions, sterile regimes, violence, poor or nonexistent medical care, and a lack of any decent or purposeful way for Jamaican prisoners to spend their days. Tese cases give a disturbing glimpse into prison life in Jamaica. However, an international body’s review of


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