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an individual prisoner’s case cannot provide a systematic overview of a country’s prison system, or a path towards improvement.

As we discuss below, a system of detailed and regular prison inspections has a vital part to play in ensuring that international standards are met. In the United Kingdom, for example, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has published many highly critical reports, coupled with detailed programmes of reform, which have led to significant improvements in the lives of prisoners detained in previously failing prisons. No State’s prisons are immune to criticism: the European Court of Human Rights has found most of the parties to the Convention to have breached prisoners’ rights in various respects, including through poor physical conditions, lack of access to the outside world, and inadequate care for mental and physical health problems.

Te creation of a prisons inspectorate requires a willingness on the part of the State to allow prisons to be open to scrutiny. Te present Report begins with an account of the author’s attempts – rightly described as Kafkaesque – to gain access to Jamaica’s places of detention. A research trip which had the potential to allow a systematic assessment of prison conditions was curtailed by a clear unwillingness on the part of the authorities to allow such access. However, the author persevered, and succeeded in gaining access to conditions about which very little was known. He visited prison blocks and cells which quite literally do not see the light of day. He has recorded in detail what he saw. While he acknowledges the limitations of his research, what he was able to see indicates that conditions in Jamaica’s prisons continue to fall far short of basic standards.

Tis is most obviously so in respect of the physical conditions of detention. It is well documented, throughout the world, that prison overcrowding seriously threatens the ability to maintain a decent regime. Some of the problems revealed in the report stem directly from overcrowding: three, four or five people spending most of the day in cells designed for one, with less than a quarter of the living space which current standards indicate as the bare minimum. To this extent, the problems described depend on political and judicial solutions, either through reduced use of imprisonment or the provision of new prisons. Te experience of many States is that the latter course, while offering a short term solution, simply leads to the new prisons quickly becoming as full as the old ones. It is clear that, whatever the answer to the overcrowding issue, prison conditions cannot improve until it is addressed. As the Board of Enquiry which reported on serious disturbances at Tower Street and St Catherine prisons in August 1997 noted:

“Practically every published report on our two major prisons begins and ends with the same litany: namely, that the root of the problem is overcrowding. Notwithstanding this, no attempts, or at any rate, no serious attempts have ever been made to tackle this nagging cancer which refuses to go away, and now threatens to destroy the entire structure. It is time for us to grasp the nettle. If we


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