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short visit is sufficient to conclude that Jamaica’s prison conditions fall radically short of any acceptable minimum standard.


Tese findings are all the more striking when set against previous reports. Similarly degrading conditions were documented by Vivien Stern in her 1989 visit under the auspices of the Jamaica Council on Human Rights. Even longer ago, a 1954 Commission of Inquiry reporting to the British colonial administration set out the most detailed record to date of conditions in the island’s prisons. Disturbingly, many of their detailed recommendations remain unfulfilled. In Tower Street they noted, for example, that ‘Te cells are not lighted and are so dark when the wooden doors are closed at 3.30 p.m. that it is impossible for prisoners to read, even if they wanted.’ Teir recommendation that cells be fitted with electric lights has never been implemented, leaving prisoners either in the dark for 15 hours a day, or forced to set up their own ramshackle and dangerous wiring arrangements. Broken toilets, inadequate showers, poor food and bedding, and lack of medical care all feature in the 1954 report, as in 2011.


While poor physical conditions are readily apparent to any visitor, there are elements of prison life which it is harder to assess on an informal short visit. For example, official prison inspectorates place great emphasis on the opportunity to speak to prisoners confidentially and in private. Tis is essential in order to find out about certain aspects of prison life, such as whether doctors really visit as often as claimed, or whether staff are violent towards inmates, which are less obvious than crumbling toilets and windowless cells.


Just over 20 years ago, in May 1991, an important conference took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad, attended by over 70 participants from the English, Dutch, French and Spanish Caribbean, Europe, and North and South America. It was opened by the Hon A.N. Robinson, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who said that his country was ‘committed to improving prison conditions in conformity with internationally accepted standards’. Te keynote address was given by the Hon Carl Rattray QC, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Jamaica. Mr Rattray highlighted the pressure placed on legal systems by high crime rates and public anxiety about crime, but stressed that this could never be an excuse for eroding civil rights. Judge Clinton Foy from Aruba made the case for humane treatment of prisoners and highlighted the contradiction of imprisonment which tries to reform criminals by dehumanizing them and humiliating them. Te late Michael Hercules, Commissioner of Prisons from Trinidad and Tobago, highlighted the importance of well-trained, highly motivated staff as the basis of a humane prison system. Te Conference ended with the making of a wide range of specific recommendations, including the following under the heading of Prisoners’ Rights:


“1. In all countries, some independent monitoring mechanism is required to ensure that prison rules and prisoners’ rights are not discarded or submerged in security considerations.


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