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Report on Prison Conditions in Jamaica


2. Prisons should be inspected regularly by an official, independent of the prison administration, who would be concerned with proper administration and staff management, proper treatment of prisoners and due application of all current prisons legislation.


3. In some territories, independent ombudsmen and visiting committees are in place, which visit prisons to hear prisoners’ complaints and look into grievances. Similar mechanisms are needed in all Caribbean territories. Te idea of an independent committee chaired by a Judge is a model which should be explored.”


Tese recommendations echo a more recent statement of principle issued by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 2002. Known as the Robben Island Guidelines and intended to establish measures to prohibit and prevent inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all African States, the guidelines call upon States to:


“establish, support and strengthen independent national institutions such as human rights commissions, ombudspersons and commissions of parliamentarians with the mandate to conduct visits to all places of detention and to generally address the issue of prevention of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, guided by the UN Paris Principles Relating to the Status and Functioning of National Institutions for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights.”


Yet 20 years on from the Port of Spain Conference, Jamaica still has no effective, permanent independent monitoring mechanism in place with an exclusive remit to inspect prisons and other places of detention with a view to ensuring that minimum standards of treatment are maintained and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment eliminated. Te Corrections Act enables the responsible Minister to provide for the inspection of correctional institutions and allows him to designate people as inspectors. But this falls some way short of what the Port of Spain conference was calling for in 1991 and in no way guarantees that Jamaican prisons are at all times subject to a form of inspection which is carried out by a body independent both of individual prisons and of the prison system itself.


Plainly there are many different ways in which accountability for what goes on in prisons can be achieved. Independent lay monitoring, involving members of the local community with a right of access to the prison in reporting back to the prison authorities and the local community what they observe, can be an effective means of preventing human rights abuses. Lay monitors can also forge close links between an individual prison and the local community. A system of more formal inspection carried out on individual prisons by staff from the Ministry of Justice can also be an effective means of auditing all aspects of prison life. But neither of these two safeguards can provide


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