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Report on Prison Conditions in Jamaica


1. Introduction The Jamaican Penal System


Since gaining independence in 1962 Jamaica has suffered from a history of political volatility and soaring crime rates. Te island’s murder rate is the third highest in the world,1


and gang and drug related crime remain rife. In this context, it is unsurprising


that crime and justice policy and the politics of punishment play a particularly significant role in Jamaican society. In particular, the death penalty for murder, as elsewhere in the Commonwealth Caribbean, retains a high degree of public support, which has frequently been exploited by politicians to political ends.2


However, whilst a majority vote in the Jamaican Parliament in November 2008 rejected the abolition of the death penalty, and capital punishment for certain forms of murder remains on the statute book,3


it seems likely that Jamaica will continue to be defined by


the United Nations as de facto abolitionist for the foreseeable future. Te last execution on the island took place in 1988, and following a series of Privy Council decisions restricting the use of capital punishment – culminating with the mandatory death penalty being declared unconstitutional in Lambert Watson v Te Queen in 20044


– the number of men


incarcerated on death row at St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre (SCACC) has been reduced to an historic minimum.


Te imposition of the death penalty in Jamaica has attracted much attention from human rights lawyers and NGOs over the years. A sometimes overlooked collateral consequence of this attention has been to expose the conditions of detention of condemned prisoners, and to attempt to secure a minimum standard of treatment for them through their legal representatives. In a series of cases in the 1990s, for instance, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that various aspects of the treatment of condemned prisoners at the pre-trial and post-sentence stage on the island breached both the prohibition on ‘torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment’ and the requirement that ‘All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the person’ under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘ICCPR’).5


1


4th Edition, OUP, 2008, p.106. 2


cleisure/cleisure3.html. 3


cleisure/cleisure2.html. 4


5


After only Columbia and South Africa, see: www.nationmaster.com quoted in Hood, Roger, Te Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective, See for instance, ‘Tired Death Penalty Debate’, Jamaica Gleaner, 12th June 2007, http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20070612/ ‘Death Penalty Retained: What’s Next?’ Jamaica Gleaner, 18th December 2008, http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20081214/ [2005] 1 AC 472.


Tese decisions came before Jamaica became the first country ever to denounce the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant


on Civil and Political Rights and thus withdraw the right of individual petition to the Human Rights Committee in 1997. Lists of such cases are provided in the appendices to this report. See amongst others, for violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Edwards v Jamaica (1997) UN Doc CCPR/C/60/D/529/1993. For violations of Article 10 ICCPR, Lewis v Jamaica (1997) UN Doc CCPR/C/60/D/708/1996; Chaplin v Jamaica (1995) UN Doc CCPR/C/55/D/596/1994; Brown v Jamaica (1999) UN Doc CCPR/C/65/D/775/1997. On Jamaica’s decision to cede from the ICCPR see Schiffrin, Natalie, ‘Jamaica Withdraws the Right of Individual Petition Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’, American Journal of International Law, 1998, 563.


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