12 die in custody in Jamaica yearly

Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations Terrence Williams (centre) speaks at yesterday’s press conference at the commission’s head office in New Kingston. Also pictured are Kahmile Reid, the agency’s senior public relations officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Dunn, head of the Special Case Unit.
Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations Terrence Williams (centre) speaks at yesterday’s press conference at the commission’s head office in New Kingston. Also pictured are Kahmile Reid, the agency’s senior public relations officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Dunn, head of the Special Case Unit.

KINGSTON — At least 12 detainees die yearly while in the custody of the state, the Independent Commission of Investigations revealed yesterday.

INDECOM – the agency which investigates actions by members of the security forces and other agents of the state that result in death or injury – said the majority of those who die in custody were mentally-ill persons.

One cell at the Port Antonio Police Station in Portland was the death scene for five mentally ill inmates between 2005 and 2009 which, INDECOM said, prompted the investigation into lock-up deaths by its Special Case Unit in 2011. “This was a red flag for INDECOM,” said Lieutenant Colonel Paul Dunn, head of the SCU.

Dunn told a news conference held at the agency’s head office in New Kingston that between 2005 and 2011 at least 36 persons died in police lock-ups, while another 59 died in remand centres islandwide. All of the Port Antonio deaths were suicides, while the others were a mixture of natural and unnatural causes, he said.

“We learnt that most persons dying in custody were the mentally ill, and as we progressed we found that mentally-ill persons were treated as lesser beings than the average person,” said Dunn, adding that the Port Antonio detainees were being held under deplorable conditions.

The investigation did not account for inmates killed in correctional facilities, Dunn said.

At the same time, INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams said its investigations found that confrontation between mentally-ill persons and the security forces, between 2005 and 2011, resulted in injury to the mentally-ill persons, with 75 per cent of them fatal.

Williams told reporters that despite the fact that the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s training manual dictates that officers, when confrontating a mentally-ill person, employ patience, calm, and not respond in an authoritative manner. This, however, does not obtain in most cases and he called for a re-examination of the way members of the security forces handle the mentally ill. (Observer)

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