Jamaica’s courts are being blamed for a human-rights crisis at correctional facilities after an Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) report unearthed that an 81-year-old man died in the custody of a facility after a 40-year wait for trial.
Noel Chambers was one of 146 mentally ill people being held by the Department of Correctional Services without trial, commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams, has said.
Williams made the revelation at the commission’s quarterly media briefing on Wednesday.
Chambers, whose body bore bedsores and bites from bedbugs, had been held at the pleasure of the governor general after being charged with murder on February 4, 1980. He died in January 2020.
An inmate is detained at the pleasure of the queen, the governor general, or the court if that person is unfit to plead or is found guilty but is suffering from a mental disorder.
However, since 2007, when the Criminal Justice Administration Act was amended to outlaw imprisonment at the governor general’s pleasure, anyone detained on mental-health grounds is held at the court’s pleasure.
But despite officially being passed fit to plead several times over his four-decade incarceration at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, Chambers was never brought before a judge.
INDECOM uncovered that nine other inmates have been declared fit to plead, but they, too, have not been placed before a judge.
The commission also found that at least 15 inmates have been imprisoned for more than 30 years without being tried.