Death behind bars INDECOM says 12 detainees die in custody 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. (PHOTO: LIONEL ROOKWOOD)

INDECOM says most cell deaths are mentally-ill persons

AT least 12 detainees die yearly while in the custody of the state, the
Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) 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 (SCU) 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.
“We believe that if the police officers had been properly equipped and
properly trained or refreshed in their training, the situations would
not have to escalate for the mentally-ill person to be killed,” said
Williams. “We are hoping, alongside individual responsibility for life,
that there will be responsibility at the (police High Command level to
consider training, supervision, and resources,” he said.
The INDECOM boss also urged the security ministry to consider equipping
the police with less lethal devices such as tasers, so that they could
have other options to the firearm. “We want to look at this in the
framework of the special responsibility which the state has regarding
vulnerable people…We think there needs to be an appreciation of the
state’s responsibility for securing the lives of these people,” he
continued.
At the news briefing, Dunn also alleged that a alleged lack of
co-operation from police officers continued to negatively impact
INDECOM’s investigations. He said that poor record-keeping, dogged-eared
station diaries, unavailability of police reports, and unprocessed
scenes were some of the challenges that faced the agency in its
investigation of cases involving the mentally ill.
“In the death-in-custody investigations, we requested 20 case files and to date only five have been received,” Dunn lamented.
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