Chuck apologises to SOE detainees, acknowledges appalling conditions
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has apologised to detainees who were held in deplorable conditions in St James, under the ongoing state of public emergency in the western Jamaica parish.
Chuck has also acknowledged that conditions under which detainees were being held were, in some instances, appalling. The Minister made the apology and gave the acknowledgement on Wednesday, while addressing Justices of the Peace (JPs) at a function at Sandals Resort, Montego Bay.
“We have to apologise to some of these persons who have been detained in unfortunate conditions,” Chuck told JPs.
“The truth of the matter is that most of our detention centres, our jails are in awful condition. Those of you who have to visit the police station and the lock-ups see that they need improvement,” Chuck stated.
He said, when he became Minister and saw the condition of some holding areas where detainees were being kept “I was ashamed.”
The Minister said he has given instructions that all holding areas must be improved to some decent condition.
“I am now instructing my ministry that all these holding areas must not only be fit for (detainees)…if I am detained, I can sit down there. It must be air conditioned because I like air condition, and police officers have to sit in there. And the toilet facilities must be of a high standard that if I need to use it when I visit there I can use it,” Chuck continued.
He also described the condition of some of the toilet facilities in holding areas as appalling.
The Justice Minister noted that the upgrading of police stations started under former National Security Minister Robert Montague, and has continued under his successor, Dr Horace Chang. Chuck cautioned that the facilities did not become run down overnight and as such will not be fixed overnight.
He also sought to soften the situation of those detainees who were held in less than ideal conditions, pointing out that many of them were held for no more than 24 hours.
The Government has faced severe criticism from various quarters since the release of a report by the Office of the Public Defender which details the appalling conditions of detention facilities in St James where the SOE was first introduced on January 18.
President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Howard Mitchell expressed dismay at the news that has emerged about the conditions inside detention centres, even while stressing that Jamaicans must support efforts to fight crime.
"We are not happy about the data provided by the Public Defender. We are not happy that they (the security forces) have detained about 4,000 mostly young people and we are only able to charge from that group 150. It means we collected very little data as we promised to do in our investigative strategy," said Mitchell. He was addressing a PSOJ President's Breakfast Forum in New Kingston on Wednesday.
“Of those 4,000 people (who were detained), there were about 100 children kept in deplorable conditions, which, by reports, were not fit for human consumption," Mitchell added.
For its part, the Opposition People’s National Party has indicated that it will shortly provide a forum for former detainees to share their experiences. This, after Government members on the parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee that was examining the public defender’s report, voted on Tuesday to block detainees from appearing before the committee to share their experiences.
The Member of Parliament for St Ann South East, Lisa Hanna, who had moved the motion before the committee, said later at a press conference called by the Opposition, that she would be hard pressed to support a further extension of the SOE.