Thursday 9 July, 2020

Shocking circumstances of inmate’s death prompt audit of DCS operation

Senator Matthew Samuda

Senator Matthew Samuda

The Ministry of National Security has ordered an audit into the operations of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) in response to a damning report which highlighted the shocking death of 81-year-old inmate, Noel Chambers, who was mentally ill and in custody for 40 years without a trial.

Chambers was never convicted of a crime, and pictures of his insect-ridden and emaciated body have left Jamaicans reacting with shock and horror.

In a statement on Thursday, the ministry said it was moving to address the findings of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) report.

“The report has highlighted acute issues within agencies and sections of the justice and correctional systems,” said Minister without Portfolio in the Security Ministry, Senator Matthew Samuda.

“The ministry will not only look at the way forward by examining the findings of the INDECOM report, but it will also be ordering an audit of operations which concern how the Department of Correctional Services interacts with the court system. While the DCS prepares an update for the public, it will not be done (in a) piecemeal fashion,” Samuda added.

The minister said the ministry convened a meeting on Thursday with Commissioner of Corrections, Lieutenant Colonel Gary Rowe, and other senior members of the DCS. Samuda said in March steps were taken to address some of the issues that were highlighted by the INDECOM report before it was made public.

Chambers, who died earlier this year, had been incarcerated at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre since February 1980.

The case was brought to the attention of the media on Wednesday by INDECOM, which said the inmate’s death had opened up a wider probe into conditions and procedures at the island's prisons.

The entrance to the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston.

Photos emerged on social media showing the emaciated, insect-bitten body of the 81-year-old man, who seemed to have been malnourished while incarcerated, even though the official cause of death has been established as a kidney infection.

In response, a social media user reacted: "The man is completely skeletal!! This is wickedness!!!!! Justice!!!!”

Another said: "That's not real. No man. No". 

Founding member and former spokesperson of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), Susan Goffe, reacted by tweeting: "His condition at the time of his death indicate he had been kept in the most inhumane and horrific conditions. What now, #Jamaica?"

A report published on the INDECOM website said: "His (Chambers) medical record shows that on November 4, 2019, he was examined because he was not eating well, had poor vision and flu-like symptoms. He was admitted to Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) between November 21 and 28, 2019."

The report continued: "There is a referral on file from Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre for KPH dated December 15, 2019, having shown a history of hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol. However, there is no evidence on file that he was taken to KPH.

“On the night before his death, he was found unresponsive by a medical orderly, taken to KPH and thereafter was pronounced dead. The cause of death given at the post-mortem examination was acute pyelonephritis (a sudden and severe kidney infection)."

At the time of his death, Chambers was in a deplorable physical condition. His clothing was filthy and his body showed evidence of chronic emaciation. He was covered with what appeared to be vermin bites live bedbugs (‘chink’), and he showed signs of having bed sores, the report detailed.

The report said that on January 27, 2020, INDECOM commenced an investigation into the death of Chambers in state custody. He was being held at the Governor General’s pleasure after being deemed unfit to plead to a charge of murder.

Meanwhile, Samuda said the Security Ministry will be carefully examining the report to effectively provide an update of all strategic and functional steps that will facilitate the necessary changes and ensure that the DCS lives up to its duty of care for inmates in its custody.

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