Gov’t exploring strategies to ease overcrowding in local jails Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Deputy Prime Minister and National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang, has announced that the Government is considering alternative solutions to manage low-risk prisoners to alleviate overcrowding in lock-ups at some police stations.

This comes as a response to concerns raised by a corporal during the Jamaica Police Federation’s 81st annual conference last week at the Hilton Rose Hall Hotel in St James.

The issue relative to overcrowding in police lock-ups across the country has been a longstanding one, with police personnel, attorneys and civil society groups being among those advocating for improvements to the situation.

Persons held in lock-ups, too, have also detailed their experiences on social media and via the traditional media, during which they complain of cells being infested with cockroaches and other pests.

The corporal from St Andrew highlighted the severity of the situation during the conference, stating that his division’s jail is gazetted for 15 persons, but currently holds “26 persons on remand”, with an additional 15 individuals, totalling over 40 persons.

In noting the challenges, Chang said while the Government has focused on other priorities, the issue is now gaining attention from the constabulary, the judiciary and senior police officers, and so, all stakeholders have to now focus their attention on solving the problem.

“In fairness and to be blunt with you, usually we don’t see the jail space as the first priority, but we (do) keep them in good order,” Chang claimed.

“It’s about keeping them sanitary and clean, but we haven’t gotten about building additional jail space in the lock-ups, as opposed to prisons in the correctional service,” he admitted.

Chang suggested that community service with electronic monitoring could be a viable option to reducing overcrowding in jails, but stressed that research and planning are necessary to implement such a system.

The goal, said the minister, is to “separate hardcore criminals” from “less offensive” ones, and explore alternative methods of monitoring and holding those criminals who he labelled as being less offensive.

“I think that the route we’ll have to go is to begin to use other means of monitoring the wrongdoers, especially those who are not what you call high-value (risk) criminals,” he stated.

Still, Chang underscored the need for a comprehensive approach, including potentially constructing more space at police stations for lock-ups, to address the problem.

“It may mean constructing more jail space, and that will take a little time, but we will have to move on it aggressively,” Chang stated.

“The issue of how we build lock-ups is an ongoing debate which I hope we can resolve quickly, but, certainly, the quality of the lock-ups we have will have to be addressed immediately.

“(A) way must be found to ensure that they are safe enough that people cannot just walk out of them, and then we blame the officers who were on duty. That’s a commitment I give to you, and we will work to get that done,” Chang indicated.