"[T]hem beat the little man, the juvenile, them beat him and kick his head, them kick him into gate and step on him throat . . . . [T]hem carry him gone from [here] last night . . . Inspector Robbie, him there, but him say nothing...."
- Clive, describing the beating of a young fellow detainee by police
"The cell was tiny, and it was full of feces, bugs, and garbage. I slept on a piece of cardboard on the floor. It was like sleeping in a toilet."
- Wilbur, age sixteen
In the island nation of Jamaica, many children-often as young as twelve or thirteen-are detained for long periods, sometimes six months or more, in filthy and overcrowded police lockups, in spite of international standards and Jamaican laws that forbid such treatment. The children are often held in the same cells as adults accused of serious crimes, vulnerable to victimization by their cellmates and to ill-treatment by abusive police; and virtually always, they are held in poor conditions, deprived of proper sanitary facilities, adequate ventilation, adequate food, exercise, education, and basic medical care. Some of these children have not been detained on suspicion of criminal activity but have been locked up only because they are deemed "in need of care and protection."
Human Rights Watch visited five working police lockups in Jamaica in late August to early September 1998 and interviewed more than thirty children about their experiences in the lockups. About half of the children we spoke to were in lockups at the time of the interviews, and the remaining children were interviewed after their transfer from police lockups to other government institutions.
All of the lockups we visited were appallingly filthy, with damp, urine-covered floors, virtually no ventilation, and poor or nonexistent lighting. Prisoners were crammed together into tiny cells: in the case of one lockup, for instance, 138 prisoners (including numerous seventeen-year-olds, at least three sixteen-year-olds, and a fifteen-year-old) were crowded into ten cells with a stated maximum capacity of fifty prisoners. Each ten-by-ten-foot cell contained between eleven and fourteen prisoners, although each cell had only one concrete bunk.
Prisoners had no bedding materials but slept instead on tattered and filthy bits of newspaper and cardboard or on the damp concrete floor itself. Because of the lack of ventilation, prisoners had no respite from the extreme heat. The stench in the cells was overpowering-with access to functional toilets severely restricted by the guards, prisoners had little choice but to urinate and defecate in the cells.
Human Rights Watch found that children detained in police lockups remain in their overcrowded cells twenty-four hours a day, let out, if at all, only for court dates and for once-daily trips to the filthy toilet and showers. There are no exercise facilities. The children receive no education at all and have reading materials only if books are brought in by family members. In many lockups, the dim lighting (at times near-darkness, even during the day) makes reading impossible anyway.
No lockups have doctors on the premises or regular visits from medical practitioners; detained children are given health care only in emergencies-and even then only if the police are willing to transport a sick or wounded child to the hospital, which they do not always do. Several of the children we met were visibly injured or ill, but most had received no medical attention. Most prisoners told Human Rights Watch that they must rely on visits from family members to get enough food, as the food supplied in the lockups is limited and of poor quality. In some lockups, children reported going for several days with no food at all, or with only bread or buns.
Children held in lockups are at risk of being victimized by adults. Those children detained in cells with adults are often the prey of older prisoners; although some of the children interviewed reported no major problems in this area, others told us that they had been beaten, raped, and stabbed by older prisoners. Many children (and adult prisoners) told Human Rights Watch of deliberate physical and mental abuse by the police. In the case of children, mental and emotional abuse ranged from "rough talk" (insults and threats) to mock executions. Physical abuse ranged from being pushed around to severe beatings. One fifteen-year-old girl told us that she had been raped by a police officer while held in a lockup overnight.
At any given time, over 90 percent of the prisoners in police lockups are "remand prisoners," pretrial detainees held in detention because bail has not been granted or because they cannot afford the bail set. This is as true for children as for other prisoners.1 Many of the children we met had no lawyers, and those withlawyers (generally court-appointed) told us that they spoke with their attorneys rarely, if at all, and often only moments before appearing in court.
After conviction, prisoners are sent to a penitentiary, or, in the case of children, to a juvenile correctional center. Reports indicate that although conditions in Jamaican prisons are also poor, prisons generally have at least minimal exercise and vocational activities and are not as severely overcrowded as the police lockups. Ironically, then, children who are pretrial detainees- presumed innocent-are held in far worse conditions than convicted criminals.
Not all children in police lockups are accused of criminal offenses, however. Some are detained simply for status offenses-acts that would not be crimes if committed by adults, such as truancy, running away from home, or being "uncontrollable". Others are detained because they have been abused or neglected and await permanent placement in appropriate institutions.
In Jamaica, children detained by the authorities generally fall into one of two categories: (1) children suspected of committing a criminal offense; (2) children thought to be "in need of care and protection" (i.e., children who authorities feel are neglected, abused, or "uncontrollable" by parents or guardians).
Under Jamaican law detained children (regardless of whether they have been accused of a crime or are in need of care and protection) are in most cases supposed to be sent to a "place of safety" (a nonsecure short-term institutional care facility run either by the Children's Services Division or by a charitable organization under government supervision) while waiting for a court to arrive at some decision about their case. Only children suspected or convicted of extremely serious and violent offenses-or children whose behavior makes them appear to be a serious threat to others-are supposed to be placed in maximum security settings.
Nonetheless, many children who are abused, neglected, or accused of only petty offenses remain in police lockups for long periods: we met one thirteen-year-old boy, for instance, who had been held in a police lockup for eight months after being accused of stealing a radio. Police officials told Human Rights Watch that the boy had been held for so long not because of his alleged theft, but because he had no family able to care for him and was therefore "in need of care and protection." Despite this, the boy was treated like a criminal and housed in a crowded and filthy police cell rather than in a facility specially designed for the care of children.
Human Rights Watch found that conditions in the facilities run by the Jamaica Children's Services Division (which include "places of safety" and "children's homes") and by the Correctional Services Department (which include the Juvenile Remand Center) were much better than in the police lockups.
While the Remand Center is high security, the places of safety and children's homes are nonsecure facilities. In all these facilities, children slept indormitories rather than in cells, with each dormitory room housing, in general, ten to fifteen children. Rooms in these facilities were often somewhat shabby, and some displayed a great deal of broken-down furniture and fixtures (in one place of safety, for instance, about two thirds of the sinks and toilets appeared to be broken). Nonetheless, facilities appeared reasonably clean, and trained staff included social workers and teachers; facilities offered vocational and academic classes, counseling, and exercise opportunities.
These facilities could all bear substantial improvement, as Jamaican government officials readily acknowledged. In particular, intake procedures and the provision of physical and mental health care could be greatly improved. Similarly, some children complained of abusive treatment from staff and other children.
On the whole, however, we did not encounter many reports of serious abuses occurring at the Remand Center, children's homes, or places of safety, and conditions seemed to be adequate. To the degree that abuses occur in these facilities, they appear to be occasional rather than systematic. The most serious abuses occur while children are in police custody.
In 1994, Human Rights Watch published a report on children in Jamaican police lockups that documented atrocious conditions similar to those that are to be found today.2 Although several interviewees in the Jamaican nongovernmental organization (NGO) community told us that conditions in lockups improved slightly in the wake of the 1994 report, and our own findings suggest that the Jamaican police have made some attempt to keep children from being held in cells with adults, the improvements have been minor and largely skin deep. Four years after we first investigated the situation of children in police lockups, the Jamaican government has made little real progress.
"Wilbur"3 was sixteen when he was interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers at the St. Andrew's Juvenile Remand Center. An extraordinarily articulate boy, Wilbur, who spent roughly a month in various police lockups before being sent to the Remand Center, told us his story in great detail. It illustrates manyof the hardships faced by impoverished Jamaican children unlucky enough to come into contact with the police or the courts:
Now I'm here because the court says that I'm in need of care and protection. But the reason the police found me first was that I was arrested for larceny and breaking and entering. After that I was in many lockups. First, Annatto Bay, then Castleton, then Oracabessa. In Annatto Bay, I was in a cell with three guys, all adults. It was very dark, with very limited air, just coming in from small holes. It smelled like fear.
I wasn't there long before I was transferred to the lockup at Oracabessa, which was horrible. The first night-maybe it was just unfortunate. When I went in, they had two cells. The first was filled up with drugs the police had seized, so everyone was in the other cell. For me, because I'm a juvenile, they didn't put me in the cell at first, but handcuffed me in the passage between the cells. Later they put me in the cell. The stench was like tear-gas.
The cell was tiny, and it was full of feces, bugs, and garbage. I slept on a piece of cardboard on the floor. It was like sleeping in a toilet. And there was an adult, an alleged murderer, right next to me in the cell. At one point I complained about the stench, and the police said it was their job to keep me in the cell, because in the passage I might escape, and they would get in trouble.
When they transferred me to the lockup at Castleton, it was wonderful, by comparison. I had more freedom and space. The only problem was that they put me in a cell with three other juveniles, including a twelve-year-old who tried to hang himself. He was a case of larceny, but they also said he was uncontrollable, so he was in the lockup. But he didn't seem uncontrollable to me, just unhappy. He had a very close bond with his mother, and he missed her. When he tried to hang himself I had to call for the police to lock him down.
When I first was arrested the police were calm and nice. This was, first, because I turned myself in, and second, because I [cooperated]. The investigator was okay. He said I was the only person he ever arrested he didn't have to beat.
Some police were nice; some had attitudes. I guess they're under pressure, too, and sometimes they behave in ways that are bad. I've seen them beat people. I never got beaten. But one time, after they transferred me, they let me out of the jeep, and I thought they were going to take me inside. But a big policeman I didn't know came to me and pulled out his gun and pointed it at my head, and said "This is it!" to me. I was so frightened, it brought tears to my eyes and I felt it emotionally. I thought I would die. I thought, is this how they treat people?
Another policeman told him to leave me alone, and said it was just a joke. But I didn't think it was funny.
Children suffer in police lockups in part because no one Jamaican agency takes responsibility for their welfare. The police, the Children's Services Division, the Correctional Services Department, and the court system all sought to disclaim all responsibility for the plight of children in police lockups.
Police officers told us repeatedly that they did not wish to have responsibility for remand prisoners of any age, since their lockups were designed for only a few short-term prisoners, and not for hundreds of long-term detainees. Despite this, they said, judges keep remanding pretrial prisoners rather than granting them bail, and since space is short in places of safety and remand centers, there's simply nowhere to put prisoners except police lockups. Many senior police officials also told us candidly that the police lacked the training to deal with long-term detainees or juveniles. The police insisted, however, that altering the training given to police or upgrading the lockups was not within their power, for resource reasons, and that these decisions had to be made on the ministerial level.
The Correctional Services Department also disclaimed all responsibility, saying that they were only supposed to hold post-conviction prisoners, and that they currently hold a small number of juveniles on remand only as an interim measure. Senior Correctional Services officials told us that they had no control over whether children were sent to police lockups, or over the conditions in those lockups.
Similarly, the top officials in the Children's Services Division of the Ministry of Health told us they can almost always find spaces for children in places of safety, but that police don't always inform them if children are present in the lockups, and they have no capacity or mandate to inspect or monitor lockups. They also told us that they cannot keep particularly uncontrollable children in their facilities, since their facilities are not secure. In practice, they acknowledged that this means that some children thought to be violent or a consistent discipline problem have no place to go other than lockups.
Finally, the court system disclaims responsibility. The law requires that many children be remanded in custody, either because the children need care and protection or because they are suspected of a serious offense. If a child cannot be released because of the severity of the offense or because he or she has no family able to provide care, and if the remand center or the places of safety cannot or will not take a child, the judge must remand a child back to the lockups.
Human Rights Watch researchers watched a number of Family Court hearings, in one of which a judge reluctantly sent a fifteen-year-old boy back to a police lockup. The boy had been in custody for over a year already, and was still awaiting trial; his trial was delayed because of the difficulty in getting police witnesses to appear in court. The boy had spent a period of time in the remand center, but had been sent back to the lockups because the remand center felt that he was a discipline problem. As we watched, the judge told the boy, "It's not right that young boys should be locked up. Whatever you have done, we can't just give up on you. It's wrong. But there is nothing I can do-I have to send you back [to the lockup] until your trial."
Since each agency that deals in any way with detained children disclaims responsibility for what goes on in the lockups, nothing changes, and decisions are made in a leadership and policy vacuum. No one agency is able entirely to solve the problem of children in lockups, and, too much of the time, this becomes an excuse for each agency to continue to do nothing at all.
For the abuses to be checked, major policy changes must be made at the Jamaican ministerial and parliamentary levels. And in the meantime, all of the relevant agencies need to begin to take responsibility for those aspects of the problem that are within their control, and to collaborate to solve those problems that come about because of poor coordination and communication.
This report is based upon research conducted in Jamaica between August 28 and September 5, 1998. The Human Rights Watch research team visited six police lockups (Spanishtown, Kingston Central, Gun Court, Ewarton, Matilda's Corner, and Portmore). In the first four, our researchers interviewed prisoners; in the latter two, no prisoners were present (at Matilda's Corner, the eight detainedchildren had all been transferred during the day of our visit; at Portmore, the cells were being renovated and no prisoners were yet held). We also sought to visit the lockup at Halfway Tree, whose conditions were reportedly among the most egregious, but although we had previously arranged the visit through the commissioner of police, we were informed upon arrival that we would not be permitted either to tour the cells or interview prisoners. In the lockups, we interviewed about fifteen children between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, along with about the same number of seventeen-year-olds and several adult prisoners. All of the children interviewed in the lockups were male.
Human Rights Watch also visited a "children's home" for girls (a long-term institutional care facility) and two "places of safety" (one for boys and one for girls). All these facilities were run by the Children's Services Division. Finally, we visited Jamaica's only juvenile remand center, run by the Correctional Services Department. In these facilities, we interviewed sixteen children who had previously been held in police lockups for periods ranging from a few days to (in the majority of cases) several weeks or months. The children we interviewed in these facilities ranged in age from twelve to sixteen, and included four girls.
In the children's home and in both of the places of safety, staff respected our request that we be allowed to interview children privately. In both the Juvenile Remand Center and the lockups, however, police officers and facility staff refused to authorize us to interview children privately, although some confidential conversations with children and young adults were in fact possible.
In this report, the names of all children interviewed have been changed to protect the children's privacy.
In addition to visits to places in which children were detained, Human Rights Watch researchers conducted background interviews with ministers, attorneys, representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), police officers, judges, and social workers. We also interviewed several high-ranking government officials, including the Commissioner of Police, the Commissioner of Correctional Services, and the Director of Children's Services.