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Caribbean Islands

The Penal System

To combat an increase in crime, judges began imposing stiffer prison sentences and an average of twelve death sentences annually. Penal administration also was improved in the mid-1970s. The JCF, JDF, and other elements in the legal and penal systems were placed under the Ministry of National Security and Justice, which had been formed in 1974. Although the judicial portfolio had been separated from the ministry in 1986 when it became the Ministry of National Security, it retained responsibility for Jamaica's prisons, Probation Department, and reform schools through its Department of Correctional Services. That department also operated a training school for prison guards, called wardens, in methods of supervision and correctional control of prison inmates and their rehabilitation.

Prison conditions also posed a problem in Jamaica. The parliamentary ombudsman reported in 1986 that prison conditions had deteriorated further since 1984, when he had released a study detailing the deplorable facilities and degrading conditions. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food, and limited medical care for inmates were the principal problems in the nation's two maximum security prisons and in its many police stations, where conditions were generally the worst. A Corrections Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1984 to cope with the problem, but little had resulted by the mid-1980s because of lack of funds for expanding prison facilities.

In 1986 Jamaica had eight correctional centers: the General Penitentiary, St. Catherine District Prison, South Camp Rehabilitation Centre (also known as the Gun Court prison), Fort Augusta, Tamarind Farm, New Broughton, and St. Jago Women's Centre. In 1986 these prisons had a total inmate population of 3,452 (rated capacity: 2,861). Female admissions increase stood at 129, a 10- percent increase over the 1985 figure. Approximately 32 percent (954) of the 1985 total were incarcerated for major offenses such as murder, robbery, and felonious wounding, and the rest for minor offenses such as larceny. Over 70 percent of those imprisoned were under the age of thirty, whereas 47 percent were twenty-four years or younger. The average age group for females ranged from thirty to thirty-nine, whereas males averaged twenty to twenty-four.

The country's principal maximum security prison, the General Penitentiary, was located in downtown Kingston near the harbor. Designed for 800 inmates, it had long been overcrowded and was scheduled for eventual replacement by a newer building. In 1986 it held 1,601 prisoners, including habitual male adult offenders serving long sentences. The St. Catherine District Prison, another maximum security institution for habitual male offenders serving short sentences, held 1,056 prisoners in 1986. The facility served as the site of death row, where condemned persons awaited execution. Projects for improving the General Penitentiary and other correctional centers were undertaken in 1985, and others were being planned.

The South Camp Rehabilitation Centre housed 320 prisoners in 1986. Open to public view, the steel-meshed, gun-turreted facility was located in central Kingston. Fort Augusta Prison, located in a fortress built in 1970 to guard Kingston Harbour, was used as a minimum security facility; it held 105 inmates in 1986. Selected persons who had responded favorably to liberal treatment were transferred there from the General Penitentiary to finish their sentences. Tamarind Farm Prison held 134 first offenders and some selected recidivists serving short sentences. The Richmond Farm Prison was a maximum security prison housing first offenders serving long-term sentences; its inmate population in 1986 was 119. New Broughton and St. Jago Women's Centre had 12 and 104 prisoners, respectively, in 1986. Adults held in remand were placed either in police lock-ups distributed nationwide or in the adult remand centers administered by the Correctional Department. The number of persons admitted to the adult remand centers in 1985 declined by 3 to 1,274.

In order to reduce the rate of recidivism, the Legal Reform Division drafted the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Bill and the Corrections Act, which was enacted on December 2, 1985. Under this act, the label "prisoner" was changed to "inmate"; "prison officer" to "correctional officer"; and "prison" to "adult correctional centre." The act also established gainful employment programs for inmates, pre-release and after-care hostels for the rehabilitation and social integration of inmates, and provisions governing the standards and inspection of correctional institutions. In addition, it permitted temporary absences of inmates from correctional institutions for specified periods.

Young persons under the age of seventeen charged with committing offenses were generally, but not always, tried before a juvenile court. While awaiting trial, which may occur up to three months after the charge, they were detained in "places of safety" where they received classroom and vocational training. Places of safety may be operated by the government or charitable and religious institutions or hospitals. If found guilty by the court, juveniles could be placed on probation or sentenced either to reform schools, called juvenile correctional centers (approved schools), or to a children's home. Juveniles receiving custodial sentences were committed to four special rehabilitation institutions: Hilltop (maximum security) in St. Ann and Rio Cobre Community School (open) in St. Catherine, for boys; Armadale (open) in St. Ann and Lower Esher (open) in St. Mary, for girls. In 1985 these facilities, with a combined capacity of 318 (218 males and 100 females), held 230. The only juvenile remand center, the St. Andrew Remand Center for Boys, was located in Stony Hill, St. Andrew, where thirty-five were held in remand in 1985.

Most of the work of the Probation Department consisted of juvenile cases. Generally, at least one-third of all juvenile court cases ended with the offender being placed on probation. Probably fewer than 20 percent of the adults sentenced every year were placed on probation. Each parish had a Parish Probation Committee to oversee the work of individual probation officers, who were assigned to every court in the country.

Data as of November 1987

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