Jamaica: Nearly 50 years in prison without trial – Rights group seeks release of inmates

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(Jamaica Star) – A human rights group is seeking the release of two men who have been in custody for more than 40 years, without trial. The men, who are said to be of unsound mind, have been accused of murder.

One of the men was 22 years old when he was locked up 48 years ago for murder. Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ), the group trying to secure his release, said that the man is “currently not receiving treatment and is not scheduled for court nor is he being assessed for his fitness to plea”.

SUFJ said that the second inmate was deemed unfit to plead in 1976 after he was charged with two counts of murder. He is currently 61 years old and has been deemed unfit to plead twice by the courts.

Isat Buchanan, a human rights attorney who has been engaged to secure the men’s freedom, said he intends to ask the court to order an immediate psychiatric evaluation of the men and make requests for their compassionate release.

Executive Director of SUFJ, Carla Gullotta, told THE STAR that she is fighting for mentally challenged persons who have been without a voice for years.

“We just need justice for the mentally challenged who have been lost in the system. We are advocating for the mentally ill which everybody is in agreement with. Most of them have been in prison waiting for the trial and sometimes the time that they are waiting is more than the time they are supposed to be serving if they should be sentenced, and it is not fair,” she explained.

Not dismissing the fact

Gullotta said she is not dismissing the fact they should be punished, however, there should be a different approach when dealing with the mentally challenged.

“If somebody does something wrong they need to be punished. Nobody is contesting this, but if punishment becomes something that is an infringement on rights, then it is a different matter,” she said. “Somebody who is mentally ill should not be detained but should be diverted to an institution where he can be cared for because being mentally ill is not fully understanding what he has done.”

She added: “The mentally ill should not go to prison because the wardens are not trained to deal with them. Then there is the general population who might be threatened, so they should go somewhere else where their problem is dealt with in a professional way.”More in Home

She informed that there are approximately 350 mentally challenged persons in Jamaican prisons, and her quest it to get them the justice they deserve.

Noel Chambers, 81, died in a pitiful state after being detained for 40 years without trial.

“He died before he was able to get a trial and he asked to plead twice before and was refused. There are several people in these situations and we don’t want the same to happen to them,” Gullotta said.

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