Prison administrators offer concession to lawyers

Following a meeting with a Supreme Court Steering Committee, the administrators of Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in downtown Kingston — which has been at odds with some lawyers over a restriction placed on Saturday visits to clients there — have made a concession.

Information reaching the Jamaica Observer, which had first highlighted the issue last week, is that the superintendent of the prison has agreed to make available his cellular phone number and e-mail address to attorneys so they can contact him and make arrangements in advance to visit their clients.

As a rule, attorneys wanting to visit clients are required to complete and submit a visitor application form for each client.

The attorneys, several of whom spoke with the Observer last Tuesday, had protested the decision to bar them on Saturdays, pointing out that other members of the public are allowed to visit inmates. They said the arrangement was contrary to what was agreed in 2021 between the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) and the Jamaican Bar Association.

According to the DCS in that correspondence, attorneys are permitted to visit correctional facilities Mondays to Fridays between 10:00 am and 12 noon and 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm. On Saturdays, it said, attorneys would be allowed to visit between 10:00 am and 12:00 noon, with the caveat that “extenuating circumstances” could cause these allowances to change.

The lawyers, who maintained that Saturdays are convenient visiting days, given that on weekdays they are engaged in other court matters at varying locations, had complained that visitation rules at the prison are changed arbitrarily.

The Observer was told last Thursday that the current superintendent for the Tower Street facility said he was unaware of the 2021 agreement.

A representative for the attorneys, however, said the concession arrived at late last week is “not satisfactory” and indicated that the fraternity will continue to push for a more dignified solution.

The DCS, in a stilted response to the Observer’s queries, while not stating the concession arrived at, emphasised that the department “has long kept its commitment to maintaining mutual interaction with our legal counterparts”.

“There is no provision in the governing legislation that explicitly allows visits by legal advisors on a Saturday. In fact, Rule 196 (3) of the Correctional Institution (Adult Correctional Centre) Rules, 1991 explicitly provides for visits on weekdays. However, the DCS, having heard the limitations faced by the legal advisors during the weekdays, has extended its discretion to permit visits on a Saturday between the hours of 10:00 am and 12 noon. There are, however, instances where the action/inaction of a legal advisor, or existing circumstances within the correctional centres, renders it impractical/ unsafe to permit entry into the institution,” it said.

Furthermore, the DCS said it is its “posture to ensure [its] actions do not fetter the system of justice as it is a constitutional right for an inmate to receive proper representation”.

Attorneys are, in the meantime, lobbying for proper facilities at St Catherine District Prison and Horizon Remand Centre to accommodate meetings between clients and counsel to communicate in confidence and privacy without interference or limitation.

The Corrections Rules state that reasonable facilities should be provided to the legal adviser of an inmate which will allow the inmate to remain in the sight of, but not in earshot of a member of staff.

The attorneys are further encouraging the DCS to consider a more flexible approach in relation to its rules against attorneys being allowed to take electronic devices (such as laptops) inside the prisons, pointing out that relevant evidence is often disclosed on a compact disc and that the data is often voluminous, making printing an expensive undertaking.