THE Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has again expressed concern about the number of people with serious medical problems who are being held in police lock-ups across the island.
“The level and duty of care required by the Jamaica Constabulary Force [JCF] towards such ill patients is an arduous one and the Commission considers there is an undue burden upon their other duties,” said INDECOM in its second quarterly report for 2023, tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
“The police lock-up cannot be a substitute to a hospital or other medical institution,” declared INDECOM in the report where it noted that 14 deaths occurred in police custody between 2021 and 2022 with the vast majority, 10, being from illness.
One inmate was murdered while there were three suicides recorded in the 24-month period.
While underscoring that the number of deaths in police custody was relatively low in relation to the number of people held in custody during the period, INDECOM said many were avoidable and recommended that police lock-ups should not be used to detain people who are sick, or very sick.
“The JCF is not equipped to host detainees who require immediate or prolonged medical attention. Alternatively, these persons should be detained in remand facilities, where medical support and identification of illness may be better recognised and administered,” said INDECOM as it noted that this recommendation has been made by a number of other organisations in the past.
INDECOM pointed out that all 10 prisoners suffering an illness or injury were pronounced dead at the hospital, following their transfer from the police station, albeit a few were found unresponsive in their cells and conveyed to hospital in that state.
Five of the 10 sick prisoners had been detained in police custody for over 100 days, yet following their transfer they died very quickly. Seven of the 10 died upon arrival or within the first day, four died on the same day as their transfer, and three the following day.
A further three died on the fifth day following their transfer; all the transferees died within a week of their transfer.
According to INDECOM, in both this current and previous study, it was observed that all the sick prisoners died within, or less than, a week of their transfer to hospital.
In INDECOM’s 2013 report, for the period 2005-2012, 27 of the 36 prisoners transferred to hospital all had died within a week, arising from illness or unresponsiveness.
“The transference of prisoners from the police lock-up to a hospital can demonstrate a recognition of illness amongst the detainee population. However, it appears, upon a review of these figures, that recognition and action to medical aid is too late or delayed.
“This may be indicative of a failure to recognise some of the illness cases sufficiently quickly. It is apparent that some of the prisoners were evidently already very unwell at the time of their transfer,” said INDECOM.
But the body noted that members of the police force are not medically trained and the ability to monitor multiple prisoners, frequently in overcrowded cells, can make such observations difficult; especially if insufficient custody staff are on duty or they are inexperienced in their critical role.
INDECOM also noted that in some cases it was very apparent to some senior police custody officers that prisoners were very unwell and they did intervene to try and alleviate the situation.
In its recommendations, INDECOM reiterated its stance that police lock-ups should not be used to detain prisoners who are sick or very sick.
“There are, self-evidently, many more prisoners who are unwell, but do not die, and thus remain unseen by medical personnel. The lock-ups are not conducive to administering effective medical care or ensuring recovery.
“The return of seriously ill prisoners to the police station (who, in many instances, are quite incapable to being a threat to any person) should be reconsidered. Either bail or retention in hospital for such ill prisoners is to be considered,” added INDECOM.