A comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Noel Chambers has been commissioned.
This was announced by Minister of National Security, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, in a statement to the House of Representatives, on Tuesday (June 16).
The Minister was reporting on the unfortunate circumstances that resulted in the death of Mr. Chambers, an inmate at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston.
Dr. Chang said the audit is expected to not only reveal the circumstances specific to his death but also to thoroughly examine the procedures involved in the treatment of inmates who are deemed unfit to plead.
Mr. Chambers was incarcerated in February 1980 on a charge of murder and was remanded by the courts to Tower Street Correctional Centre at the Governor General’s pleasure.
Dr. Chang said that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) reported that in October 1986, Mr. Chambers made an application to petition the Governor General for reprieve.
He added that in order for him to be released from custody, he had to be returned to Court, prior to his application being sent to the Governor General for a decision.
The Minister said in December 2000, the family of Mr. Chambers requested that he be released on parole.
“Given that he was being held at the GG’s Pleasure, he was not eligible for parole. The lawyers have advised me that parole and reprieve can only be granted to persons convicted and sentenced. The fact that Mr. Chambers was neither convicted nor sentenced nullified this option,” Dr. Chang said.
He noted that in 2004, the DCS, in collaboration with the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights (IJCHR), embarked on a one-year project that involved assigning a special team to search for relatives of unfit to plead inmates and return them to the courts. Mr. Chambers was included in this project.
“A search for the relatives of Mr. Chambers was undertaken by the DCS, with no success. On several previous occasions, Mr. Chambers was deemed fit to plead. Following a psychiatric assessment in 2016, he was once again certified as being fit to plead, which resulted in him being included on a listing to the courts in 2017,” Dr. Chang said.
In August 2019, it was reported that Mr. Chambers stopped eating and presented confused, whereupon he was diagnosed with dementia, having undergone medical examinations, including a CT brain scan.
Between August and December 2019, he was visited and treated on some six separate occasions by medical officers. Additionally, during this period he was referred, admitted and discharged from the Kingston Public Hospital.
“Unfortunately, these series of events culminated in the death of Mr. Chambers. He was found unresponsive in the hospital dorm at Tower Street, in January of 2020. The post-mortem revealed that he died from natural causes, due to acute pyelonephritis (acute kidney infection),” Dr. Chang stated.
Meanwhile, Dr. Chang said the need to construct a modern correctional facility has been a matter of concern for the Government, which is why the Ministry of National Security is currently reviewing proposals for the design of a modern purpose-built facility.
“Jamaica’s penal system is suffering from decades of abject neglect. That, of course, is no excuse for allowing any person to languish within a correctional facility. We will examine and make adjustments as necessary,” the Minister said.
“This Administration is committed to doing what is required to ensure that justice is served while safeguarding the rights, dignity, and general sense of humanity of Jamaicans within correctional facilities,” he added.
Dr. Chang informed that for the short term, a plan of action has been elaborated, in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Wellness, Justice, and Local Government.
He said that in the immediate term, the DCS has identified persons who have been in their custody for more than 30 years and are being held at the Court’s pleasure or Governor General’s pleasure.
“Following internal psychiatric assessment and the determination as low-risk violence producers, these individuals have been identified in a letter to the Chief Justice seeking the Court’s consideration of granting clemency,” Dr. Chang said.
He noted that simultaneously, consultations are ongoing with the Jamaica Psychiatric Association to acquire the professional competence of five psychiatrists, to facilitate the timely assessment of all persons identified as having mental health conditions.
“The building of a forensic psychiatric facility is the ideal long-term solution. The Ministry of National Security will be engaging the Ministry of Health and Wellness in an attempt to ensure the mental health needs of these persons, while fulfilling our responsibility to national security,” Dr. Chang said.