Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that government security forces, mainly police, committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Government statistics indicated that through September, government security force-related fatalities increased by 44 percent over the same period in 2016, with 124 and 86 in the first three quarters of 2017 and 2016, respectively. Of the 124, 118 involved the police, and six involved the military.
The number of government security force-involved killings from January through September deemed to have occurred under suspicious circumstances increased over the same period in the prior year by 10 percent, from 29 to 32. Incidents in which police officers fatally shot two or more persons increased considerably, to 14 through the end of September, compared with eight in the same period of 2016. Police-involved fatalities during traffic stops along thoroughfares at night markedly increased. The proportion of victims of police-involved fatalities found to have been in possession of no weapon or only a knife or machete increased to approximately one-third.
On March 23, seven officers on mobile patrol shot and killed a person purportedly with mental health disabilities in the southeastern parish of St. Thomas. The only weapon investigators retrieved from the crime scene was a machete.
Authorities arrested two police officers on February 7 for a killing in 2013. Investigations and prosecutions into fatalities by government security forces from prior years continued slowly.
Financial fraud criminals known as “lotto scammers,” narcotics and gun traffickers, gangs, and other criminal groups engaged in widespread criminality and contributed to the country’s very high homicide rate and culture of lawlessness. Through the end of September, there were 1,193 homicides, which marked a 25.4 percent increase over the same period in 2016. Six police officers were killed through September.
Acting on a recommendation from the 2016 report released by the government’s West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, which examined the 2010 Tivoli Incursion that left 73 individuals dead, the government on December 6 officially apologized for the events of the incursion. As of December 7, the government compensated the estates of persons killed during the event, including those of all 16 persons allegedly killed extrajudicially according to the commission, with a total of 134 million Jamaican dollars (JMD) ($1.05 million).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits such practices, although there is no legal definition of torture. Occasional reports of physical abuse of individuals in custody by security personnel continued. Independent commissions investigated all reports of abuse by prison officials, including those allegedly committed against juvenile offenders.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Inhuman conditions due to dilapidated infrastructure and overcrowding persisted in detention centers, called police “lock-ups.” In prisons, called correctional centers, ventilation and space improved in several facilities.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and difficult conditions remained in many lock-ups. Cells often held up to 11 persons in a space designed for four. Cells were very dark, had subpar bathroom and toilet facilities, and limited ventilation. Detainees were given less than one hour per day out of the cell to use shower facilities and get food and water. Female inmates generally had better conditions than men.
Medical care for detainees in lock-ups was available only through the public medical system and was therefore limited and often delayed. Prisoners in correctional centers, however, had adequate access to medical care, provided through either the department of corrections system or the public medical system. The department of corrections employed three full-time and several part-time doctors, one full-time nurse, and one dentist, and it accessed the public medical system when necessary. Four part-time psychiatrists cared for at least 225 inmates diagnosed as having mental disabilities in 11 facilities across the island. Inmates could not obtain dentures, but correctional centers accommodated the dietary needs of those with dental impairments.
Administration: There was no corrections ombudsman, but independent authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. Official complaints and investigations were infrequent. The Office of the Children’s Advocate investigated matters involving minors.
Independent Monitoring: Justices of the peace and representatives from the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) visited correctional centers and lock-ups regularly. The PCOA submitted reports to the Ministry of National Security with recommendations to improve conditions, although citizen groups complained the ministry rarely acted upon the recommendations.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest but permits the arrest of persons “reasonably suspected” to have committed a crime. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Security forces conducted “cordon and search” operations, enforced curfews, and established blockades in enforcing two Zones of Special Operation.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has primary responsibility for internal security. The Jamaica Defense Force (JDF), including the Coast Guard, has responsibility for national defense and maritime narcotics interdiction. The government enforced a law, the Zones of Special Operations Act passed in July, which gave the JDF arrest authority and operational partnership alongside the JCF in domestic policing operations in the specified zones. In other areas the JCF continued to conduct joint operations with the support of the JDF.
The Ministry of National Security exercises the prime minister’s authority for oversight of the JCF and JDF. The JCF maintained divisions for community policing, special response, intelligence gathering, and internal affairs. The Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency has responsibility for migration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the JCF and JDF.
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) investigates actions by members of the security forces and other agents of the state that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of the rights of persons and, when appropriate, forwards cases to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution.
As of the end of November, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and INDECOM had active cases of criminal charges against 81 government security officials for their alleged involvement in unlawful killings or other abuses. Lengthy trials with numerous delays, including with respect to those cases involving police officers, continued to be a systemic problem.
INDECOM continued to be unable to execute arrest warrants for 19 police officers it sought to charge with murder and other offenses because the officers took advantage of a lengthy judicial review process through the courts afforded to them by law. Trial delays, the judicial review mechanism, and a perceived reluctance to discipline police officers for wrongdoing contributed to a sense of impunity with respect to suspected unlawful killings. On November 17, the Court of Appeal overturned the 2015 conviction of a police officer serving a 15-year sentence for wounding with intent and ordered a new trial. As an exception to this trend, on July 14, a court sentenced a former police officer to life imprisonment for murder, which he committed in 2013 while on duty in St. Ann.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Police officers may arrest without warrant where a felony, treason, or breach of the peace is committed or attempted in the officer’s presence. Upon arrest, the officer is required to tell a suspect in clear language the offense(s) for which the individual is being arrested. Any officer may execute any warrant lawfully issued by a judge or justice of the peace for the apprehension of a person charged with any offense, without being in possession of the warrant. The officer must produce the warrant on demand of the suspect as soon as practical after the arrest. The decision to charge or release must be resolved within 48 hours, although a judge or justice of the peace may extend the period of custody.
The law provides for legal assistance for criminal cases if the detainee does not have sufficient means to pay for legal representation. A Ministry of Justice program increased legal assistance to defendants with mental health disabilities, providing 139 individuals with representation as of the end of September. The constitution provides for a right to bail, and there is a functioning bail system. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to family members.
The law requires justices of the peace and judges to inquire at least once a week into the welfare of each person detained by the JCF.
Pretrial Detention: Lock-ups are intended for short-term detentions of 48 hours or less, but often detainees were held in these facilities without charge or awaiting trial for much longer periods.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
Trials often were delayed for many years, and at times cases were dismissed due to delay tactics, including no-shows by witnesses for a variety of reasons, not infrequently including death, challenges in impaneling juries, antiquated rules of evidence, and lack of equipment for collecting and storing evidence, among other reasons. Through the end of June, the parish court level had a 58-percent case disposal rate.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions attributed the worsening case backlog at the Supreme Court level to an increasing crime rate with a static number of courtrooms and judiciary personnel as well as to the Committal Proceedings Act’s burden on the judicial bureaucracy.
In an effort to lessen the backlog, the government passed the Criminal Justice (Plea and Negotiations) Act in June to increase the rate of plea bargaining, which accounted for less than 1 percent of case resolutions from 2011 to 2016. In September guilty pleas accounted for approximately 90 percent of cases disposed of at the parish court level. In addition, in October courts disposed of 57 cases during two Sentence Reduction Days.
In an increasing number of civil cases, the courts used mandatory alternative dispute resolution in place of traditional trials. Under its Reform Implementation Plan, the Ministry of Justice opened three justice centers, one in the parish of St. Ann on July 8 and two in West Kingston on July 13. The ministry also planned to open 11 more to facilitate restorative justice practices, child diversion, mediation, and an expanded justices of the peace program.
There is a witness protection program, but many eligible witnesses either refused protection or violated the conditions of the program. While the JCF reported that no participant in the witness protection program was ever killed, the program suffered from a number of problems. The government allocated approximately $1 million in additional funds for the program in February.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The constitution provides defendants a presumption of innocence and the right to counsel and to confront witnesses against them. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair public trial, within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court tries serious criminal offenses, including all murder cases. Citizens’ reluctance to serve as jurors resulted in a persistent problem of seating jurors, which contributed to the judicial backlog.
Defendants are provided ample time to prepare defense and are not compelled to confess guilt. They have the right to appeal. Public attorneys were available to defend the indigent, except those charged with certain offenses under the Proceeds of Crime Act or the Dangerous Drugs Act. The government provides free assistance of an interpreter for defendants who cannot speak or understand English.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial civil judiciary process. Complainants may bring human rights abuse cases to the courts for civil remediation, but awards are difficult to collect. The government is required to undertake pretrial negotiations or mediation in an attempt to settle out of court, but it often did not do so. When there are settlements, the government often lacks the funds to pay, resulting in a backlog of awards.
Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the law gives security personnel broad powers of search and seizure. The law allows search without a warrant of a person on board or disembarking from a vehicle, ship, or boat if a police officer has good reason to be suspicious. Police often conducted searches without warrants when there was a reasonable suspicion.