a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At times citizens and visitors alleged instances of cruel or degrading treatment of criminal suspects or of migrants by police or immigration officials.
In April a correctional officer reported that two prison officers beat a male prisoner, resulting in hospitalization. There were four recorded cases of physical abuse by correctional officers. Two officers in these cases had disciplinary charges levied against them. The evidence in the remaining two cases was deemed insufficient to go to trial, according to the government.
Law enforcement investigated four alleged cases of rape at the government’s only safe house for victims of domestic violence, which was also used to hold migrant detainees who are women and children. Two investigations resulted in the discharge of the immigration officers involved. Prosecutors dropped a third case because the alleged victim declined to press charges. Prosecutors dropped a fourth case when the accuser died from COVID-19.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions at the government’s only prison, the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) facility commonly known as Fox Hill Prison, were harsh due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, inadequate sanitation, and inadequate medical care. Conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre for migrants were adequate for short-term detention only.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate access to medical care were problems in the BDCS men’s maximum-security block. The facility was designed to accommodate 1,000 prisoners but was chronically overcrowded. Juvenile pretrial detainees were held with adults at the BDCS remand center, a minimum-security section of the prison. At the end of November, eight juveniles were incarcerated.
Due to COVID-19, authorities suspended the ability of family members to bring meals to prisoners. Authorities also limited food sales by independent vendors. Prisoners reported infrequent access to nutritious meals and long delays between daily meals. Maximum-security cells for men measured approximately six feet by 10 feet and held up to six persons with no mattresses or toilet facilities. Inmates removed human waste by bucket. Prisoners complained of the lack of beds and bedding. Some inmates developed bedsores from lying on bare ground. Sanitation was a general problem, and cells were infested with rats, maggots, and insects. The government claimed to provide access to toilets and showers one hour a day to prisoners in maximum-security areas. The women’s facilities were generally more comfortable, with dormitory-style quarters and adequate bathrooms.
Individuals detained in jails complained they were denied access to medical care and food. The availability of and access to medical and psychological care were sporadic. Prisoners consistently complained that prison authorities did not take their health concerns seriously. Sick male inmates and male inmates with disabilities had inadequate access to the medical center. Correctional officers and civil society accused prison management of contributing to COVID-19 outbreaks by failing to quarantine COVID-19-positive prisoners from the general population and failing to provide prisoners with timely access to the vaccine.
While the law prohibits persons serving a prison sentence from voting, persons who are detained but not convicted are permitted to vote. Individuals in the main prison who were detained but not convicted, however, were denied the ability to vote in the September election.
Administration: The Internal Affairs Unit and a disciplinary tribunal at the BDCS facility were responsible for investigating any credible allegations of abuse or substandard conditions. The prison commissioner was placed on leave beginning October 1 pending an investigation into several allegations including poor management of the Department of Corrections, the unapproved release of a prisoner, and gross negligence concerning the transmission of COVID-19 between prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: The BDCS facility stated it was not granting access to visitors, including human rights organizations, due to COVID-19 protocols. Independent observers, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were restricted to virtual meetings with detainees who were held at the migrant detention center and the government’s safe house.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these requirements. The constitution provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, although this process sometimes took several years.
In August the Court of Appeals increased the amount of compensation due to a Kenyan national found by the Supreme Court in 2020 to have been unlawfully detained at the migrant detention center for six years and four months. The individual was to receive $750,000 instead of the $641,000 originally awarded to him in December 2020.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The government respected the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Police generally obtained judicially issued warrants when required for arrests. Serious cases, including suspected narcotics or firearms offenses, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. The law states authorities must charge a suspect within 48 hours of arrest. Arrested persons must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours (or by the next business day for cases arising on weekends and holidays) to hear the charges against them, although some persons on remand claimed they were not brought before a magistrate within the 48-hour period. Police may apply for a 48-hour extension upon simple request to the court and for longer extensions by showing sufficient need.
The constitution provides the right for those arrested or detained to retain an attorney at their own expense; the Public Defender’s Office and local law professors and alumni provide free legal representation to defendants on a limited basis. Access to legal representation was inconsistent, including for detainees at the detention center. Minors receive legal assistance only when charged with offenses heard by the Supreme Court; otherwise, there is no official legal representation of minors before the courts.
A functioning bail system exists. Individuals unable to post bail were held on remand until they faced trial. Judges sometimes authorized cash bail for foreigners arrested on minor charges; however, foreign suspects generally preferred to plead guilty and pay a fine.
Pretrial Detention: Attorneys and other prisoner advocates complained of excessive pretrial detention due to the failure of the criminal justice system to try even the most serious cases in a timely manner. The constitution provides that authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for a “reasonable period of time,” which was interpreted as two years. Authorities released selected suspects awaiting trial with an ankle bracelet on the condition that the persons adhere to strict guidelines defining their movements within the country.
The Department of Immigration detained irregular migrants, primarily Haitians, until they were repatriated or obtained legal status. The average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, by the willingness of other governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and by the availability of funds to pay for repatriation. Authorities aimed to repatriate Haitians within one to two weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic initially impeded repatriation flights, but repatriation flights to Haiti resumed on October 3.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were problems. The courts were unable to keep pace with criminal cases, and there was a continued backlog, estimated by the chief justice at 12 to 18 months.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and free public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free assistance of an interpreter, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Although defendants generally have the right to confront adverse witnesses, in some cases the law allows witnesses to testify anonymously against accused perpetrators to protect the witnesses from intimidation or retribution. Defendants have the right to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal.
Defendants may hire an attorney of their choice. The government provided free legal representation, but only on a limited basis, leaving large numbers of defendants without adequate legal representation. Lack of representation contributed to excessive pretrial detention, as some suspects lacked the means to advance their cases toward trial.
Numerous juvenile offenders appeared in court with a child-welfare social worker who was court-appointed to protect the juvenile’s interests (guardian ad litem). Conflicts arose when the magistrate requested the social worker to prepare a probation report and include a recommendation on the sentence for the child. In essence the social worker tasked with safeguarding the welfare of the child was also tasked with recommending an appropriate punishment for the child, a conflict of interest.
A significant backlog of cases was awaiting trial, with delays reportedly lasting years. The government suspended jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering its efforts to address the backlog. Once cases went to trial, they were often further delayed due to poor case and court management, inaccurate handling or presentation of evidence, and inaccurate scheduling of witnesses, jury members, and defendants for testimony. The judiciary took concrete steps toward procuring and implementing a digital case-management system, in addition to hiring five new justices to help alleviate the backlog.
Local legal professionals attributed delays to a variety of long-standing systemic problems, such as inadequate coordination between investigators and prosecutors, insufficient forensic capacity, outdated file management, lengthy legal procedures, and staff shortages in the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There was an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and there was access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or relief from, human rights violations.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
While the law usually requires a court order for entry into or search of a private residence, a police inspector or senior police official may authorize a search without a court order where probable cause exists to suspect a weapons violation or drug possession.