As a vital institution of state that ought not to be handicapped, the current justice system in Saint Lucia should be a major embarrassment for the authorities and the political establishment, under the guidance of prime minister Dr Kenny Anthony — a distinguished constitutional lawyer — and the minister for justice, home affairs and national security, Hon Victor La Corbiniere.
This remains a continual mystery as to the inability of those directly responsible for implementing solutions to the growing national threat to Saint Lucia’s porous borders, law and order and the Bordelais Correctional Facility.
The Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) in an open letter to Dr Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, dated January 23, 2014 noted the dire consequences of continuing to ignore legislative and economic reform, social justice issues and human rights abuses.
The LPM made several recommendations and urged the government; to place the people of Saint Lucia ahead of narrow partisan interests to implement without delay a bi-partisan approach to execute through legislative and other appropriate means the promotion of democracy, citizen security and economic advancement.
The new group Remand Justice, headed by independent senator and pathologist Dr Stephen King, has served to underscore the entrenched problems of law and order and the outcry for justice at the Bordelais Correctional Facility, along with recommendations to improve the dysfunctional nature of the justice system.
Regrettably, the deaf ears of Dr Kenny Anthony and Hon Victor La Corbiniere have taken precedence. Their minds are elsewhere, burning jet fuel flying around the world, rather than in the performance of their key responsibility of keeping citizens of this country safe.
The need to restore the justice system and the Bordelais Correctional Facility comes at a time when the finance minister is looking for cost savings. However the math just doesn’t work when there are 369 prisoners on remand, each at a cost of approximately EC$18,000 annually. This actually qualifies the institution as an expensive boarding house of social injustice, human right violations and a case for constitutional rights and freedom infringements. The figures are even more staggering, with approximately $10.9 million charged to the taxpayers, 73% of which goes towards wages and salaries. The wellbeing of inmates is also a cost factor for consideration as it pertains to inmate’s health care, including the undisclosed number of mental health cases and the cost of related services.
The numbers as reported by Remand Justice point out that there are 634 inmates incarcerated (in a facility that was built in 2003 at a cost of EC$49 million to accommodate approximately 500 prisoners); of which 265 have been convicted, comprising 261 men and 4 women. The remaining 369 are on remand – 358 men and 11 women. Statistically 58.2% of inmates are on remand – an astonishing figure when the corresponding ratio in other countries is closer to 10%.
Added to that, there are 34 inmates that have been on remand for at least five years and there is also a report that one inmate has been on remand for 13 years on a charge of stealing laundry from a clothesline. More so, there are the untold stories of the number of deadbeat dads on remand, which creates double jeopardy to the socio-economic fabric of Saint Lucia. First, the children are deprived of a parent and, second, the parents cannot support the children and therefore the state and charitable organizations become surrogate parents. Not to mention the loss of human capital in a small developing country like Saint Lucia.
This brings me to the most astonishing statistic of all – the number of unsolved murders in Saint Lucia – recently reported to be 400. This is shocking and morally unacceptable in a population of 165,595.
This ratio would equate to some 140,000 unsolved murders in Britain – something that would produce public outrage if there were a total of 140,000 murders in recent years, let alone unsolved ones. In fact, in the UK in 2007, concern was voiced that there had been 564 unsolved murders across the country in the previous ten years – twice as many as in the previous decade.
Where is the outrage in Saint Lucia? After all, with some 70% (or approximately 116,000) of the population of Saint Lucia being adults, this means that, statistically, if you have 400 adult friends, or if you attend an event with just 400 people, one of them could be an undetected murderer walking around free.
As the overcrowding and the socio-economic costs to taxpayers continue to escalate, it is easy to conclude that the Bordelais Correctional Facility is a tinderbox, conducive for social unrest, waiting to explode. A scenario that is not farfetched when the government of the day had to deal with riots and other unrest at the prison’s former Bridge Street location in the 80s. All those in charge seem to have done since then is just move the location of the problem.
Even in the relatively untroubled Cayman Islands, overcrowding at Northward Prison in Grand Cayman, which had a capacity of 165, but housed 300 inmates, produced a two-day riot in 1999, when prisoners took over complete control of the facility.
On page 19 of a report on the inspection of Northward and Fairbanks Prison on Grand Cayman 25 – 30 March 2001 refers to the inquiry into the riot by Sir Stephen Tumim, a former chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, and his recommendations.
“Sir Stephen summarised the principal causes of the riot as: overcrowding, grievances over parole and failure in communication with prisoners… He also pointed out that the majority of detailed recommendations that he had made in previous inspection reports had not been implemented because of a lack of finance. Clearly, Sir Stephen’s view was that the director had been in an almost impossible position with regard to the severe problems of overcrowding, with no-one to whom to turn for a solution.”
It remains to be seen what corrective action the Saint Lucian authorities will pursue from the practical recommendations that are available to remedy the ongoing failure of the justice system and the Bordelais Correctional Facility before it gets worse. I hasten to add that the outcry for justice and improved prison conditions predates 2003 and both administrations have had numerous opportunities and failed.
However, it remains to be seen if political correctness will continue to jeopardise citizen security and safety. While the political left seeks to fast track the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Saint Lucians, it is mystifying why the authorities can’t put their own judicial house in order first.
As to whether the Saint Lucian authorities will access the services of the Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to avert the probability to further decline, that’s an executive decision the public awaits! Or even if the various commissioners and rapporteurs of the IACHR will actually stir themselves to take the initiative and do something worthwhile to promote human rights in Saint Lucia and the wider region instead of apparently sitting idly by with nary a word spoken.
One thing is clear: both the political left and right agree to blame each other. This is a situation that just can’t continue much longer!
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at [email protected]