Death Row blues

As a result of a UK Privy Council ruling in July, 32 Jamaican men who had been given mandatory death sentences must be given sentencing hearings at which they have the opportunity to persuade a judge to let them live. In a strange legacy of colonialism and Commonwealth, the UK Privy Council remains the highest court of appeal for Jamaican citizens. Yet although their initial sentences have been declared unconstitutional, and therefore unlawful, the men who are entitled to be resentenced remain on Death Row. Thanks to prison overcrowding, lack of resources and government policy, those on Death Row suffer significantly more restrictions and deprivations than the rest of the prison population. The cells are dark and bug-infested, with no mattresses and the opportunity for exercise restricted to as little as 20 minutes. Medical resources are extremely overstretched. Warder brutality is rife and, inmates allege, on the increase. In early September, two events exacerbated Death Row inmates’ sense of injustice. First, Lambert Watson, the prisoner who challenged the mandatory sentencing power, was removed from Death Row – but others similarly sentenced remained. Then, in the week that Hurricane Ivan hit the island, the inmates were excluded from Family Week when the rest of the prison population were allowed special extended visits. The following Monday, 13 Death Row inmates refused to come out of their cells and declined all food. Four days later, the inmates were persuaded to end their protest. In response the Jamaican Government is considering ways to address their complaints.

New Internationalist issue 374 magazine cover This article is from the December 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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