News and Issues: Mario Deane – The Last Stand on Ganja and Inmate Abuse in Jamaica

Section 13(6) of the Constitution of Jamaica clearly enunciates that “No person shall be subject to torture or inhuman and degrading punishment or other treatment”.  Unfortunately, for a poor young man by the name of Mario Deane, the conditions he experienced in police custody ended in his demise.

On August 6, 2014, while Jamaicans at home and abroad were celebrating 52 years of Political Independence, a young man by the name of Mario Deane met his untimely and undeserved demise. Deane, a 31 year old construction worker, was brutally beaten at the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay three days earlier. He had been arrested for the possession of a spliff of ganja.

Mr. Deane’s death has, naturally, outraged many Jamaicans, and this particular beating death has attracted international media attention for the issue of human rights and the abuses thereof in our Jamaican penal system. This issue has been a drama piece that everyone has glued their eyes to their Televisions and computer screens for. It has been a rallying point and the proverbial “something-to-do” for the groups that call themselves human rights groups, and, of course, for our politicians, a healthy game of political football.

This death has called into question two prevailing issues in my opinion:

  1. Why the police arrested Deane for possessing a ganja spliff.
  2. The treatment of inmates and detainees in our island’s lockups.

Now, there are many persons who have opined that the police should have overlooked the spliff of ganja. Very recently, the Jamaican Government, through Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding,  announced (and later had passed in the House of Representatives) a bill in Parliament (The Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act) decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of ganja and expunging the criminal records of those who have been arrested in the past of possessing small qualities of ganja. However, it can also be argued that the police were simply doing their jobs. After all, though the government announced that they would be looking to change the law, the law had not yet changed, and the police were bound to enforce the law.

That leads us to our second issue, which is far larger and more serious than the first. Jamaican lockups have their own negative reputation. This negative reputation, unfortunately, has sustained itself throughout the years. When persons aren’t being beaten by fellow inmates and/or allegedly by the police, they are being held in overcrowded, hot, stinky, unhygienic cells. In the case of Mario, he was being held at Barnett Street lock-up, beaten severely in the head and neck by his attackers, and left to battle for his life.

Now, based on my observations on the Jamaica policing system, it still seems that our policing and our treatment of inmates in lock ups emanates from a conservative, deterrent punishment system, where the accused arrives in lock up, that same accused is kept in custody and given such a bad experience that he will never do the crime again and keep on what we like to call the “straight and narrow” path. Even I believed that the police, when acting in duty to bring someone into custody, must deal with the accused in a stern or strict manner so that he, and others around him, would never even think about committing a crime. However, in our country, the deterrent theory has not really been as effective as the police, on many occasions, have overstepped their boundaries and has resulted in the severe injury or death of the accused. (And God help the Force if it was discovered that the person was not guilty of any crime).

What if international attention had not permeated in this case? What if persons such as the learned Florida based-Attorney Miss Jasmine Rand and the experienced American pathologist Dr. Michael Baden did not lend their service to the Deane family? It is certain to me that we would still probably be relying on the information given by the police at Barnett Street that he suffered “a fall off his bunkbed”.

The Constitution of Jamaica, as well as the Constitutions of all other Commonwealth Caribbean territories guarantees the inmate a safe stay while in lockup free of any form of inhuman or degrading treatment.

As upcoming legal sensations, and as citizens, we must ensure that the police are held accountable for their actions. We must ensure that due process is followed in the arrest and charging of our clients and loved ones. We must not hesitate to ask questions to the police, and where we feel that constitutional rights are being violated while in custody, to make a report to the Police High command and to INDECOM. Did you know that your parish’s Justices of the Peace are obliged by Law to inspect jail cells and to interview detainees about the state of their detention? If you didn’t know that before, the Mona Law Precedent has now taught you.

There are glimmers of hope to be derived from the Deane death though. Two gentlemen who shared the cell with Deane and who have been implicated in the beating have been charged and have since appeared before the courts. The officers that were in charge that night have also been charged in relation to the incident. It is my hope that justice will be served. It is this writer’s humble opinion that the international attention garnered from this case and the people who have left their normal, high-paying jobs to come and help this poor Jamaican family will never be forgotten. Thankfully, now that the law regarding possession of small quantities of ganja is changing, it is hoped that there will be no more Mario Deanes.

Markel Virgo

Second Year Law Student

The Faculty of Law, UWI Mona


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