Correctional Services accused of cover-up in Noel Chambers’ death

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is being accused of covering up the circumstances surrounding the death of 81-year-old Noel Chambers at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre (TSACC) in January.

The accusation is coming from an ex-inmate who served time intermittently at TSACC, and who also helped to supervise mentally ill inmates on the hospital ward inside the facility who relayed information that Chambers was being held at a section of the prison where mentally ill inmates were not supposed be.

Henzel Muir, the ex-inmate who spent 11 years at TSACC where he came to know Chambers, told the Jamaica Observer last week that the unfit to plead inmate was being held among regular inmates at a section of the prison that is largely unsupervised.

“The mentally ill inmates are held at the George Davis Centre inside the prison or on the hospital section. But that is not where them put Chambers. Them put him at a section called ‘special’ or ‘Boys’ Town’,” said Muir.

Muir made the case that based on standard procedure inside the facility, for Chambers to have deteriorated so badly it suggests that he was neglected by those employed to supervise him, an aspect which he argued has been overlooked in previous reports on the matter.

“As a mentally challenged person and as an unfit to plead inmate, he should not have been at that section of the prison. You will not find the medical officers, even the doctors going around there because that section is stigmatised,” said Muir, adding that supervising officers would have known about Chambers’ deterioration before his eventual passing.

“This could not happen to Noel Chambers overnight. The officer who works on each section has a responsibility to ensure that each inmate is alive, and that the inmate is not hurt. Every morning the warder has to check the muster. The warder must also see to it that the inmates get water before they lock them in the cell.

“Where were these officers and where are their reports from their daily rounds at this section? Why didn’t they report it that Noel Chambers was in this condition? And if they did report it to the medical unit, why didn’t the medical unit did not respond?” Muir questioned.

Released in 2015 after serving 21 years for non-capital murder, Muir remembered Chambers as “a quiet and humble Rastaman” who was a skilled shoemaker.

“Chambers used to repair all the inmates and the officers them shoes. Him also used to clean up certain sections of the prison,” Muir recalled, sharing that although he and Chambers were not close friends, he remembered seeing him around the prison.

“He was a very humble person, never used to give no trouble. Chambers never deserve this,” Muir said.

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) report on mentally ill inmates detained at correctional facilities in Jamaica raised questions about the extent of human rights breaches, given the inhumane condition in which Chambers’ body was found.

Outside of Chambers having spent 40 years in prison without a trial, the question of why his body was so chronically emaciated and covered in vermin bites and live bed bugs, as the report stated, remains unanswered.

Section 30 of the Corrections Act stipulates that inmates deemed unfit plead must be separated from the regular population. The INDECOM report did not disclose Chambers’ exact location when he was found unresponsive in his cell. It was revealed however that Chambers received ‘Fitness for Trial Certificates’ from two different psychiatrists in 2019.

DCS later told the Observer that Chambers was at a section of the facility called the hospital ward at the time of his death. It was however not disclosed where Chambers was originally held.

According to Muir and a Sunday Observer source, Chambers was only taken to the hospital ward after he was found unresponsive. It was also revealed that originally, Chambers was not at the designated section for mentally ill inmates.

Muir corroborated that during his time at TSACC, Chambers was being held among regular inmates at the G-South section of the prison, also called ‘special’ or ‘Boys’ Town’.

Senior human rights attorney, Nancy Anderson has laid the blame at the feet of the judicial system, which gave the orders for Chambers to be held indefinitely while awaiting trial.

Anderson argued that although supervising officers could have reported Chambers’ condition to their overseers, the courts are ultimately culpable for his demise.

“People talk about being lost in corrections. They are not lost. Corrections know about them and take care of them every day. What they are is forgotten; they are forgotten everyday and they are forgotten by the courts,” Anderson said.

The attorney also believes that there are clear human rights breaches, given the condition in which inmates are being held.

Section 10 of the Corrections Act speaks to the appointment of a medical officer, by the chief medical officer, who is supposed have control over the general health and medical welfare of inmates as well as the sanitation of the adult correctional centre.

The Corrections Regulation, a subsidiary piece of legislation, further states that the medical officer should do a quarterly inspection of every part of the adult correctional centre to ascertain “that nothing exists therein likely to be injurious to health, and that ventilation and dietary managements are sufficient and satisfactorily maintained”.

“The prison is overcrowded and the conditions are very poor,” said Anderson, adding that unless inmates complain about their condition, the matter will be continually overlooked.

“The inmates have to complain, especially the mentally ill. But the problem with the mentally ill inmates is that they are not the ones who usually complain; it is only if someone visits them and makes a complaint. This is also a problem because unfortunately there are also inmates who don’t get many visitors,” she added.

Anderson explained that complaints would have to be addressed individually, and that as of now, there have been no cases where an inmate has complained about the inhumane treatment.

“There is a constitutional right of every citizen of Jamaica to receive equitable and humane treatment. But there has been no case that I know of that has been taken to court to challenge the treatment of the mentally ill in the correctional institutions. It probably should be done, but it requires getting the clients and getting a lawyer to actually do it,” said Anderson.

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