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Saturday 24 March 2018

Injustice behind bars

Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

WHILE THE people of this dysfunctional country pondered the decision by Justice Nadia Kangaloo last week who ruled that the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) has no power to investigate allegations of misconduct against Chief Justice Ivor Archie, I once again marvelled at the resilience of the young men in my English class in the Port of Spain Prison. They continue to fight the good fight as they struggle to get their lives back on track in spite of the injustices they face because of the long delays in the court system.

My students, articulate, hard-working young men, represent the prison system admirably well. They have participated in impressive debates that have blown away anyone in attendance. They’ve written a radio soap opera to show young men the pitfalls of making the wrong choices in life. They read, and they want to participate in a just society, which has eluded them their whole lives.

Meanwhile, my students, all of whom are in remand for capital murder charges, sit in prison waiting for their trials. They question the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty.” For them, it seems they have been sentenced without a trial.

Here is what injustice looks like to the students in my class:

1. N’s case was in Marcia Ayers-Caesar’s court when she resigned to take up her High Court position. Her resignation meant that N had to face a retrial at the magistrates court level. He has no trial date yet, and he is back to square one. N has been in prison for five years waiting for justice.

2. M, who entered the prison system as a 16-year-old minor in the Youth Training Centre (YTC), was transferred to the Port of Spain Prison at the age of 18. His case was aborted in the magistrates’ court when his lawyer discovered a witness sitting in court while another witness testified. He now faces a retrial in the magistrates’ court. He has not been given a new trial date. He has already spent over six years in prison.

3. D’s case made it through the magistrates’ court, and was sent up to the High Court. He has been waiting for a date in the High Court for three years and six months. He has spent a total of eight years and five months in prison waiting for his case to slowly snake its way through the courts.

4. C came from YTC. His case went through endless delays in Ayers-Caesar’s court, and when she resigned, his case had to start over again. He has no date yet for the magistrates’ court and he has been in prison for seven years, two months and three days as of last Tuesday when I gathered information for this story.

5. DD’s case has not yet begun in the High Court. He waited three years for a date for his case to move up to the High Court, and he has waited over one year now for the High Court to provide a trial date. He has no High Court date yet and he has spent eight years, five months in prison.

6. A’s case also went through endless delays in Ayers-Caesar’s court, and when she resigned, his case had to start over again. He has no date yet for the magistrates’ court and he too has been in prison for the last seven years, two months and three days as of last Tuesday.

I am shocked at how easy it is for poor, young men in this country to end up in prison, and I wonder on a daily basis how many times the police get those arrests right, given their dismal statistics for murder detection rates.

I am most appalled at the fact that minors are arrested for capital offences and the justice system does not see it fit to make sure minors have trials before they become adults. Instead, we toss minors into adult prison where they can receive an education in crime.

As my class told me last week, “Everyone is talking about how poor this country is, and still the Government doesn’t want to deal with one of the biggest drains on the economy – the bottomless pit of injustice where men wait years for trials while taxpayers foot the bill.”

It is unconscionable that we can have men in remand waiting to get through their trials for over eight years. What will it take for the people of this country to right the wrongs that are taking place in our justice system?


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