Appalling state of our justice system

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -


JUST NOW I believe we will have people waiting 20 years in remand for their trials. Laugh or scoff at me all you want, but this is my fear and genuine concern, which comes from seeing the amount of time murder accused spend in remand creeping upward over the years. Twelve years ago, I was appalled that it took four to six years for inmates to move through the justice system.

Now I am seeing my former students, participants in my prison programmes and my former debaters on the Wishing for Wings/prison debate teams, coming out of prison after 12 to 14 years in remand. What’s to say we’re not heading towards inmates spending 20 years in remand since we have no law for a speedy trial?

This delay in justice should be a grave concern for all of us. There’s one thing I fear more than crime in this country and that is how easy it is to get arrested here. It’s not a big concern for people who believe they’ll never be arrested, but it’s a constant fear in the culture of poverty.

If you are following the features I have been writing on inmates I knew in prison, you will see how easy it is to get arrested. Just call someone’s name in a murder, produce an “eyewitness” and the accused can get tossed into prison for 12 to 14 years. They often win their cases because the forensic evidence doesn’t match "eyewitness" accounts.

If you study the picture of what’s going on, you’ll see many murder charges stem from gangs playing off gangs and getting the police to remove a rival.

You might fool yourself into believing you are safer every time someone is arrested for murder – or any crime – and put in prison, but there are many innocent people in prison. This gets highlighted in countries like the US, where inmates are often freed because of DNA evidence.

The Central Statistical Office provides interesting figures for us to study. Here’s the link if you want to check it out yourself:

That site says that in 2022, 39,640 crime reports were made to the police. Prosecutions were instituted for 10,698 people, which works out to be about one-quarter of the complaints, and convictions were secured for 1,319 people. That means only about ten per cent of prosecuted cases end up in convictions.

Outside of my time in the Youth Transformation and Rehabilitation Centre (YTRC) where I taught teens in remand for murder, I have had one person in any of my programmes convicted of murder. Some of them pleaded guilty to get a reduced sentence or to avoid the long wait for their trials. Five inmates I know have won their cases.

That sounds like a dismally low number of people to make an argument for, but the inmates I know are now having their trials 12 to 14 years after I met them. Only two inmates I have taught had their cases thrown out in the magistrates’ court.

Every day I question the purpose of prisons in this country. In the latest story I wrote with Donnell Inniss, he said prison is another form of slavery. That’s what The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a book by Michelle Alexander, claims about US prisons.

We should be asking ourselves many questions about crime.

1. What is the Government doing to better understand the culture of poverty and the crime that emerges from it?

2. Why aren’t police held to higher standards for their “investigations?"

3. How is it possible to have cases, where eyewitness accounts don’t match forensic evidence, pass through the magistrates’ court all the way to the High Court?

4. Why are we not concerned about the growing divide between the culture of privilege and the culture of poverty?

5. What are we doing about crime prevention?

6. What are we doing about educational reform and offering more relevant education that reaches all levels of society?

7. Why is the right to a speedy trial not in our Constitution and why aren’t we clamouring for a law that demands this?

The biggest question of all is this: When will we realise that there must be justice for all?

We can’t turn our backs on a certain faction of people in this country and think their needs and their issues are not our responsibility. When it comes to justice, we all deserve better than what we are getting.


"Appalling state of our justice system"

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