Written by Guyanne S

Jamaica – the heart of the Caribbean. The paradise island is called home by just under 3 million people and it a tourist hotspot for those wanted to tourists in search of sand, sun and sea. Known as the birthplace of reggae music, Jamaica is also rich in culture and nightlife. Around 200,000 Britons travel to the idyllic island each year. However, accounts of Jamaica’s crime rates and prison conditions paint a different picture.

Jamaica has the world’s second highest murder rate per capita with 57 per 100,000, which is only exceeded by El Salvador. Last year Jamaica announced a “state of emergency” and deployed the military following a series of shootings and deaths. Reports claimed that there was an average of five killings a week in the beginning of 2018. According to FCO Travel Advice on Jamaica, the state of emergency is still in operation in some areas and there “Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) which may be subject to curfews, road blockages and a higher military presence.

Jamaica prisons hold almost 4,000 prisoners and the prison population is overwhelmingly male. Conditions in the prisons have been described as ‘horrific”. Meals consists of rice and sugary water which is served twice a day. Food and water are not always available and can come with a charge, therefore, prisoners have to rely on family or friends to bring them food. Access to the outside world is restricted as inmates are kept in their cells for the majority of the day and are only allowed out for their shower time or court appearances.

Prison violence occurs often in Jamaican prisons. Prisoners often have to buy their own protection from other prisoners. Cigarettes and other hard-to-access amnesties are used as currency. Foreign inmates become targets for current and former inmates who can believe families of foreigners can be extorted. Between 2012 and 2014, British nationals made up almost 40% of foreign inmates. Most British nationals are imprisoned on charges relating to drug dealing or smuggling.

There is only a small window for visitation time and families have to wait for approval from the guards on duty. With limited communication to the outside world, there is a high demand for cell phones. The Minister for correctional services noted that the one of the biggest threats to security are the number of cell phones that are being smuggled into the jails. Another concern is the rising prevalence of HIV in the correctional facilities. A 2018 study revealed that 6.9% of prisoners had HIV, which is more than double the 3.3% in 2011.

Plans are already in motion to build a larger maximum-security prison further outside of the capital, Kingston, to deal with the capacity issues. For the moment, prisons remain overcrowded and low, medium and high-risk inmates are not properly separated. Being jailed in Jamaica is a harrowing experience even for those who are just detained and awaiting trial. Legal proceedings and court appearances often take a long time and can be delayed.

Tourists travelling to Jamaica should remain vigilant and keep their valuable possession close or locked away to not fall victim to petty theft. Be sure to check the FCO Travel Advice for country-specific information on safety and security, as well as, local laws and customs and entry requirements. Also follow @FCOTravel on Twitter for travel notifications.


References

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/front-page/prison-overflowing-number-of-inmates-at-tower-street-adult-correctional-centre-almost-doubles-capacity_168697

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190407/prison-hiv-soars-infections-double-inmates-third-highest-risk-group

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/dec/19/jasonmccue.theobserver

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/murder-rates-by-country.html

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42757023

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20150517/visitors-prisons-british-nationals-top-number-foreigners-convicted-crimes