Once again Jamaican lockups have seen detainees break free, this time in St Elizabeth. This jailbreak, which has resulted in seven people being on the run, comes after a spate of still unresolved jailbreaks, which saw detainees walk effortlessly out of not just the lockups but the police stations where the lockups are located.

How can we explain this lapse in oversight, is it that our police are really just the keystone cops, students of the police academy series, and unable to do their jobs, or is it that they are hopelessly corrupt and unable to be trusted to hold these people?

It could also very well be that the police being overworked are unable to provide the lockups the meticulous attention they need.

Any one of those three reasons, or a combination of all, could be why we continue to see these jailbreaks, but they also show that the police simply do not have the capacity or will to do this part of the job.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force, for all the investment in technology, uniform, and infrastructure, remains at its heart, a paramilitary organization. And like all paramilitary organizations rooted in suppressing the majority, its members are not trained to think about and maintain detainees but break them, and like all paramilitary organisations it is not built to detain people.

We can all argue how true this is today, but the facts are that the JCF has historically, and some would say currently, shown an inability to safely house, feed, account for, and secure people who are held by police officers in the nation’s various lockups.

The JCF has, when confronted with the issue, noted, correctly, the lack of staff and funding, as issues which make the securing of jails more difficult, and with the state of crime in the country it can hardly afford to spare manpower from policing to monitor the lockups.

Thankfully a solution has been suggested, a solution which, on the face of it, makes total sense. Move the management of lockups from the JCF to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), an institution which is mandated to monitor, secure, etc those under its watch.

This would solve many issues; it would free up resources for the JCF to do on-the-ground police work, something the JCF says is currently hindered by this type of jail monitoring. It would increase the monitoring and oversight of the accused; it would also end the practice many police officers engage in of moving detainees from jail to jail leaving their lawyers and families in a state of limbo.

The proposal, however, has not been adopted and the monitoring and maintenance of the jails and lockups remains the remit of the constabulary force. One can only speculate as to why the JCF has not pushed heaven and earth to have authority transferred to the DCS, but really the speculation boils down to either them not caring, or preferring the current state of affairs. I can’t imagine that the JCF, even with its way of operating, would want to continue management of the lockups.

This is an easy move the national security ministry could make to transfer oversight of the jails to the DCS and the fact they have not done this is troubling. With their clear desire to utilise states of emergency as a key tool of policing and the natural increase in people arrested and held in lockups, it should be worrying that the Government and Opposition seem keen on leaving people in the custody of a body which has shown its inability and unwillingness to monitor these people in a safe and secure manner.

The DCS has its issues, prisons remain a disgrace, but credit where it is due they have sought to clean up their act, and conditions, while still atrocious, are better than where they were even five years ago. As such, the DCS is a far better guarantor of rights than the JCF.

Correctional officers have shown themselves to be more receptive and willing to change, they are the ideal people to supervise.

It may not be perfect, it may put people out of cushy jobs, but it is clear that this transfer is needed, and delays are only hurting the country and the Government’s attempts to cauterise the crime situation.

If they and the JCF are serious about mobilising resources and being efficient, then make the transfer. To maintain the status quo is to tacitly acknowledge what many believe to be the truth, that the transfer hasn’t taken place because we want the hell-like conditions to continue and for people to remain unaccounted for in lockups. This must change and this is one of the easiest ways to do this.

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