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Corporal punishment in JAMAICA

With comments by C. Farrell

On this page:

Jamaica - Judicial CP
Jamaica - Prison CP
Jamaica - Reformatory CP
Jamaica - School CP

Jamaica flag JAMAICA: Judicial CP

Judicial CP in Jamaica was sometimes inflicted with the cat-o'-nine-tails on the upper back, but in more recent times usually with the tamarind switch on the bare buttocks. This latter sentence was quite common as recently as the 1960s.

    For what were probably typical tamarind-switch cases, used for theft and sexual offences respectively, see this Oct 1958 court case and this June 1965 one.

    It seems to have fallen into disuse around 1970 but was then revived in 1994 -- see Aug 1994 press report of the first court case for 25 years in which it was ordered and this Nov 1994 follow-up -- before being outlawed by the Court of Appeal in 1998.

    However, only in 2012 was it proposed that the legislation permitting JCP be removed from the statute book. This duly took place in Feb 2013.

    According to Benson (1937), in 1935 there were 350 whippings in Jamaica by order of the courts, all but one of which were for juveniles. This was an increase from 234 in 1930.

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Stills from The Harder They Come - film set in Jamaica in the 1960s
This of course is a dramatic reconstruction, not the real thing, but it is believed to be a fairly authentic representation of a flogging with the tamarind switch. I am not responsible for the poor picture quality, nor for the inaccurate title "Judicial Caning [sic] in Jamaica". I think we can assume the tamarind switch would be the same as that described in the Prison (Amendment) Rules, from which it is evident that the instrument was very similar to the post-1960 Isle of Man birch.

George Osbourne v Jamaica
Official report of a UN Human Rights Committee hearing in 2000. The complainant was sentenced in 1994 to 15 years' jail and ten strokes of the tamarind switch for illegal firearms, robbery and wounding with intent. Evidence quoted includes an affidavit from another prisoner, Errol Price, also sentenced to prison and the tamarind switch in 1994, who received his punishment in 1997 in the Penitentiary at Kingston, and who describes the experience thus: he was "seized, blindfolded and ordered to remove clothing from the lower part of his body. When this was done, he was forced to lean forward across a barrel and one of the warders placed his penis into a slot in the barrel. He was then strapped into that position and struck across the buttocks with an instrument that he was unable to see [...] An unnecessary number of prison warders (25) were present at the time of the whipping."

    This description accords exactly with the reconstructed scene in the film The Harder They Come (see above), except that the prisoner in the film is brought to the barrel in his underpants, which are pulled down only after he is strapped to the barrel. In the full uncensored version of the film, the penis slot arrangement is clearly shown, the purpose of which was presumably to protect the genitals from being crushed against the barrel on the impact of the switch.

Higginson v Jamaica
Another UN Human Rights Committee hearing (2002). Higginson, at age 21 in 1995, was sentenced to jail plus six strokes of the tamarind switch. It's unclear whether or not the whipping had actually been carried out. The Committee found Jamaica to be in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights just for passing the sentence, whether or not it was inflicted. However, Jamaica resiled from the Optional Protocol (recognising the Committee's right to rule on violations of the Covenant) in 1998, and seems to have refused to have anything more to do with the procedure, so presumably both this case and the one mentioned above are now in limbo.

US State Department Human Rights Practices Report 1998
The appeal court ruled that flogging may not be imposed, as the legislative authority for it had expired (see this Dec 1998 news item).

A Summary of Concerns: A Briefing for the Human Rights Committee
Amnesty International document from 1997. Errol Price, sentenced in 1994 to the tamarind switch, received his 6 strokes in 1997; the document goes into detail about how they were administered. This was the first judicial CP to be administered in Jamaica in over 20 years.

Jamaica flag JAMAICA: Prison CP

Prison (Amendment) Rules, 1965
Rules for flogging and whipping in prisons. The dimensions of the cat and of the tamarind switch are given, the former to be inflicted on the back, the latter on the buttocks. CP in prisons for internal discipline reasons was abolished by the Law Reform (Flogging and Whipping) (Abolition) Act 2013.

Jamaica flag JAMAICA: Reformatory CP

Corporal punishment is prohibited in juvenile institutions under the Child Care and Protection (Children's Homes) Regulations (No. 22 of 2005). In the same year, a staff member at one children's home was suspended after being photographed caning one of the residents.

    Previously, the Juvenile (Children's Homes) Regulations, 1951, borrowing some language from equivalent UK rules, had stated that boys could be punished with a cane on the hands (max. three strokes per hand), or a cane or tawse on the posterior "clad in a pair of cloth trousers" (max. six strokes, but 12 strokes with the prior approval of the boss in the case of a boy aged over 12). Girls could receive up to three strokes on each hand, but only up to age 14.

Jamaica flag JAMAICA: School CP

CP in schools is lawful in Jamaica. The practice is known locally as "flogging" or "licks". It is clear from various reports that both the cane and the strap have been widely used in schools.

    The Education Act states that teachers may administer "reasonable corporal punishment". However, their own trade union has advised them not to use it, and to leave any CP to school principals.

    Meanwhile it was reported in 2009 that the Minister of Education had asked schools to stop using CP, but this did not have the force of law, and not all schools had done so.

    A number of persons have called for its "return", as in this April 2006 newspaper column, including a town mayor and the president of the teachers' union, as reported in these June 2013 news items.

    This view was reiterated by a former teachers' leader in Dec 2015.

    See also this video clip showing secondary students receiving punishment with a strap on the hands.

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GPTEVAC [PDF] cites a 2006 survey which found that 60% of respondents were in favour of caning and spanking in schools. It also confirms that (as of Feb 2019) CP in schools remains lawful, but public schools have been asked not to use it.

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Copyright © C. Farrell 2008-2023
Page updated November 2023