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Judicial CP - November 1994

The Weekly Journal, London, 17 November 1994

Flogging debate heats up Jamaica

By Horace Awori

After a quarter of a century, the courts have brought back the tamarind switch as a means of punishment. But not everyone is happy.

PRISON authorities say they are going ahead with preparations for the flogging of convicted felons, but human rights advocates and some attorneys continue to denounce recent decisions by judges who have ordered a return to the tamarind switch.

"I am of the view that flogging must be a category of inhuman and degrading treatment," says Delroy Chuck, attorney-at-law. Chuck says flogging infringes Section 17 (1) of the Constitution dealing with protection against inhuman or degrading punishment.

Bishop Herro Blair, of the Deliverance Centre feels the reintroduction of flogging will do no good. He says the already barbaric environment in Jamaican prisons was "graduating hardened criminals", and that flogging was not going to help the situation.

The debate on flogging began heating up in late August when a high court judge on the island ordered that 23-year-old Errol Pryce be whipped as part of his punishment for stabbing and crippling the mother of his girlfriend. Pryce is to receive six strokes with the tamarind switch as well as serve four years in prison at hard labour.

His attorney, CJ Mitchell, says Pryce is looking towards the possible flogging "with great fear and apprehension" and the thrust of an appeal will revolve around the corporal punishment aspect of the sentence. Mitchell says he would have preferred that an arrangement be made in which Pryce would be ordered to support the victim financially as part of the sentence.

He says such a sentence would be appropriate because the victim is now confined to her bed and has no financial help except from her children who can barely help themselves. "The flogging will mean nothing to her in terms of assistance," Mitchell argues.

But the judge, Carl Patterson, said at the time that the lashes were ordered because of the "reprehensible" nature of the crime. Since Patterson's ruling, a judge in St James, in the northern section of the island, has ordered that three men be similarly whipped for the armed robbery of three Italian tourists.

The men also received prison sentences of 19 months each. Flogging has not been used as part of a sentence in Jamaica for 25 years. Although the laws still exist on the books, the use of flogging has been described as a barbaric and backward step by its opponents, who also argue that the practice is not in keeping with efforts at criminals' rehabilitation.

One advocate says a report of a committee appointed by the Ministry of Justice recommended its abolition over a decade ago. Meanwhile, Claude O'Regan, president of the union representing prison warders says he was not sorry for persons sentenced to be flogged but was concerned for the safety of the prison warders who had to carry out the act. "Prison warders are not like the police who can go home with their guns," he says.

But Commissioner of Correctional Services, Colonel John Prescod says he does not buy the argument that prison warders are in more danger if they legally flog prisoners. "I don't feel it is a genuine concern. No-one has to know who is doing the flogging," says Prescod. "There are things that can be done to reduce the element of risk."

He also says at present there are some warders who illegally beat inmates. "I mean some of them brutalise inmates, even crack their skulls. Where is the concern for safety then?" asked Prescod.

Prescod has declined to say how the flogging will be done. He has however ruled out the possibility of inmates being blindfolded, but says the person would be "secured properly with the instruments provided" . The Commissioner of Corrections also says floggings will be done in the presence of a doctor who will ensure that no undue cruelty occurs during the beating.

"The doctor can intervene and stop the flogging if he determines that there is undue cruelty," he says. And prison authorities are going ahead with preparations but the public will not be told when such beatings will begin.

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