By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FOR the fourth consecutive year, police abuse and an inefficient judicial system were highlighted as the most serious human rights problems in the Bahamas by American authorities.
In its annual human rights report, the US State Department once again underscored the failure of prison and detention facilities to meet international standards, and maintained concerns over corruption, violence and discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children; and discrimination based on ethnic descent, sexual orientation, or HIV status.
The 2014 report was released yesterday, and repeatedly indicated that the government did not provide updated data for that year.
It read: “The most serious human rights problems were police abuse; mistreatment of irregular migrants (compounded by problems in processing them); and an inefficient judicial system resulting in trial delays and an increase in retaliatory crime against both witnesses and alleged perpetrators.”
“Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, sitting judges are not granted tenure, and some law professionals asserted that judges were incapable of rendering completely independent decisions due to lack of job security.
“Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were a problem. The courts have not kept pace with the rise in criminal cases, and there was a growing backlog.”
The report pointed out that the capacity of the Carmichael Road Detention Centre was 150 persons housed in two dormitories, but the highest occupancy at the detention centre through November was 498 persons.
“The dormitories were segregated by gender and secured using locked gates, metal fencing, and barbed wire,” it read.
“When the dormitories exceeded maximum capacity, detention centre staff utilised the floor of the main hall in the medical building to accommodate up to another 50 individuals with sleeping space.
“Any additional detainees slept outside,” the report continued.
The report noted that while prison sanitation had improved, and new correctional services legislation placed greater emphasis on rehabilitation, the facility conditions remained harsh due to overcrowding.
Authorities reported that as many as five inmates were reportedly confined to cells intended for one or two prisoners in October.
At that time, the maximum-security wing held twice the number of inmates it was built to hold when constructed in 1953. The report also pointed out that authorities remanded non-Bahamian citizens to the maximum-security block if they posed an escape risk, and that an estimated 47 per cent of inmates held in that block were awaiting trial.
It continued: “Overcrowding, sanitation, and access to adequate medical care remained problems in the men’s maximum-security block.
“To address overcrowding in the remand centre, which stemmed from processing backlogs within the judicial system, authorities held prisoners awaiting trial in the maximum-security block.”
According to the report, officials indicated that there were 87 complaints to judicial authorities concerning situations in the prison as of October, mostly related to lack of shower time, cell temperatures, and lack of access to dental facilities.
“Through October 1, authorities reported 803 preliminary inquiries and investigations of staff and inmates, an increase from 22 through the same period in 2013, attributed to improved processes,” it continued.
As it relates to the judiciary, the report said: “Local legal professionals attributed delays to a variety of longstanding systemic problems, such as slow and limited police investigations, inefficient prosecution strategies, limited forensic capacity, lengthy legal procedures, and staff shortages in the prosecutor’s office and in the courts.”
It added: “Additional problems included a shortage of court reporters and extensive delays in producing transcripts. According to several legal professionals, government control of the budget and assignment of personnel remained a separation-of-powers problem.”