By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A LOCAL attorney has endorsed the United States’s recent condemnation of the country’s inhumane prison conditions, charging that the accuracy of the report is “frightening”.
Nicholas Mitchell supported the US State Department’s report that The Bahamas has long subjected inmates to “hardship of an intensity far exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention”.
He said government’s failures to rectify the problem forces the judiciary to sentence offenders of “any and all categories” to suffer through “horrific conditions”, which in turn gives rise to “actionable claims for the violation of human rights”.
Earlier this week, the US State Department’s latest human rights report described The Bahamas’ prison conditions as “life-threatening”.
The report further said conditions at the BDCS “failed to meet international standards in some areas and were harsh due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, and inadequate sanitation and ventilation”.
According to the report, overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate access to medical care and drinking water remained problems in the men’s maximum security block.
Additionally, pretrial detainee juveniles were held with adults at the Fox Hill remand centre, the report said.
“The government stated inmates consistently received three meals a day, but some inmates and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) reported inmates received only two meals per day, with a meal sometimes consisting only of bread and tea,” the report said. “Fresh fruit and vegetables were rare to non-existent. Prisoners also reported infrequent access to drinking water and inability to save potable water due to lack of storage containers for the prisoners.
"Many cells also lacked running water, and in those cells, inmates removed human waste by bucket. Sanitation was a general problem, with cells infested with rats, maggots, and insects. Ventilation was also a general problem. Prisoners in maximum security had access to sanitary facilities only one hour a day and used slop buckets as toilets.
“Prison inmates complained about the lack of beds and bedding. As a result, inmates developed bedsores from lying on the bare ground. The availability of prescribed pharmaceuticals and access to physician care were sporadic. There was inadequate access to the men’s second floor medical centre for sick inmates or inmates with disabilities. Inmates reportedly used a wheelbarrow to transport inmates unable to walk to the clinic.”
Mr Mitchell, in a statement to The Tribune, said: “The issues highlighted in the report, and as communicated by inmates with whom I’ve spoken; overcrowding of prison cells, lack of access to drinking water, food of little to no nutritional value (sometimes simply tea and bread), a lack of ventilation and adequate lighting, and abuse by guards at the correctional facility are all compounding factors which epitomise degrading treatment or punishment."
“It is time that the Government recognises that there must be some consideration given to the relationship between the grounds of permitted deprivation of liberty and the place and conditions of detention,” he added. “The mere existence of the present (and only) correctional facility creates a precarious situation where the government, in failing to seriously consider the construction of a new prison, or upgrades to the present facility, has left the judiciary with no choice but to sentence offenders of any and all categories to suffer through the horrific conditions giving rise to actionable claims for the violation of Constitutional rights.”
Mr Mitchell is no stranger to the discussion surrounding the bad reports emanating from the Fox Hill facility.
In April of last year, one of his clients, Denico Bowe, who was recently acquitted of murdering another on Potter’s Cay Dock three years ago, filed a lawsuit against the government for unlawfully detaining him for some five days after he was found not guilty of the crime.
According to Bowe’s sworn affidavit, he was forced to urinate in jars and was not provided with access to a toilet. He claimed he was also forced to defecate in a slop bucket, which was “simply dumped periodically”.
Bowe, who is also represented by attorney David Cash, said there were between five to seven men in a cell at any given time. And if the slop bucket were ever to get full, he would be forced to defecate in a plastic “bread bag”, that is, the narrow, long, plastic bag that holds a regular loaf of bread.
And if his family had not visited him, Bowe claimed in his affidavit, he would not have had the plastic bag to defecate in during his time in custody. He also claimed he had to “use and experience” other inmates using their T-shirts and socks to clean themselves because there was no toilet tissue.
He also alleged the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services never provided an update on his release or status, but instead taunted him by saying he may be released “today, tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday, who knows when they ga let you go”.
Bowe also claimed he contracted scabies and was exposed to inmates with tuberculosis, making him sick on numerous occasions. He alleged he was forced to use his “bathing bucket” from which to drink water when no other containers were available.
Bowe and his attorneys also claim that their client is a “practising Rastafarian” who informed the prison staff of his religion and its practices, and was still made to “consume food and engage in practices which violated his beliefs, or in the alternative prevented him from engaging in the rituals, practices and traditions of his faith thereby infringing on his absolute Constitutional right to freedom of religion".
“We have for too long now ignored the fact that the manner and method of detention is subjecting inmates to distress and hardship of an intensity far exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Given the practical demands of imprisonment, their health and well-being are not adequately secured and the state is clearly perpetuating a violation of Article 17 of the Constitution, and the correctional services legislation”.
He added: “This is not a new cause, as advocates have been fighting for the rights of inmates, and against the conditions at the prison since the 1980’s, disappointingly not much seems to have changed. Until such time as the state decides to begin in earnest the conversation on improving conditions at the (BDCS), the wheel of human rights violations will continue to turn.
“It is incumbent upon us as a people to find compassion in our hearts, and incumbent upon legal practitioners, and human rights advocates to be the voice of the voiceless.”