STORY By JACK WARNER
The media screamed at us that there was trouble in the Remand Yard at Golden Grove. Riots, fire, prison break attempt! Two prison officers injured! This, of course, was to cement in the minds of people in the free world that the people in Remand Yard were criminals bent on causing trouble. I don’t condone the prisoners’ reaction to what must be a state of abject misery and hopelessness.
Of course, we in the free world who do not have to share a six by nine cell with five other men, defecate in a bucket and sleep on the floor, were quick to add our two cents worth calling for the harshest of punishment for these inmates.
Let me remind you that inmates in Remand Yard are not convicted, men or women. They are all innocent until proven guilty. They have not been tried. Therein lies the problem. If we in the free world listen to what they are saying, we will hear that persons charged with serious offences have to wait for an average of six years before they can have their matters heard by a magistrate. If they are then committed they have to wait another ten years for a trial. And if they appeal a conviction and win they have to wait another six to eight years before they have a retrial. A possible sixteen to twenty-two years to prove their innocence. I don’t for one moment believe they are all innocent. But I also don’t for one moment believe they are all guilty.
We forget that whilst they are on remand they are entitled to be treated with respect and care, and the powers that be must ensure their constitutional rights are preserved. From the reports, I gathered that one of the complaints was that they were not being taken to court and therefore had no idea when their court date would be. Can you imagine being locked up for years without a trial and not knowing when you will have your matter heard? We in the free world are quick to suggest copper bullets for the inmates.
Lucrative transportation contracts
I recall that early in his tenure as Attorney General, Faris Al Rawi announced having adjournment courts in the prisons. A false promise with a smile, given by a man in the free world with the power to spout these worthless words. Had the Adjournment courts been set up as promised, the prisoners during this time of public health risks would have had their matters dealt with in these courts and at least would have had an idea of what was happening with their matters.
The frustration would not have snowballed as it did. Perhaps it has not been implemented and has no hope of being implemented during this government’s five-year term because of somebody or bodies with lucrative transportation contracts pulling the financial strings. And so the inmates suffer!
These persons on remand are condemned to having their liberty taken away for years without their guilt being proven by a system that has failed them. They have been failed by a justice system that has forgotten the meaning of justice. They have been failed by successive governments who forget that they are citizens with rights, specifically a right to a quick and fair trial. More importantly, they have been failed by us in the free world, who sit back and allow it to happen and then condemn them in the harshest of ways when they rebel. History has shown us that often we have to fight for our rights or lie down and suffer.
I have been told that three men have been charged with a serious offence twelve years ago and are still before the Tobago magistrate’s court without the preliminary inquiry being completed. If they are committed after the preliminary inquiry, they are likely to wait about eight years for a trial, a total of twenty years for their day in court.
I have read recently that two persons who had been charged in 2006 for a capital offence found guilty and appealed their convictions were successful in their appeal.
The court of appeal upheld seven out of nine grounds of appeal and commented that the judge had made several errors. In other words, if the judge had properly directed the jury, the verdict may have been different. The matter was sent back for retrial. This may take another eight to ten years. So by the time these men get another trial, 22 to 25 years of their lives would have passed, living in conditions so deplorable and so dehumanizing, that we in the free world can hardly imagine.
This and previous governments have failed to find solutions to the unacceptable prison conditions. They have failed to find solutions to a crumbling justice system. They instead pander to certain interests to the detriment of the average man in the street and this case, the average man in remand.
For too long in this country, our self-righteous, privileged citizens feel that it is okay to trample on the constitutional rights of the less privileged and in the case of remanded prisoners, those we have condemned without a fair trial.
Perhaps the pandemic we face was sent to level the playing field.