Contributor, Jamaica Gleaner
DISPARITY IN the United States (US) prison system goes beyond being sufficient punishment for convicted Jamaican inmates. For Jamaicans and other blacks, the playing field is unequal, beginning in the US courtrooms, basically because 90 per cent of all convictions end in plea bargains, rather than through court trials. Jamaican men are often persuaded to accept plea deals, with the hope of avoiding long sentences that the prosecution has threatened. However, a large percentage of these men would have been found legally innocent had their cases been heard in actual court proceedings. While it is always best to stay far from all illegal activities, it is most imperative to learn the laws of the land in whatever area of America Jamaicans choose to reside. Taking the necessary steps for legal self-protection is essential. Far too many Jamaicans are serving sentences for crimes they did not commit, and had most of them known their legal rights, they would not be incarcerated. The legal right not to speak to the arresting officer is the most important of all. That said, this imperative legal right is the one that has caused severe damage to the cases involving most Jamaicans. Whatever a suspect says to the arresting officer can be and is used against him in the court proceedings. And far too many Jamaicans start to talk to officers before they speak with an attorney. Thus, once in the courtroom, that same obtained information is twisted in a way that supports the agenda, which the arresting officer and the prosecution stipulate it should serve. The defence lawyer then enters and pushes the accused to accept a plea bargain, rather than taking the case before the courts. Jamaican men have been convicted 95 per cent of the time based on their acceptance of plea deals when they could have fought their cases in the court, and at least 30 per cent of those cases would have been dismissed by the judge for lack of evidence and/or wrong charges being filed!
Unfortunately, the disparity in unjust treatment does not end in the courtroom. There is an enormous number of prisons guards who are the worst criminals in most American prisons. These officers have authority over the inmates and they are hired to maintain order; however, far too many of them use their authority to smuggle in cellphones and drugs, as well as to abuse and mistreat the inmates. Jamaican men have been targeted in many of these prisons and they have received abusive treatment from many prison guards. One Florida prison institution, in particular, regularly falsely accuses Jamaican men merely because they feel no one will fight for them. In fact, I have made countless calls to family members to make them aware of the illegal treatment their loved ones are receiving. Over the past year, this particular facility has received hundreds of complaints, and, supposedly, the State is investigating all of the claims. Many Jamaican inmates have been beaten, two have been killed, many have been spat on by the guards, and some have been sexually harassed as well! All of these acts are illegal on the streets and in prisons as well. The officers contributing to this horrific behaviour should themselves be convicted; however, this has generally not happened. The more awareness raised and the more focus placed on these travesties, the sooner the appropriate corrections will be implemented. Innocent or guilty, our Jamaican men should not be treated as though they are less than human. In fact, 90 per cent of all inmates currently serving sentences will be released someday, and many Jamaican inmates will be deported. Thus, when that day arrives, many of them will hate all law enforcement, simply because of the illegal and unacceptable behaviour displayed by US prison guards.
(This article was originally published in The Jamaica Gleaner, Sunday, March 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.)
Iyata Christi is a doctoral
Email feedback to