The Death Penalty Project, based in London, has been working to give legal assistance to persons accused of serious crimes, particularly those under the death penalty. Its attorneys have worked on some of the biggest criminal cases in Belize’s history. While there is no one currently on death row at the Kolbe Foundation-managed Central Prison at Hattieville, the organization, working with the Bar Association of Belize, is turning its attention to conditions at the prison itself. With more here is co-executive director of the Project, Parvais Jabbar.
“It is really a fact-finding report, rather than a report with recommendations and so on. Through discussions with the Bermuda Bar Association, and at the behest of the President and the Bar Association, one of the ideas was convene a meeting l8ike this, to share those findings, to discuss and deliberate, to try to understand the positive way in which to move forward. That is the basis of these discussions. They are round table discussions, to really discuss the issues that have emerged, and how best to take it forward. So, it’s a positive meeting rather than, as it were, a meeting that is to, as Mr Courtenay has said, to name, shame, or blame anybody.”
The report does note that juvenile prisoners, those under the age of 18, are lumped in with the adult population. Prisoners with mental health issues are also on the agenda according to Bar Association President, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay.
“Some of the issues that have been raised are concerns about persons who are in the Prison with mental illness, persons who have been tried and then can’t be sentenced because of their mental state, and persons who are just awaiting trial because they have been found to be unfit to plead, and yet they’re just sitting in the Prison. We’ll be discussing issues of persons who get very long sentences, like what we call lifers, people who are sent to Prison for life and cannot have remission of sentence or parole. We want to discuss the very serious issue of juveniles, very young people. For example there’s a person who is fourteen years old on remand. [There are] young people in Prison to whom the Prison rules apply, in other words there is no special rule for juvenile young people to be treated slightly different. Those people are subjected to the prison rules.”
The Kolbe Foundation cooperated with the study and offered a response through its CEO, Earl Jones, a former Magistrate. Eamon Courtenay says their effort is part of the overall remit of the Association to assist in the development of the legal profession here.
“Well, as you know, we have an obligation under our Constitution, and under the Legal Profession Act, to participate and promote reform, revision of laws, to protect the human rights of all people in Belize. In many instances that is done by our members, who represent clients. But there’s also a role for the Association to play in meeting with stakeholders and trying to support their initiatives and, in some cases, to lead initiatives for reform and remediating situations that we find in our society. This is a particularly important project for us and we have partnered with the Death Penalty Project from London, who we have a long-standing working relationship with, and we’re really hoping for some positive outcomes.”
The report will be released widely following Friday’s discussion, held in Belize City.