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Nov 26, 2014

Behind the Prison Gates

The penal system, despite various initiatives by the Kolbe Foundation to improve overall wellbeing at the Belize Central Prison, is bogged down by a number of human rights issues that are adversely affecting inmates.  These concerns include an extreme lack of resources at hand for the diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill prisoners.  Equally appalling is the fact that an inmate at the facility is presently serving a life sentence for a crime committed while he was underage.  The punishment is in spite of a Supreme Court decision that such sentences are unlawful.  These are only two of six glaring observations made by renowned human rights attorney Joseph Middleton on a working visit to Belize in late July 2013.  Out of that comes ‘Behind the Prison Gates’, a comprehensive report on findings and recommendations on how to improve the criminal justice system in Belize.  That information, released under the Death Penalty Project, was launched this morning at the Radisson.

 

Joseph Middleton, Human Rights Attorney

Joseph Middleton

“It does deal with issues of mental health, it deals with the issue of juveniles, it deals with pretrial delays and other issues.  But those, I think, are probably the three biggest ones; mental health, juveniles and delays and I shan’t go into any details about what the report says but there are clear issues about prisoners with mental health issues, not having their mental health reviewed either by medical professionals or by the courts in the way that they should have been and, as you heard, that is being dealt with.  On delay, it’s clear that the delays that have been happening I’m afraid, continue to happen, are bad for everyone.  They are bad for the protection of fundamental rights, they are bad for the presumption of innocence and the notion that we don’t lock people up in prison for very long periods of time when they haven’t been taken to court and the evidence against them haven’t been tested; when they haven’t been convicted of any criminal offense.  But it’s also terrible for the people of Belize who care about the criminal justice system and want people who commit crimes to be prosecuted and to be convicted and to be punished.  The longer the delay the less likely it is that anybody will be prosecuted successfully because witnesses will forget what they have seen, documents will be lost, witnesses won’t even be found or brought to trial and so people who have committed offences won’t be brought to justice.”

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