#diGDebate: Preventative Detention in Jamaica

In a press conference at Jamaica House on Wednesday, February 8, 2017, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that as part of its effort to deter crime, and especially domestic violence, the police would be implementing preventative detention.

What is preventative detention?

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: Preventative detention (also called preventive detention) is “the practice of incarcerating accused individuals before trial on the assumption that their release would not be in the best interest of society—specifically, that they would be likely to commit additional crimes if they were released. Preventive detention is also used when the release of the accused is felt to be detrimental to the state’s ability to carry out its investigation.”

Dictionary.com and a routine Google search give much simpler definitions:

1. “the holding of someone in jail or in an institution because he or she is regarded as a danger to the community.”

2. “the imprisonment of a person with the aim of preventing them from committing further offences or of maintaining public order.” 

The Gleaner’s coverage

The main arguments for and against preventative detention in Jamaica

Strong and varied responses to Holness’ announcement were almost instantaneous. Traditional media blew up with differing views on the necessity of the measure, as well as the legality and practicality of it.

Arguments for preventative detention:

  • It is expected to reduce the murder rate
  • ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures’: Jamaica’s very high crime rate and the increase in murders, especially since the start of 2017, require extraordinary action on the Government’s part to deter crime
  • ‘Prevention is better than cure’: It will, as the name suggests, ‘prevent’ crimes, since the (would-be) offender will be locked up and unable to perpetrate violence against anyone
  • It is, in this instance, a specific response to domestic violence and will, therefore, help in the protection of women and children

Arguments against preventative detention:

  • Human rights: Is it even legal to essentially lock someone up because you think they’re likely or about to commit a crime?
  • No clear guidelines for how to decide that a person is a would-be offender or perpetrator of violence, which therefore leaves it up to the police officer’s personal judgement, which could be faulty
  • Further victimisation of the poor and other already stereotyped/marginalised groups in society

Jamaican traditional media response

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo-Forte was interviewed on Dionne Jackson Miller’s ‘All Angles’ programme on Television Jamaica (TVJ) about what preventative detention would mean – in practical terms – for Jamaican law enforcement. Gleaner columnist Ian Boyne was quoted as saying that the enforcement of preventative detention could have an immediate impact on the murder rate.

Jamaican social media response

Popular and media personalities in Jamaica, as well as many concerned citizens, took to Twitter to voice their views on preventative detention. See the Storify below.

See also diG’s compilation on the Curtailing Civil Liberties debate sparked by Ian Boyne.