The story of Delroy McIntosh, imprisoned for nearly 25 years after being adjudged unfit to plead, is a national disgrace. The fact that Mr. McIntosh was originally imprisoned for possession of ganja is one of the irrelevancies that is often strewn across such discussions.
As was the case with Mario Deane, who died in police custody after being arrested for ganja possession, the issue here is not whether people should be locked up for possession of ganja. We should not therefore, be deluded into believing that the recent amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act will cure the problem.
I say this because the critical issue here is that a vulnerable man, with no one to advocate for him and remind the world that he existed, was lost in Jamaica’s prison system, and as a result lost 25 years of his life. The fact that he was locked up for possession of ganja is irrelevant because it could have been any other minor offence, and the result would have been the same.
In fact, we saw the same result in 2001, when Alfred “Ivan Barrows” Nettleford was released from prison after 28 years, having been jailed in 1972 for breaking a window.
The real issues here are the treatment of mentally ill people in the criminal justice system, the lack of proper treatment for them, and the lack of accountability and tracking of people in the system. These deficiencies resulted in the violation of Mr. McIntosh’s and Mr. Nettleford’s right to liberty. The sad truth is we have no idea whether there are any others in the same position.
As with “Ivan Burrowes,” Mr. McIntosh has been released thanks to the efforts of human rights activist, Nancy Anderson. On this occasion, students at the Norman Manley Law School worked along with her. She says she will be continuing this important work.
In the meantime, Justice Minister Mark Golding has promised improvements that will prevent a recurrence. That is an important first step. But we need more. We must see a thorough overhaul and streamlining of the way in which we deal with the mentally ill, other vulnerable groups, and indeed, all prisoners, to ensure that nothing like this happens again. And we must hold the Justice Minister to his word.