Bahamian Prison System Out of Control
Leading human rights activist suspects that there are many cases of illegal imprisonment both at Fox Hill Prison and the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
The lengthy, unlawful imprisonment of a Japanese man, coupled with reports of alleged beatings, the recent escape of four inmates and the subsequent killing of a prison officer, shows that the Bahamas' prison system is "completely out of control," a human rights activist charged yesterday.
Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, made this statement after learning of the case of Atain Takitota - a Japanese national who was imprisoned in the Bahamas for eight years without trial.
The Court of Appeal awarded Mr Atain $500,000 in damages on Thursday, ruling that the appellant had been unlawfully jailed in August, 1992, after arriving in Nassau from Osaka, Japan, and being granted permission to remain in the country for one week.
Mr Smith said he applauded the Court of Appeal for vindicating Mr Atain, adding, however, that considering the nature of the appellant's ordeal, higher damages should have been awarded.
"While $500,000 is certainly a substantial sum, it should have been more. Half a million is still far too low," he said.
Mr Smith that this case demonstrated the "desperate need" for a more transparent prison system.
"We cannot have a penal system where people get lost. What it means is that we have to be alert and regularly review who is in Fox Hill Prison, and who of those persons should be there and who should not," he said.
Mr Smith said he suspects that there are many cases of illegal imprisonment both at Fox Hill Prison and the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, "especially as it concerns illegal immigrants". "The problem of this kind of arbitrary and unlawful detention has plagued the Bahamas for decades," he said.
Mr Smith said that, particularly in the 1980s, the Human Rights Association brought numerous habeas corpus cases before the Bahamian courts in an effort to free inmates who were allegedly being held unlawfully.
The case of Mr Atain, he said, demonstrates once more the need for the prison to allow a "responsible non-governmental organisation like the GBHRA" to be allowed to view prison operations. "What do they have to hide?" he asked.
In the case of Mr Atain, Appeal Justices Dame Joan Sawyer, Lorris Ganpatsingh and Emmanuel Osadabay ruled that the appellant was held at both Carmichael Road Detention Centre and Fox Hill Prison.
The judgment said the only reason ever given for his detention was that he was an "undesirable and his presence was not conducive to the public good."
During his imprisonment at Fox Hill, where he shared a cell with up to 19 other inmates, Mr Atain attempted to commit suicide three times.
According to court records, he was arrested the same day he arrived in the Bahamas.
The judgment handed down on Thursday said he was arrested on Paradise Island and taken to Central Police Station on suspicion of trying to break into a vehicle and then later of being a vagrant.
However, Mr Atain was never charged with either of those offences, the judgment read.
Police compiled a document based on information given to them by Mr Atain. The final line in the document recommended a deportation order.
A "deportation cum detention" order was made by the then Minister of Immigration, which declared that Mr Atain "shall leave the Bahamas immediately after the date hereof and thereafter remain out of the Bahamas," the judgment said.
The order stated that the governor general sanctioned Mr Atain's detention until such time, as he could board a craft about to leave the Bahamas. However, the judgment noted that it is unclear how or when the governor general would have sanctioned the detention of the appellant.
The judgment went on to note that, although Mr Atain was never taken before a court, the prison produced a document claiming that he was sentenced, on August 19, 2002, by the "S and C M Court in Nassau" to await deportation.
"This statement was clearly inaccurate", the judgment said.
Karin Herig Tribune Staff Reporter