The United States (US) STATE Department has warned that Jamaica’s overburdened justice system is crippling the country’s efforts to fight corruption, international drug trafficking, and violent criminal gangs.
The warning was contained in the latest report of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) – an agency of the State Department – which was released this month.
While commending Jamaica for making “slow but steady progress” in combating international narcotics and firearms trafficking, the INL’s International Narcotics Strategy Report for March 2015 charged that the country’s ineffective criminal courts have caused some of the worst criminal gangs to operate with impunity.
“Progress in combating narcotics, illicit trafficking, and corruption was hobbled by an under-funded, overburdened, and sluggish criminal justice system with limited effectiveness in obtaining convictions … . The conviction rate for murder was approximately five per cent, and the courts continued to be plagued by a culture of postponement and delays,” the report underscored.
It continued: “This lack of efficacy within the criminal courts contributed to impunity for many of the worst criminal offenders and gangs, an abnormally high rate of violent crimes, lack of cooperation by witnesses and potential jurors, and frustration among police officers.”
Justice Minister Mark Golding could not be reached for a response to the report.
Despite the challenges, the report lauded National Security Minister Peter Bunting and Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams for their public stance against corruption within the ranks of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and their efforts to reform the force have “suffered from decades of endemic corruption and high numbers of civilian deaths annually”, the INL noted.
According to the report, Jamaica has emerged as a major transit point for cocaine leaving Central America for the US, while some drug-trafficking organisations are exchanging Jamaican marijuana for cocaine.
These developments, the report said, are being influenced by, among other things, Jamaica’s rugged and difficult-to-patrol coastline; the nation’s status as a major trans-shipment hub for containerised cargo; inadequate education and employment opportunities for at-risk youth “who engage in crime”; and a struggling economy that encourages marijuana cultivation.
“One common practice of traffickers was to transport cocaine in large fishing vessels to a point several miles off the coast of Jamaica where small fishing canoes then carry the drugs to shore,” the report noted.
“The JDF [Jamaica Defence Force] Air Wing lacked a fixed-wing aircraft capable of detecting and tracking such vessels, and the JDF Coast Guard lacked swift and reliable vessels to intercept them,” it continued.
The INL also singled out the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and the Financial Investigations Division of the Ministry of Finance as some of the success stories in Jamaica’s push to stamp out public corruption.
However, it said the momentum gained by these and other law-enforcement agencies is being “limited by the chronic inability of prosecutors and the courts to keep pace and secure prompt convictions”.