The Gleaner, Jamaica: WESTERN BUREAU, Friday, June 19, 2020 – An elderly man who is mentally ill and who was deemed unfit to plead has been locked away between jails and prison for 16 years for smashing a windscreen.
The case of Falmouth native Morris ‘Rassimong’ Small, who is believed to be in his 70s, looms large amid a justice scandal that has triggered public outrage and shame on Jamaica’s political, national security, and justice architecture.
His case comes weeks after an Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) report revealed that 81-year-old Noel Chambers, who was also deemed unfit to plead, died in January 2020 after 40 years without trial. Chambers’ emaciated body was covered with bedsores, bedbugs, and vermin bites.
Small, a distinct figure with flowing dreadlocks and a penchant for engaging in spirited debates about the Black Power movement, had occasionally launched unprovoked attacks on commuters in the northern parish of Trelawny. It was one such attack on a passing motor car in 2004 that landed him in the penal system.
“He smashed a windscreen of a motor car, and he was arrested and charged with malicious destruction of property,” a policeman familiar with his case told The Gleaner.
“When he went to court, he was deemed unfit to plead and has, basically, remained behind bars between the lock-ups at Ulster Spring, Clark’s Town, and Falmouth (all in Trelawny), and the St Catherine District Prison (in Spanish Town).”
It is unclear how many times Small has appeared before the court, but records at the Trelawny Parish Court showed that his matter was called up twice in 2019 and once this year. He is scheduled to appear in court again at the end of July.
Chambers’ death has become a caus é cel è bre for an overhaul of the incarceration of mentally ill persons, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressing embarrassment at the fiasco and Chief Justice Bryan Sykes issuing an unprecedented statement of regret.
The INDECOM report said that seven other inmates remained behind bars for more than 40 years. Among them is 71-George Williams, who faced court on Wednesday for the first time in 48 years.
HAVE A REVOLT
Former prison doctor Raymoth Notice said that while he is aware of efforts to help prisoners with mental-health challenges, the stress associated with incarceration often frustrated inmates’ response to treatment.
“… Any stressful situation is going to cause a person to have a revolt into a state of unsoundness … . The bigger problem is not in the prisons, it is in the jails. I don’t think any treatment at all is being carried out in the jails.”
Notice described the series of breakdowns in the penal system as “a relay”.
“When it is not the prison, it is the court. When it is not the court, it is the police, and when it is not the police, it is the family who neglect,” he said.
Notice is recommending that superintendents of police in the various divisions develop protocols to deal with the treatment of such prisoners.
“They are not to keep them there (in lock-ups). They are not in their sound mind and therefore cannot just be released back into society like that,” said Notice.
Had the Trelawny Municipal Corporation acted on a recommendation from former councillor of the Sherwood Content division, Fernandez Smith, at the time of the incident, Small probably would not have been languishing between jails and prison, facing an uncertain future.
“At the time of the incident, I moved a resolution in the council to get him released (from lock-up) so that he could get the treatment he needed and then either have him reunited with his family or placed at the infirmary,” said Smith.
“Unfortunately, after I left the council, nothing was done, and as you can see, he is now still in the penal system, 16 years later.”