DHSA GRANT REPORTS- Rebecca Norris
Rebecca Norris (2004), 6 month (2009/2010) legal internship working with Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights (IJCHR), NGO raising the profile of the rights of individuals by acting for those who cannot afford legal assistance.
Capital punishment remains a sentencing option in Jamaica, but a direct consequence of the commutation of hundreds of death sentences into full life sentences has led to disastrous overcrowding of correctional centres and huge case backlog. Prison conditions have now degenerated due to stretched resources.
IJCHR devotes significant resources to inmates and I spent much time working in correctional centres interviewing inmates and dealing with issues from riots and hunger strikes to parole matters and mental illness. One of only three people doing this type of work and corresponding caseload, combined with the slow pace of the Jamaican criminal justice system, meant the lack of results became frustrating at times. Part of a team running a drop-in clinic to help and support those with legal or wider social issues. Many cases involved unlawful police shootings so I would attempt to negotiate settlements with the Government's legal representatives. Helped in this task by my involvement in training police recruits it gave me the opportunity to gauge their attitudes towards some of the root causes of social tension that lead to frequent fatal police shootings.
Despite this, Jamaica's troubles do not overshadow the captivating vibrancy and beauty of the island and its inhabitants. Meeting some inspiring clients and lawyers who have influenced my personal and professional outlook, the opportunity to experience the workings and failings of the Jamaican justice system was a privilege and I hope to continue to be heavily involved in Caribbean work during my career as a barrister.