Since Jamaica's independence, we have had preventive detention in different forms for much the same reasons as in colonial times - to restrict rights of those deemed to have no rights in the first place.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, supported by people such as Professor Don Robotham, seems to be planning to enshrine in law the practices that have exacerbated social divisions for the past 500 years. Preventive detention has for years followed a pattern that looks like this:
. The police raid a community and hold 30 to 100 or more youth. The police may know they are looking for someone called "Fishface", for example. However, they have no further information on this person, and no description.
. Most of the youth are released after "processing", but two or three are further detained.
. The police say the youth are detained in connection with "crimes committed in the parish", but provide relatives with no specifics on charges.
. Weeks or months pass during which the detainees remain in lock-up, often "awaiting identification parades".
. The detainees may face several identification parades till one is finally identified, usually on charges of illegal possession of a gun or ammunition.
. The detainee is transferred from the police lock-up to the Horizon Remand Centre. He remains there for two or three years while trial dates are deferred because no witnesses turn up in court, or no gun or ammunition is produced.
. At the end of the lengthy detention, the judge may throw out the case because of absence of evidence, or the detainee may be found guilty despite lack of evidence.
One of the effects of preventive detention is to tarnish an innocent youth's reputation and cause him to lose his job if he has been employed. Another effect is to convince a young offender that the police are not competent to ferret out his crimes, and that he can outsmart them because they seem too often to throw out a net and hope for an incidental catch.
Preventive detention had very limited impact on the plantation - lowering fear a bit between slave rebellions while increasing the hostility that arose from the social injustice in the first place. Some members of our present government have far more recent experiences of the trauma of preventive detention.
Hopefully, before our decision-makers yet again try to use gas to put out fires, they may realise the insanity of re-introducing past mistakes and expecting different results.
Yvonne McCalla Sobers