“Worse than prison”: Life under the Witness Protection Programme

following up on the post:Glad to be alive and recovering well, we mentioned about the witness protection programme and the fact that many people are simply scared to become witnesses in court cases. Here is a piece from RJR NEWS regarding same.

Concerns have surfaced recently over the administration of the Ministry of National Security’s Witness Protection Programme.

The concerns relate to the level of protection as well as financial and emotional support being given to the participants.

One person, who has been in the programme for some time, took the risk of calling our news centre to share his story, claiming that he is at the breaking point.

The individual’s voice has been distorted to protect his identity.

Worse than prison.

That is how the witness protection programme has been described by the participant, who we will call Ted.

Ted told our news centre that he is now seriously regretting a decision to give information to the police and signing onto the Witness Protection Programme.

He said though he expected some dislocation due to the nature of the programme, the level of support he was promised on signing has not materialized.

“When they take you and ask you some questions, they build up your hopes about what they can do for you and what they will do for you. But as soon as you sign the paper and say you are ready to go on the Witness Protection Programme, they do nothing at all like that for you,” said Ted.

“I am not working and have four children and they have to get support and they are calling me, everyday they want money to go to school,” he continued.

Ted said many times, he has risked his life by going onto the streets without protection to seek medical attention or in a bid to sate his hunger, when what he described as the paltry stipend provided by the administrators of the programme runs out.

“Many days I leave here and go out on the road and walk up and down. Many times I see guys that I know and I have to leave because they [the police] don’t care about you,”

“They don’t want to go to the doctor, they don’t want to go to the supermarket you have to go out there yourself. Sometimes I feel sick and they don’t answer the phone, they just throw you in the house. They don’t even call you to find out how you’re doing,” “Sometimes the money they give me is finished in two weeks time and I have to leave to go to my family’s house to eat. I have to take the bus or taxi to go there to get something to eat. They don’t give me nothing at all, not even a little radio to listen to. They just don’t care about you,” said Ted.

Under the programme, witnesses are entitled to safe accommodation, including relocation to other parts of Jamaica or other counties if necessary, medical care, financial assistance, education for children and counselling.

However, another participant we will call her Dee, who has been on the programme for several years, questioned the programme’s stated benefits particularly in relation to medical care.

She has a medical condition which sees her spending up to $5,000 per month for medication.

“I’m basically damaged and the doctor said that I will be having limitations for life. I walk with a limp because most of my tendons are damaged and I am given $20,000 a month and out of the $20,000, $5,000 is for medicine and $15,000 for food. All they give me for medicine cannot cover my medical expenses and I cannot get a job because I have no ID,” Dee said.

She also told our news centre that the new identity she was promised when she signed on to the programme has still not materialised.

As a result she says she has been unable to land a job to support herself and has to exist as a non-person, totally dependent on the stipend provided by the programme’s administrators.

Dee also appealed for the administrators to put systems in place so seasoned members of the programme can provide support to other persons.

“I told them that I read up on the programme on the Internet and I did research. I said to them [the police] let some of us give you ideas of how to do it and I even said to them I know my life is not going to be the same again, take some of us from the programme and put back to work. Some of us need counseling,” Dee said.

“I told the government to pay me to do something else, to help some other people I don’t want to take handouts from them. I am not used to hand outs, just give me something that can help benefit the country and the government,” she continued.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Gilbert Scott, refused to discuss details of how the programme is administered or the arrangements but insisted that it is performing up to par.

“The programme has a ratio of one to four between primary witnesses and dependents and all their needs are taken care of. The programme as far as we are concerned operates successfully and any particular concern is brought to our attention we make sure that it is dealt with the appropriate vigour,” said Mr. Scott.

Mr. Scott indicated that an investigation would be launched to resolve the issues raised by the participants who spoke with our news team.

Last June, the Ministry boasted of its track record in protecting state witnesses since it assumed responsibility for the Justice Protection Unit (JPU).

The unit was previously managed by the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

At the time, the Security Ministry claimed no witness had been killed or harmed in the ten years since it took over the programme.

It said since the programme’s implementation, nearly 1,500 persons have benefited from the services of the JPU, including both primary witnesses and their dependents.

The Ministry claimed that 182 of the persons who accessed the Programme were successfully released.

The Witness Protection Programme was implemented to deal with the danger witnesses face from criminals who threaten and intimidate them to discourage them from appearing in court.

Once a witness signs on to the programme, they are required to remain in it until after the case is tried and it is deemed safe for them to leave.

(and then we wonder why people turn to the dons and henchmen to “clear up” disputes and porblems)

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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