Democracy and rights

Government power regularly shifts through elections in Jamaica, which is a relatively stable democracy. In terms of freedom of the press, Jamaica is ranked alongside countries in Western Europe and the highest of all countries in the Western Hemisphere. However, corruption is a serious social problem, as are the links between politicians and organized crime, and the widespread violent crime.

Gang crime has long had political dimensions. Violence generally increases in election times. Many gang leaders had previous ties to one of the two major parties (see Political system), which in the 1970s equipped them with weapons. In return, the gang leaders made sure the voters in their district voted for the “right” party. Now several leagues appear to act without political links (see below).

Violence and harassment against women and LGBT people are common (see Social conditions). Representatives of the women’s movement and persons who have been subjected to sex-based violence have in recent years carried out protest actions against the widespread impunity for such crimes.

In Transparency International’s (TI) index of corruption, Jamaica ranks 74th out of 180 countries and territories. It is a better location than many Latin American countries but worse than many of the small Caribbean states that are also former British colonies (the list is available here). TI notes that not much has changed in recent years despite the government’s stated intention to curb corruption.

Freedom of expression and media

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press and opinion and the media can for the most part act free from political interference. Criticism against the country’s rulers is often in the media.

In election times, journalists are often subjected to various kinds of pressure, mainly threats from criminal street gangs with ties to the political parties. But in general, freedom of the press is good. The possibility of prosecution for slander was removed in 2013, although the person being sued for slander can be sentenced to high fines.

Occasional physical attacks against journalists occur, but no case of serious violence or threat to media freedom has been reported since 2009 (when two cases of police abuse occurred).

Abbreviated as JAM, Jamaica is ranked in honorable 6th place by 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index of World Countries compiled by Reporters Without Borders (full list available here).

Judicial system and legal security

The judicial system is ineffective and overloaded and legal processes are often lengthy. Human rights organizations regularly report abuse and torture of prisoners in Jamaica’s overcrowded prisons. Many interns are detained for long periods without prosecution.

The death penalty can be punished for murder. A 20-year moratorium on the death penalty was abolished by Parliament in 2008, but despite that, no one has been executed since 1988.

For a number of years, Jamaica has been ranked fifth in the world in terms of number of homicides per inhabitant. Just over half of the murders lead to arrests and only 7 percent to conviction. It contributes to a lack of confidence in the justice system and leads to the formation of the citizenry, which in turn increases the violence. But a decrease was noted in 2018 compared to the previous year, which according to the government was due to the establishment of special zones (Zones of Special Operation, Zoso) in which the military helps in police operations.

During large parts of 2018, there were emergency permits in two districts, Saint James and Saint Catherine North because of the violence (see Calendar).

Many of the murders constitute settlements between criminal gangs, but the security forces are also guilty of extrajudicial executions of suspected criminals. Nowhere else in the world are so many civilians shot to death by the police and the army in relation to the crowd. Imprisonment is widespread: suspected murderers and soldiers are almost always free from prosecution. During the period 2000–2016, more than 3,000 people were shot to death by the police, most of them young men, according to Amnesty International.

Jamaica Crime Rate & Statistics

Jamaica Democracy and Rights
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