The Pains of Pretrial Detention in the Caribbean: Exploring Processes and Outcomes



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Pretrial detainees account for large portions of the total prison population in the Caribbean, including 60% of the total prison population in Trinidad and Tobago, 56% in Barbados, 50% in Suriname, 37% in Guyana, and 23% in Jamaica (Walmsley, 2020). Even more concerning, these individuals experience lengthy periods of incarceration, on average four years, before having their case heard at trial. They also experience higher levels of violence and victimization, participate less in work and educational activities while in prison, and experience life in worse conditions than their convicted counterparts, as they are usually housed in overcrowded facilities (Bergman et al., 2020). Despite the high presence of pretrial detainees in the criminal justice system and the documented harms that pretrial detention can cause individuals, pretrial-related research is limited in Caribbean criminological research. Little is known about the demographic makeup of the remand population, the causes of pretrial detention, or the processes, and outcomes of pretrial justice. Additionally, it is unknown whether the detrimental justice trajectories associated with pretrial detention that are reported in Western literature also occur in the Caribbean, where pretrial detention is frequently used. This international and comparative research project helps to fill this crucial gap in knowledge around Caribbean pretrial detention practices by examining the legal and extralegal factors that affect bail decisions and sentencing outcomes, the relationship between legal representation and pretrial detention lengths, and how individuals experience pretrial detention in five Caribbean countries. Quantitative analysis of self-reported survey data from 3,174 individuals who were either sentenced or in pretrial status at the time of the survey, indicated that legal factors such as prior incarceration and offense type influenced the decision to grant bail and that extra-legal factors such as gender and employment also affected bail decisions. Time spent in pretrial detention was found to be a key predictor of an individual’s decision to plead guilty, such that as time in pretrial detention increased, individuals were less likely to plead guilty. Also, longer periods of detention prior to trial lead to longer sentences. Findings also revealed a relationship between legal representation and time spent in pretrial detention; individuals who were informed about their right to an attorney, had an attorney present at the preliminary hearing, and had contact with an attorney spent less time in pretrial detention. Lastly, results suggest that pretrial detainees’ experience physical violence, property theft and witness sexual violence while in detention and that these experiences are linked with deprivations and burdens of prison life, such as, lack of good-quality food, deprivation of family visits and meaningful activities.



Bail decisions, Caribbean, Corrections, Legal counsel, Pains, Pretrial