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Senior cop says tough action needed to curb ganja-smoking at court

BY PAUL HENRY Crime/Court Desk co-ordinator henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 30, 2013    

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A senior police officer at the Supreme Court has called for body cavity searches to be conducted on prisoners in the holding area of the court to combat the problem of ganja smoking there.

Ugal McDonald, the Island Special Constabulary Force's assistant commander in charge of security at the court, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that his men have been stymied in their efforts to locate and seize the illegal substance from the prisoners.

"One of the problem is that the police do not have the authority to do body cavity searches," said McDonald, a day after prisoners and police clashed in the holding area, resulting in one of the cops being injured.

"The authority would have to get a team of medical personnel for that purpose," McDonald said.

"That would be my recommendation. We would want the doctors here, especially on a mention day like Friday," he emphasised.

Friday is the busiest day at the building, with up to 150 inmates being brought there from various detention centres across the Corporate Area and out of town for their cases to be mentioned in the Home Circuit Court and the High Court Division of the Gun Court.

It's not uncommon for inmates to be held with ganja during that time, even after being thoroughly searched before being placed in the holding area. Neither is it unusual for the building to be permeated with the scent of the burnt weed on the ground floor holding area.

Court authorities have grappled with the issue over the years, to no avail. There have been occasions, McDonald said, when search teams with dogs were brought in only to have the pungent scent of the weed oozing from the area after they leave.

Yesterday, McDonald said he was satisfied that none of the personnel who work in the holding area had provided inmates with ganja.

Furthermore, he said that the cells are thoroughly checked in the mornings before the prisoners are brought in. He said the conclusion has been drawn that the inmates smuggle the drug in their body cavities.

Regarding the dust-up on Monday, McDonald said contrary to media reports, it did not result from the smoking of ganja.

According to him, the policeman had opened a cell to put an inmate in, whom he had just escorted from a courtroom, when he noticed another inmate passing a lit tissue to another.

The cop, McDonald said, attempted to confiscate the tissue before first securing the inmate he had been escorting. As a result, other inmates pushed their way out of the opened cell and attacked the police. Other police personnel got involved and used pepper spray to subdue the inmates, McDonald said.

The injured policeman was treated at hospital and released with two days sick leave.

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