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Delayed justice causes a rippling effect in families
The identity of the interviewee in this article has been withheld for security and legal reasons. As such, an alias was provided.
It's been three years, but the pain and grief are fresh as ever and the tears continue to flow from the eyes of Cherri Morton.
“No day is the same. I keep wanting to see my son walk through my gate with his big smile and my granddaughter in tow,” she tells the Sunday Guardian.
But Morton believes with the slow justice system in T&T, she may have to wait a lifetime before she could hug her son again.
In April 2015, Morton got what she describes as the worst news of her life. Her eldest of four children, a former sprinter who once competed at national level, had been arrested, charged and remanded for murder, in what she depicts as a bizarre twist of events, that she claims, all points to him being innocent.
“He was never even placed on an ID parade and we were told by the police, he was not a suspect. So I don't understand why my son still lock up and they know the truth,” Morton says while trying to fight back tears.
Since her son was incarcerated, Morton has suffered bouts of depression and has been unable to keep a steady appetite. She said the only thing that has kept her is her faith in God and prayers from the congregation at the church she attends.
For Morton, her son was like the pride of the family. She said he had broken many cycles in both his family and the community in which they lived. He was the first to attend a prestige secondary school after writing the then Common Entrance Exam, now the Secondary Entry Assessment (SEA). In 2009, he almost won an Olympic qualifying 100-metre race but his “would be” big finish, was pre-empted by a hamstring injury.
Not only was his family torn by his arrest and incarceration, but Morton said it was also a difficult pill to swallow for people in the community, his coach and employer, all of whom were shocked and pained by the unfortunate event.
“The first thing everybody said, was 'Nah, not he,'” recalls Morton.
But worst of all, she said his daughter, who was five-years-old at the time of her father's arrest and imprisonment, has been left with a void no one can seem to fill.
“She knows that he is in prison, but we have never taken her to see him because he doesn't want her to see him like that,” Morton explains.
“It's a tough and heart-breaking thing to see her cry, she adds. She is always asking when is he going to come home.”
Since her son's incarceration, it has cost the Morton family over $85,000 in legal fees while their loved one still awaits a trial.
“This is so distressing and my son is only there for three years. I can only imagine mothers whose children there for longer periods and can't get a trial. Whether they innocent or guilty, these people deserve timely trials. But this kind of thing is like making everybody guilty. You're serving time without reaching a verdict,” Morton laments.
Rippling effect of a delayed justice system
There are social, economic, psychological, and emotional effects on the family when a member is incarcerated. According to The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, this is to be understood as collateral or ripple effects of imprisonment.
Its findings state families experience emotional distress even with the temporary loss of a loved one from the family home or family life. Sharing special occasions, holidays, and family events or even just having a meal with the incarcerated family member are lost and can induce feelings of grief.
Its research also looked at the issue of social stigmatisation. It found not only is the offender denounced but also families are often viewed as guilty by association, even though they are legally innocent. This it said is to be termed as courtesy stigma or stigma by association.
According to the centre, imprisonment also forces double time for partners of prisoners who now have to perform the duties and roles of two, particularly where the incarcerated once played an active and vital role.
Imprisonment can also heighten existing socio-economic disadvantage for families, as it tends to inflict financial strain on them in the forms of legal fees, costly visits and even the funding of children left behind.
Children of incarcerated people can experience low self-esteem; mental disturbances; lengthy periods of depression and withdrawal; anxiety disorders; paranoia; heightened anger and rage; loss of identity and they can also be stigmatised, teased and bullied by their peers. The research also found over a long-term period, children of prisoners are three times more likely to engage in anti-social or offending behaviour than their peers who do not have an incarcerated parent.
Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists Varma Deyalsingh, in a telephone interview, told the Sunday Guardian the agony in waiting for others to decide their relatives' faith, would lead even the most stable individuals to have some anxiety.
“We must be aware that family relationships are considered fundamental not just to the health and well-being of prisoners and families, but to the community and country at large. The delays in the judicial process bring unnecessary mental stress and burden not just to the frustrated prisoner but to the relatives caught up in this institutional system failure. The judicial system which decides guilt and innocence of persons are themselves guilty of increasing the mental burden of our citizens.”
In 2015 former Justice Minister, Herbert Volney had said in an interview with the T&T Guardian that there were 500 murder cases awaiting trial, which would take the country's nine criminal judges (currently ten), over ten years to deal with what is already in the system, using the maximum production of the courts.
The severity of the backlog and the impaired justice system was further highlighted when former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar, on April 12, 2017, was sworn in as High Court judge. Ayers-Caesar had accepted the elevation without completing 53 criminal cases previously being heard by her.
Subsequently, a decision was taken to have the cases start afresh—a directive that came from Chief Justice Ivor Archie, after a meeting with Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard and then acting Chief Magistrate, Maria Busby Earle-Caddle. Ayer-Caesar eventually resigned as a judge on April 27, 2017. On June 1, 2017, this caused mayhem among prisoners at the Port-of-Spain Magistrates Court whose matters had come up for hearing that were previously being heard by Ayers-Caesar.
In an act to mitigate the calamity involving the 53 part-heard matters, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi proposed legislation—the Miscellaneous Provisions (summary Courts and Preliminary Enquiries) Bill 2017.
Essentially, as previously explained by Al-Rawi, the bill proposed to “create the power” for another magistrate to conduct a “new trial or continue the trial with consent of parties,” when the presiding magistrate cannot complete it for whatever reason.
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