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In Caribbean, gridlocked courts hit by crime wave block justice and stall lives


In this April 13, 2013 photo, Claudette Johnson, right, is accompanied by a friend while unpacking used clothing to sell at her stall at an outdoor market in West Kingston, Jamaica. Johnson still has a hard time sleeping at night a decade after her son was fatally shot in a confrontation with Jamaican police and 15 years after her taxi driver husband was murdered by gunmen. Year after year, both cases have collected dust in the island's gridlocked court system, leaving her in limbo. (AP Photo/David McFadden) (The Associated Press)

The Caribbean may be known as a vacation paradise, but the backlog in its overburdened courts has soared as homicide rates have nearly doubled in several countries since 1995.

Underfunded and inefficient courts have failed to keep up with the punishing caseloads, stalling lives and even acting as a disincentive for foreign investment. In some countries, thousands of defendants have languished in decrepit lockups for years without trial.

Perhaps nowhere is the problem more marked than in Jamaica, which is struggling to whittle down a crushing number of old criminal cases and where the conviction rate for murders is just 5 percent.