Monday, February 19, 2018

Worsening prison problems

THE shooting-death of Prison Officer Davindra Boodooram in broad daylight while citizens went about their business along upper Frederick Street in Port of Spain last Friday, is a development which must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

The killing of officer Boodooram appears to have been reprisal for what has emerged as the beating of several inmates at the remand facility, during what the authorities said was a “routine search of the premises” on Tuesday last week.

The assailant, from all appearances, acting on whatever instruction and advice from some quarter, apparently waited for his victim, any member of the prison service who could be identified at that time.

Just a few hundred yards away from the prison, the officer had just come off duty, and was reportedly heading to a calypso show. The incident has sent one more chilling reminder to a nation already buffeted by the increasingly callous waste of life. Murders for the month of January have now gone past record numbers. The criminally-minded among us are saying more and more they will operate without restraint. It came at the end of the very day on which the country's crime and security top brass met with the Prime Minister and his team, discussing what they termed “the troubling numbers of murders for this year so far.” This was in the context of the Carnival celebrations, now in full swing.

Prior to the murder, video images emerged, showing what purports to have been injuries sustained by some of the inmates. Ironically, in an official statement issued the following day, the Prisons Commissioner said the exercise involved “a lock down” instituted as “a precautionary measure, to ensure the safety and security of staff and inmates.”

It said this was to effect “a routine search of the institution,” during which officers were met with “several challenges, inclusive of a major stand-off with inmates.” This then resulted in “some prisoners sustaining non-life-threatening injuries and some having to be forcibly restrained, after officers were met with improvised weapons and physical acts of violence and aggression.”

What the videos revealed, however, was the sight of officers kicking inmates who were lying on the ground, their hands apparently tied behind their backs.

The prison authorities have announced an investigation into these developments, and appropriate action will be expected to be taken, where this is found to be warranted.

But whatever the root causes of the problems at the Remand Yard warranting attention which has long past being urgent, the continuing wanton attacks on prison officers cannot be countenanced.

The statement from the Office of the Prisons Commissioner also disclosed that during the search in question, “unauthorised items were found.”

One question arising, given the tight security procedures in place for goods and personnel entering the prisons, is how are these things still being facilitated.

While seeking to provide answers here, the Prisons Commissioner must also commit his officers to operate within the bounds of the law, and the prison regulations, in their efforts to control unruly inmates.