With two prisoners taking their lives at separate prison facilities in Arouca over the past two weeks, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow emphasised that the Prison Service does everything within its powers to treat with inmates who have been diagnosed with depression.
Speaking to the Express yesterday, Barrow noted that the Prison Service had access to facilities and well-trained personnel to treat with depressed inmates. However, the problem was that some prisoners were not diagnosed in time nor did they give any noticeable indication of being depressed.
“The Prison Service treats with about 2,000 to 3,000 inmates in all of its institutions, so it is a difficult task to say outright that we watch each inmate at all times to see who is likely to commit suicide,” said Barrow.
“Now we do have our routine patrols and irregular patrols on a daily basis to check on inmates, but that too is no guarantee. But if there is some information that an inmate is depressed and is considering taking his life, whether from his cell mates or wherever, then you can rest assured that we treat with it immediately and in a serious manner.
“We have counsellors, psychologists, prison officers with special training for these matters, and nurses trained specifically for mentally ill persons as well, so we have a lot of options available and they are relied upon,” he stated.
When asked whether he considered it a feasible option to place CCTV cameras throughout the prison facilities to observe inmates in cells, Barrow noted it was something he was considering and was one of the topics he would be addressing in an executive meeting next week.
“I understand that the public and family members of inmates may want to react because, in this country, two suicides in such a short period of time is not something we are accustomed to, but it is not simply an issue of placing CCTV cameras in every cell.
“Other issues arise with this action, including legal aspects on whether privacy is being invaded. So, yes, these incidents are issues that necessitate discussions on how best we move forward and it is something I will be addressing in the executive meeting on Monday, on if that needs to be addressed (CCTV cameras) and on whether we need to change anything else,” Barrow said.
But president of the Prison Officers Association, Ceron Richards, said he shared a different view and believed CCTV cameras needed to be installed near cells and throughout prison facilities.
“If we had these amenities, who knows, these two incidents may have been prevented. We may have observed the action and been able to render assistance sooner, thus saving lives,” Richards said.
He also confirmed several inmates were becoming “more and more frustrated with the judicial system” and they had indicated this frustration would be manifesting itself in different ways over the coming weeks.
“Now I am not the expert in this field, nor do I know for certain, but these two incidents may be a way of expressing their frustration. And it all points to the slow pace which the judicial system is moving and being conducted.
“We have suggested several things to remedy this and we have talked about video conferencing, night court, the construction of additional courts, we have talked and suggested endlessly on ways to address this and nothing seems to be happening, and the prisoners are just becoming more and more frustrated by the day. So I hope this is something which is addressed soon,” said Richards.