Saturday, February 17, 2018

Inspectorate of Prisons to deal with inmates’ complaints

THE Government is proposing to create an Inspectorate of Prisons to deal with the treatment of prisons and to investigate complaints from prisoners.

Speaking on the Miscellaneous Prisons Bill yesterday in the Senate, George said: “The Inspectorate would be a body corporate and managed full-time by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.” 

He said the provisions governing the Inspectorate, which would comprise several people, would replace the provisions that currently provide for a single Inspector of Prisons who is responsible for the inspection of prison facilities. He said the aim was to make the prison environment more humane, taking into account the physical, educational and psychological needs of its inmates. 

“This humane environment would make restorative justice possible and lead to the transformation of prisoners, aid in their successful integration into society and reduce the risk of reoffending,” George said.

George said the bill sought to increase the penalties for certain offences. 

He said the bill would increase the fine and penalty for landing on Carrera Island from $200 and imprisonment of three months to $5,000 and imprisonment for nine months. He said the penalties for aiding an escape moves from a $400 fine to a $30,000 fine and seven years imprisonment. He said in the case where this offence is committed by a police officer, prison officer or a member of the Defence Force, the penalty is even harsher— a $50,000 fine and imprisonment of ten years. He said the penalty for resisting a prison officer would move from a $1,000 fine and six months imprisonment to a $15,000 fine and two years. He said the penalty for interfering with a prisoner would be increased from a $200 fine to $10,000 and seven years imprisonment.

However as George thanked the Chief Justice and the judiciary, the Law Association and others for their comments on the legislation, the issue of whether his statements were appropriate were raised by Independent Senator Helen Drayton. 

“You made reference to the Chief Justice which I find very peculiar. If there is a matter pertaining to this very bill (in the court), how does the Chief Justice get involved? I am asking whether (your statement) was appropriate,” Drayton said.

George said his ministry got responses from the Chief Justice. 

“There was a suggestion at one time that DNA testing be compulsory. I think the Chief Justice or the judiciary was at pains to point out that we would be stepping way beyond the bounds of constitutional rights of persons to seek to make compulsory HIV testing of (prisoners), to put it in the law,” George said. He added that the Chief Justice presented very cogent arguments sourcing other jurisdictions and what they had done.

Independent Senator Elton Prescott asked “by way of elucidation”, whether George, having already put in the public domain that the Chief Justice has committed to a way of thinking “which we thought was inappropriate in the first place”, whether George would reveal the full extent of the Chief Justice’s comments. 

George said he could circulate a copy of the Chief Justice’s letter to the senator. 

 Noting that there were 3,176 prisoners, George said currently, one man, the Inspector of Prisons, has to oversee the functioning of the prisons and how all of its inmates are treated.