MORE firearms licences are being granted to prisons officers, Justice Minister Emmanuel George disclosed yesterday.
George was speaking at a news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, after a meeting of the technical team appointed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to implement the recommendations of the 2013 report of the Special Prisons Committee.
That committee had been chaired by Prof Ramesh Deosaran, who resigned two weeks ago as chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC).
On the panel with George yesterday was Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice Melba Didier.
Asked to elaborate on what George had said was a “significant” increase in the number of Firearm User’s Licences being issued to prisons officers, Barrow responded that he did not want to divulge too much.
“We don’t want to make prisons officers into targets,” Barrow said.
He shared, however, that there had been an 80 per cent increase in the number of officers to receive licences, as compared with 2013.
Barrow said prisons officers are trained in the use of firearms from induction.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister following the news conference stated:
“These numbers continue to increase even while the established risk assessment protocols are observed before issuing such licences.”
Other recommendations of the committee are either soon to be or are currently being implemented, George said.
A contract for 4,000 bullet proof vests was awarded in July at the cost of $7.5 million and the goods are expected in October, 2014.
A safe-housing arrangement has also been fixed with the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), whereby officers whose lives are immediately at risk can be supplied with emergency housing, George said.
To date, over 400 prisons officers have been trained in the Use of Force Policy. Additional office training is ongoing and yearly refresher courses will be implemented.
Upgrades are also ongoing at the major facilities, with new beds, stainless steel toilets, lighting improvements and surface renovations such as painting and tiling, are taking place, George said.
As part of the exercise to ease overcrowding in the prisons, the State is continuing to negotiate for the purchase of the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre in Santa Rosa, which was built to facilitate arrests during the 2011 State of Emergency (SoE).
The State is looking to buy the facility for $230 million and Barrow said yesterday a “downpayment” for the property is ready.
The final legal documents are being finalised by the Chief State solicitor.
Addressing concerns aired in the media by the Prison Officers Association in recent weeks, that the recommendations were not being manifested in a timely manner, George said it was “passing strange” that the association went public with this view.
George said the association was a member of the committee and was privy to everything taking place.
He said the association had not expressed these concerns to the technical team within recent times.