The Prison Officers Association (POA) is calling on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to heed the advice of former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honey well SC and follow through on an investigation into attorneys and prison inmates involved in prison litigation against the State.
The call comes even in the face of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan’s statement the matter was adequately dealt with by the former SG.
This, said Prison Association (POA) president Ceron Richards, has implications for national security and is a deliberate drain on the Treasury.
He said money paid to prisoners should instead be invested in improving the conditions of the prisons.
In an interview with the Sunday Express, Richards said his organisation is not swayed by Ramlogan’s comments because it was the POA which drew it to the attention of the former SG and no one has addressed their concerns.
On August 30, 2013, Donaldson-Honeywell bypassed line minister AG Ramlogan and wrote to Persad-Bissessar, suggesting a three-pronged investigation by the Inspector of Prisons, the Law Association and the Police Service be undertaken to determine whether attorneys involved in prison litigation are engaged in an “unethical business venture”.
In turn, Persad-Bissessar forwarded the letter to Ramlogan to address the contents.
Last week, Ramlogan said he had held extensive discussions about these allegations “after which she (the former SG) agreed to write a letter to the Honourable Prime Minister to express her satisfaction that the issues raised were adequately addressed and that there was no need for any further investigation from the Office of the Prime Minister. Such a letter was in fact sent”.
Richards said: “We started writing the SG about the high incidence of prisoners challenging the prison officers on alleged abuse. We were also concerned that the State was not putting up an adequate defence for the prison officers, which were resulting in judgments against the officers. We were very suspicious about the arrangement being a business arrangement and not one for justice for the inmate.”
The POA provided copies of the letters, which were sent to the SG’s office.
In a May 5, 2011 letter, general secretary of the POA Burton Hill wrote to the SG, stating: “It is our observation that a number of actions being brought to the courts by inmates/ex-inmates against prison officers are being concluded in favour of the claimants, under circumstances where a proper defence is not being presented or poorly managed by your office. This is according to our reports. This situation is creating an extremely poor image of our service and is also placing the lives of officers and their family in jeopardy.”
Richards felt a newspaper article, published on August 18 and 19 in another newspaper, was a deliberate attempt to advertise the market for this business and had the potential to escalate prison violence.
It prompted the POA to again write to the SG.
On August 26, 2013, Donaldson-Honeywell wrote to the POA noting their concerns, but observed the State had some success in defending prison officers. She cited examples of successful defence but said: “On the other hand, it is the duty of the Attorney General to settle matters without proceeding to trial after careful consideration of the instructions and evidence, if we are of the view that it is untenable or impossible to defend the allegations.”
Four days later, Donaldson-Honey-
well penned a letter to Persad-Bis-
sessar which was published exclusively in last Sunday’s Express.
Richards described reading Donaldson-Honeywell’s letter as “deja-vu”.
“We were the first group which suspected this arrangement. We were the first to raise red flags. We were the first to complain in 2011 because our members are seriously affected and subject to public ridicule. We were seeing a trend to blatantly undermine the Prison Service,” he said.
Richards said the POA would like to know what “dealt with” means.
“We need details. Are people going to be reprimanded? Was some-thing uncovered? Was nothing uncovered? We need to know,” he said.
Richards said there has been low motivation by all the powers that be to deal with the Prison Service.
“After years of being undermined, we won’t accept nothing less than a through investigation,” he said.
Contacted for comment on whether he was concerned, Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan said: “In my capacity as Inspector of Prisons, that does not concern me.”
Asked why, he responded: “The Inspector of Prisons is not involved in any cases brought on behalf of the prisons and defended on behalf of the State.”
“From my informed view, the Inspector of Prisons has no power to investigate the allegations. From my experience as a member of the Law Association for four years, the Law Association has no power to investigate and the court has processes to protect abuse of it,” he said.
He noted in August 2012, a meeting was held to discuss default judgments against the State.
“The prison officers are saying that they’re not getting the information in time, the SG is saying they are not responding in time and, therefore, millions of dollars have been awarded in the favour of prisoners. They were awarded by default and not settled. Nowhere did any one raise any unethical practices and settlements,” he said.
When the Sunday Express asked whether he was surprised by the allegations made one year later, Khan answered: “Am I surprised?
“I suppose I am surprised because I don’t think in one year all of these things were settled. And if it was going on before 2012, she would have had that evidence and it seems something happened in the last year, which caused her concern. I can’t see what has happened in the last year in terms of settlement for her to write the letter. But then again, I don’t have all the information.”
Different letterheads: Letter to the Prison Officers
Association of August 26, bearing the heading “Solicitor General Chambers”, at top, and the letterhead of the
October 22 letter, showing the Ministry of the Attorney
General with a sub-heading “Solicitor General’s Chambers”.