Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Prison officers fed up: crisis looming

The Prime Minister has been told that if she does not immediately see to it that the recommendations by the Special Prisons Committee she set up last year are put in place, there could be another crisis situation in the nation’s prisons.

The warning came yesterday from president of the Prison Officers’ Association, Ceron Richards. In November last year, prison officers began a ‘go slow’ to protest the killing of their colleague, Andy Rogers, who was shot at a construction site in Malabar.

The ‘go slow’ by the officers sparked several violent incidents, including stabbings among prisoners.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar stepped in to address the row, and appointed a nine-member committee to investigate the state of the Prisons. Ten recommendations to improve the security of officers were identified including the construction of a new Remand Facility, improvements to the current facility in the interim, cellphone jammers, stab-proof vests and safe houses for prisons officers, and families under threat.

Richards said the implementation of those recommendations have been moving at a snail’s pace, and the safety of officers are still at risk. “Cabinet was supposed to release the funds to put these measures in place...officers are not seeing the benefits almost a year later so we are left to believe that the intervention of the Prime Minister was just a sham,” he said.

Richards said the Ministry of Justice has been doing all it could to ensure the recommendations are implemented but said without the Prime Minister’s hand in the matter conditions would remain the same. “Officers are saying that they will go back to the place that they were in last year when they withdrew from the job to get their concerns met, we are not sitting idly by this time when we have serious problems,” he said.

He said the association’s call for the Prime Minister’s help in the matter is a last-ditch effort as officers are ready to act.

“We are looking to prevent a crisis situation because these officers are fed up,” Richards stated. Richards said as it stands now the security of the nation’s prisons is in jeopardy.

“This is further compounded since the Prison now has in custody individuals who appear to exert a great deal of influence and power within the criminal community. This has increased the need for reciprocal response as it relates to security, based on the heightened risk associated with custody of such persons,” he said.

Repeated attempts to reach Justice Minister Emmanuel George and Prisons Commissioner Conrad Barrow on the matter proved futile yesterday.