Monday, January 22, 2018

Prisons warn PM of shutdown

.officers call for firing of CoP, minister for security failings


call for action: Prison officers gather at the entrance to the Frederick Street Prison in Port of Spain, in a show of solidarity during yesterday’s news conference hosted by president of their association Ceron Richards. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Mark Fraser

A warning has been issued to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar by Prison Officers Association president Ceron Richards to deal with matters of safety and security facing prison officers or face a shutdown of the nation’s prisons.

Richards sent the war­ning during a news confe­rence outside the Port of Spain Prison on Frederick Street yesterday.

He is calling for the removal of Conrad Barrow

as Commissioner of Prisons

(CoP) and for the PM to revoke the appointment of Minister of Justice Emma­nuel George, in the wake of what he says is “complete impotence and incom­petence” of the two to address serious security issues in the prison system.

Referring to a letter found in the possession of an inmate at the Golden Grove Maximum Security Prison on Monday, Richards said the lives of prison offi­cers were continuously being threatened.

The letter, he said, outlined a number of security breaches and contained information on the making

of bombs and other explosives to target three offi­cers.

“Three officers were named in that letter and to

date, no precaution has been

taken whatsoever to preserve the lives of these three officers,” Richards said. “Imagine, the commissioner told the media that that letter was a hoax and nothing was put in place at all.”

Richards said in the last few years, a dozen prison officers had been killed and

many more threatened, injured and, in one case, crippled due to attacks relating to their jobs.

“Just last week, we had

an attack of an officer where he was slashed across his face by an inmate at the Maximum Secu­rity Prison,” Richards said. “Officers are contin­uously exposed on their daily duty to threats and attacks. We are saying if the CoP is refusing to treat with these security issues, then resign office. Mr Barrow, please resign!”

Richards blasted the Ministry of Justice, calling it a “proverbial yoke around the neck of the Prison Service”.

He said he always believed removing the Pri­son Service from under the pur­view of the Ministry of National Security and pla­cing it under the Ministry of Justice would undermine the security of the nation’s prisons.

“Put the Prison Service back under the National Security Ministry. The Justice Ministry is a complete waste of time. The Justice minister has continued to fail us,” Richards said.

“The Justice Minister said the Prison Officers Asso­cia­-

tion is on politics, and that is

insulting to the men and women who work diligently

every day in the Prison Ser­vice. He slighted the issue rather than treat with it head on.”

Richards said the Prison Service was running on autopilot and needed serious intervention by the Government.

He said the association had requested a meeting with the PM almost a year ago but, to date, “we have not had the luxury of that meeting”.

He reiterated his warning to the Prime Minister, saying if the concerns of the prison officers are not addressed in a timely manner, they are ready and willing to “withdraw their services” and bring the Prison Service to “a grinding halt”.

“If the PM doesn’t do something, she is bracing herself for a storm. Officers will withdraw their services in the same way that happened when Andy Rogers died.”

Rogers, an off-duty prison officer, was shot and killed in Malabar in November last year. This resulted in a “barest minimum” protest being undertaken by prison officers.

“It cannot be business as usual when officers are concerned about their lives and limbs,” Richards said.