THE Prisons Officers Association has welcomed the latest initiative by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to crack down on illegal cellphones in prisons.
Association president Ceron Richards, however, insisted that a communication system should be installed to allow inmates to contact families.
Richards, in a telephone interview, said there were reports that equipment was installed to block cellphone signals at the nation’s prisons several years ago.
“We heard at one point in time they were installed at the remand prisons. They said people tampered with it and so on. I don’t know the exact reason for it not being installed now,” he said.
Persad-Bissessar declared that mobile phone signal jammers—a device that can find phones and block calls and text messages to unapproved numbers within the prisons will be installed at the nation’s prisons.
The Prime Minister was speaking at a United National Congress (UNC) Monday Night Forum in Gasparillo.
Richards said the installation of mobile phone system jammers was a step in the right direction in making the prison environment safer.
He appealed that the authorities consider implementing a formal communication system, where inmates can contact their families.
“When we remove the cellphones from the system there is a need to have a formal communication system, a phone system installed so inmates can speak to their families from time to time. They can speak with their lawyers or other persons of interest under a structured and supervised arrangement. This is not a novel idea, this happens in Western countries,” he said.
Richards said inmates depend on their families to visit the prisons.
“And if there are inmates who don’t have a proper family structure, or families turn their backs on them, they lose contact. So with a phone system they can contact their loved ones.”
Richards said the association has been lobbying for improved technological systems at the prisons, including closed-circuit cameras, body scanners and metal detectors.
He said the remand facility at Golden Grove, Arouca, was overcrowded, with over 1,200 inmates in a facility designed for 300.
“Under the PNM regime a promise was made to build an additional facility right there in Golden Grove, but that promise never materialised. We want the Prime Minister to clear the air on whether or not this new facility will be built and also what are the time frames. The current situation is very undesirable. It is not facilitating to granting inmates the civil liberties they have under the Constitution,” said Richards.