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US$1.6m upgrade for Arouca prison

Carrera inmates moving by December

By Jensen LaVende jensen.lavende@trinidadexpress.com

THE cost to move 303 prisoners from Carrera Island Prison to the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca is US$1.6 million so far.

The cost, which only covers the electronic upgrade of the MSP, was disclosed by Commissioner of Prisons Martin Martinez yesterday, in a telephone interview with the Express.

On Thursday, Justice Minister Christlyn Moore announced at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair that by December, the inmates would be moved from the island, just off the Chaguaramas peninsula, to Arouca.

She added that before such a move could be made, the MSP would have to undergo some electronic upgrading.

Martinez said the electronic upgrades would be done by a foreign company whose name he did not disclose. The money had been approved already, and the company was on the "brink of doing the upgrades".

The upgrade of the facility would include electronic gates, cell doors and hydraulic systems which broke down over the years.

Martinez said the prison has been operational since 1998, and a lot of areas cannot house inmates because of security concerns due to faulty electronic systems.

He said the MSP was built to hold 2,403 inmates and currently holds approximately 1,000 inmates, adding that it was costly to run Carrera but could not give an exact figure of maintaining the facility.

He said there have been calls for the closure of the facility "since donkey years" and he was all for it.

Speaking with the media at the launch of Vision on Mission's Turning of the Heart and Soil project in Wallerfield yesterday, Moore said she was not sure of the cost to upgrade the Arouca facility.

Concerning the issue of the upgrade not being completed by December, as was raised by the Prisons Officers Association on Thursday following the announcement, Moore said their fears were understandable but not real.

Head of Vision on Mission Wayne Chance said he was saddened to hear the prison at Carrera was being closed.

"Sad state of affairs to hear that it is closing; the atmosphere at Carrera is appropriate for rehabilitating prisoners. What I feel should happen is that the prisoners need to be relocated because it needs to be refurbished, and the place should be transformed and the inmates brought back," said Chance.

Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan said he agrees with the decision to shut down the prison as it presents challenges, including the transportation of water and goods to the island and the difficulties faced by visitors to the inmates.

In a media release, Khan said closing the prison was one suggestion made by him in his 2012 report.

The report stated it would be economically viable to shut down the prison rather than upgrade it.

It added, however, the prison evokes a sense of peace and reflection for inmates and assists in their rehabilitation, and it is hoped this prison on a serene island should be a consideration not to close down.

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