MINISTER of Justice Herbert Volney is promising "sweeping operational and systemic changes" within the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service which has now been placed under his Ministry.
The changes would provide for significantly more generous airing hours including sporting hours at night, family visits, a village concept with supermarket, sporting facilities and a calling centre all fuelled by a smart card.
Volney was speaking yesterday at the Passing Out exercise for 184 new prison officers at the Golden Grove Prison in Arouca.
Saying he was open to all suggestions that could enhance government policy in its objective of reducing the high rate of recidivism, Volney said it can no longer be business as usual within the prison service.
"It cannot, and will not be, much of the same for the simple reason that our government has embraced restorative justice as a portal of national development. As such, we shall henceforth be focused upon rehabilitation of offenders while at the same time ensuring discipline and security within the walls of our facilities," Volney said.
"The approach to our inmates must be respectful and in keeping with international conventions and best practices. It must be understood that incarceration is an aberration of liberty and that liberty, and the right to life and the protection of the law, equally, and without any form of discrimination, are entrenched tenets of our democracy. This means the right of prisoners to be treated with, at the very least, a modicum of respect and in a humane way."
Volney said the prison inmates also have a responsibility to maintain mutual respect for the prison officers under whose care they have been placed.
"Indiscipline, breach of prison rules in any form, and disrespect, is unacceptable and will be visited with summary punishment."
New prison rules, which he said are long overdue, are to be tabled in the new Parliamentary term.
Among the initiatives is the establishment of a Prison Ombudsman and Appeals Tribunal with sweeping oversight functions that will safeguard prison officers from falsehoods while protecting inmates from abuse.
"I propose to establish a Tripartite Advisory Standing Committee to assist the Ministry of Justice in perfecting the plan for executing, in short and medium terms, the shift to restorative justice at our prisons.
"I propose bringing industry on to the compound in order to provide skill training for those who wish to earn a minimum wage within the walls and pay towards maintaining their loved ones, and mandatory reparation for their victims.
"Issues which affect the rank and file of the prison service have, in part, been brought to my attention. These include promotion, opportunity for training, accommodation, health and safety, housing and terms and conditions of service. I can assure our prison officers that I shall engage the Minister of National Security in continuing to secure you and your families as full members of our protective services."
Receiving the award for Best All Round Recruit was Craig Khan while an award for Gallantry was given to Odell Thomas who foiled a prison escape while on training duty.