Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 24th 2013 Contents A7
November 24, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
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Prison reform has long been on the
agenda of successive governments.
Within the past seven decades, more
then ten reports on prison reform have
been completed, and hundreds of rec-
ommendations have been made.
The Wright Report (1945); the Garrat
Report (1963); the Interim Report I
(1973); the Interim Report II (1974); the
Interim Report III (1975); the Memo-
randum on Remand Prison, Golden
Grove Report (1977); the Abdulah
Report (1980), the Task Force Report
(2002), the Deosaran Report (2003),
and the Inspector of Prisons Report
(2012) have all suggested measures to
improve horrific conditions at the Port-
of-Spain Prison, Carerra Prison (which
has been closed down) and Remand
Prison at Golden Grove, Arouca.
However, successive governments
have done little to implement the rec-
ommendations. The answers to many
of the problems today lie within the
pages of all of the reports and reviews
that have been done over the years at
great cost to taxpayers.
After a week of protests at Golden
Grove following the murder of prisons
officer Andy Rogers on November 7,
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar
appointed a Special Prisons Committee
to probe the existing conditions at the
facility. The committee s report was
submitted on Friday. The recommen-
dations included a commission of
enquiry into the criminal justice system.
The committee said the system had
"collapsed and is running on auto-
pilot," and it was thus critical to probe
why it had reached to this stage.
The committee also advised, among
other things, that the Government build
a new remand facility within 18 months,
implement full body scanners at prisons
so all who enter would be searched,
and provide clothing for accused who
are on remand.
Govts reluctant to
initiate prison reform---Chance
Meanwhile, Wayne Chance, a former
inmate who runs the Vision on Mission
foundation for prisoners, said govern-
ments have been reluctant to initiate
"There is a political fear of imple-
menting these recommendations
because the public will see special treat-
ment being given to prisoners, and
politicians don t want to be unpopular.
The state of the prison has been side-
lined in the past and only comes to the
surface when a crisis arises," Chance
"The Government must show polit-
ical strength and ensure that the prison
structure is strong to keep out criminal
activities within the prison walls."
In years gone by, Chance said, poorly
paid prisons officers accepted minimal
bribes to carry in food, clothing and
other items for incarcerated inmates.
Today it has boomed into a lucrative
Guns, drugs, cigarettes and cell
phones are sold by high-ranking pris-
oners whose relatives and close asso-
ciates offer bribes to rogue prisons offi-
cers. The prisoners have rogue elements
on every shift who give them special
privileges in exchange for money,
'Weed out rogue officers'
Although regular seizures are
made, the prisoners who control
the trade are never caught because
they are tipped off by the rogue
officers. Law-abiding prisons offi-
cers live in fear, and because there
is "big benefit" the prisons hier-
archy turns a blind eye.
"Prisons officers have been
undermining the system because
they profit from it, and it is high
time that the rogue elements are
weeded out," Chance said.
He added that these rogue offi-
cers have made the prisons dis-
ruptive and ungovernable so that
they can continue their illegal oper-
On Friday, Commissioner of
Prisons Martin Martinez labelled
only five per cent of this country s
prisons officers as "crooked."
Speaking to reporters at the
Noor Hassanali room in the Par-
liament chamber, Waterfront
Complex, Port-of-Spain, Martinez
said the majority of his staff were
He said the issues recently raised
in the prisons arise from the hard
work of his honest officers who
seek to rid the system of contra-
band, which makes its way into
the prisons via relatives and
New committee a waste of
Former Justice minister, Herbert
Volney, who pioneered prison
reform under his tenure said
appointing a Special Prisons Com-
mittee was a complete waste of
time and money.
"The Government has done this
to appease the population." He said
it was "total negligence by the
Government in allowing this sit-
uation to get out of control." Volney
said overcrowding and undue
delays in trials have exacerbated
the problems. "There are prisoners
languishing in the remand yard
who have not committed the
offence. They have been waiting
for trials for years and their lives
are being wasted for nothing. The
State has a duty to protect the
rights of citizens by providing them
with trials within a reasonable time
and without undue delay.
"This Government has done
nothing to address those problems
in the prisons," Volney said.
Volney said when he was min-
ister he had in place approvals for
construction of four judicial cen-
tres, with 28 criminal courts in
four areas---Trincity, Carlsen Field,
Sangre Grande and Penal. How-
ever, he said "those plans have
"I also put in place a new regime
for pre-trial determination of cases
with sufficient hearing schemes
so people who should not be in
remand will be released years
before their time.
"That has been shelved by the
Government," Volney said.
He also said the Electronic Mon-
itoring of Offenders Act which was
approved by Parliament two years
ago has not come on stream to
The proposed Parole Bill was
ready to go to the legislative review
committee since June 2012 "and
that, too, was shelved," Volney
'Officers fighting for
their health and safety'
During his Labour Day message
last June, former president of the
Prisons Officers Association,
Rajkumar Ramroop called on the
Government to set up and monitor
cellphone jammers, scanners and
surveillance cameras in prison.
"Millions of dollars have been
spent on equipment, but prisons
officers have tampered with cell-
phone jammers and scanners to
protect the underground trade. We
need to have continuous monitor-
ing of the technology by an inde-
pendent party to rid the prisons
of contraband activities," Ramroop
He suggested prisons officers
must be searched before entering
the prisons as it was customary
for officers to transport contraband
He said there was no searching
of the under carriages of vehicles.
Ramroop said all inmates must
be exposed to rehabilitative pro-
Ceron Richards, the new pres-
ident of the Prisons Officer Asso-
ciation which represents over 1,800
prisons officers, said several rec-
ommendations have been forward-
ed to the Government to deal with
the crisis at the prisons. He said
these could not be divulged for
security reasons. He said officers
were fighting for their health and
safety behind the prisons walls.
Govt has plans
During the recent St Joseph
election campaign, Persad-Bisses-
sar said Cabinet agreed to spend
$3.2 million to retrofit buildings
at Golden Grove to facilitate mag-
isterial court sittings.
She said the 40-foot pre-engi-
neered, pre-fabricated buildings
would improve prisoner safety and
security at Remand Yard as well
as improve overcrowding.
Persad-Bissessar also said this
would reduce security risks
involved in prisoner transport and
cut down on cost.
Between 2002 to 2009 the Gov-
ernment spent $98 million for the
transportation of prisoners. (See
editorial on A24) ---reporting by
Ten reports on prison reform lie dormant...
Governments lack political will
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar shows members of the media the Special Prisons Committee report
during a press conference at the Noor Hassanali Room of Parliament, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre,
Port-of-Spain on Friday. At right is the chairman of the committee, Prof Ramesh Deosaran.
PHOTO: MARCUS GONZALES
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