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‘Wives will look like prostitutes’

By Newsday Staff Saturday, January 14 2012

Society is not ready to accept prisoners spending private time with their spouses, former minister in the Ministry of National Security Minister Subhas Panday cautioned yesterday.

Panday, in response to a proposal by Justice Minister Herbert Volney to allow conjugal rights for prisoners, thereby allowing them to see their spouses (married and common-law), said the public may view the wives of prisoners as prostitutes.

Volney announced conjugal rights are being considered for prisoners during Thursday’s post-Cabinet news conference, Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair. He did not say if this meant the prisoners and their spouses would be allowed to have sex, but the term conjugal rights by definition includes sexual rights.

Panday said this perception would be damaging to the reputation of the wives of prisoners.

“The society is too small to have such a move and a woman going in there (prison), that would make her look almost like a prostitute in the eyes of society. We are not ready for that,” Panday told reporters at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

Panday, who had responsibility for prisons while he was a minister, said there were pressing issues which prisoners face daily which should be addressed before allowing conjugal visits.

“When I was a minister I objected to (conjugal visits) because I think we were not ready for it, the society is not ready for that. We have more pressing things, for example I tried to get toilets for prisoners,” he said.

Panday said Government was acting hastily by introducing conjugal rights for prisoners.

“There are too many fundamental problems in prisons that we should deal with first. Prisons conditions must be dealt with first,” he said.

He also expressed concern about the lack of privacy for prisoners meeting their spouses, wondering, for example, if prisons officers would be able to listen to prisoners engaging in sexual acts with their spouses or to their private conversations.

He also questioned if married prisoners convicted of sexual offences would also be allowed conjugal visits.

“If somebody is on good behaviour and they were convicted for rape are you letting them now have sex. How would that change (the prisoner’s) life. Is it just a gratification or pressure release, how will it rehabilitate you?” Panday questioned.

Volney’s proposals also include private family visits which means prisoners will be able to see their children.

According to the prisons rules policy, which was obtained by Newsday, prisoners must meet requisite criteria to get access to “private family visits” which are wider in scope than conjugal visits between spouses. The increased scope allows an offender access to not only his or her spouse (common law included) but to children as well. The policy said children under the age of 18 qualify to be part of these visits.

The idea behind a private family visit is to “reinforce the offender’s role and status as citizen and parent” in the belief that these elements will be stabilising factors to the inmate upon his or her release. The visits will be arranged under a private family visit programme which will be open to inmates who are categorised as “low and medium risk.”

According to the policy, high risk prisoners will be granted such a visitation at the discretion of the Commissioner of Prisons. However, the policy also states: “Some prisoners may be barred from the programme, either because there is a risk of family violence, or because they have access to other programmes for maintaining family ties, particularly unsupervised leaves (parole).

The policy further states that if “there seems to be some potential danger or the inmate is found guilty of a disciplinary offence threatening safety within the facility-such as introducing prohibited objects, possession of weapons or instruments susceptible of use for escape or taking a hostage — during the previous private family visit,” the inmate will lose his or her right to the programme.

Authorisation for the participation in the programme must be delivered by the head of the prison facility following a recommendation from the welfare officer in charge of the inmate, following completion of a detailed risk assessment. There will be security screening of an inmate’s potential visitors and the welfare officer must determine whether these visitors are willing to participate in the visit and are not under any pressure to do so.

Special secure facilities on the prison compound or adjacent to it may have to be constructed to facilitate such visits. Prison staff must maintain regular contact with both the prisoner and the visitors, “to guarantee their safety and monitor their presence.” The policy also said: “These checks are scheduled in advance to avoid disturbing the family’s intimacy.”

The use of firearms by prison officers against prisoners as a last resort, limiting the use of force against prisoners, reintroduction of corporal punishment and mandatory drug testing are some of the other provisions contained in the new prison rules policy. A breach of any of these rules will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $2,500. The current penalty for a breach of the prison rules is $100.According to the prisons rules policy, which was obtained by Newsday, prisoners must meet requisite criteria to get access to “private family visits” which are wider in scope than conjugal visits between spouses. The increased scope allows an offender access to not only his or her spouse (common law included) but to children as well. The policy said children under the age of 18 qualify to be part of these visits.

The idea behind a private family visit is to “reinforce the offender’s role and status as citizen and parent” in the belief that these elements will be stabilising factors to the inmate upon his or her release. The visits will be arranged under a private family visit programme which will be open to inmates who are categorised as “low and medium risk.”
According to the policy, high risk prisoners will be granted such a visitation at the discretion of the Commissioner of Prisons. However, the policy also states: “Some prisoners may be barred from the programme, either because there is a risk of family violence, or because they have access to other programmes for maintaining family ties, particularly unsupervised leaves (parole).

The policy further states that if “there seems to be some potential danger or the inmate is found guilty of a disciplinary offence threatening safety within the facility-such as introducing prohibited objects, possession of weapons or instruments susceptible of use for escape or taking a hostage — during the previous private family visit,” the inmate will lose his or her right to the programme.

Authorisation for the participation in the programme must be delivered by the head of the prison facility following a recommendation from the welfare officer in charge of the inmate, following completion of a detailed risk assessment. There will be security screening of an inmate’s potential visitors and the welfare officer must determine whether these visitors are willing to participate in the visit and are not under any pressure to do so.

Special secure facilities on the prison compound or adjacent to it may have to be constructed to facilitate such visits. Prison staff must maintain regular contact with both the prisoner and the visitors, “to guarantee their safety and monitor their presence.” The policy also said: “These checks are scheduled in advance to avoid disturbing the family’s intimacy.”
The use of firearms by prison officers against prisoners as a last resort, limiting the use of force against prisoners, reintroduction of corporal punishment and mandatory drug testing are some of the other provisions contained in the new prison rules policy.
A breach of any of these rules will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $2,500. The current penalty for a breach of the prison rules is $100.

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