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Waiting on Cabinet to approve repairs

Tuesday, April 29 2014

THE Judiciary remains very concerned about unsafe conditions of prisoners’ holding cells at the Port-of-Spain (PoS) Magistrates’ Court. According to a press release issued by the Judiciary yesterday, it has noted concerns expressed in last Sunday Newsday’s lead story headlined ‘Unsafe Cells at PoS Courts’, by members of the Police Social and Welfare Association (PSWA) in relation to the safety of prisoner cells.

“The Judiciary wishes to assure members of the public and all other stakeholders that it is committed to ensuring the well-being of all who use its facilities. We wish however to advise that extensive refurbishment of these cells is currently the subject of a proposal that is awaiting the approval of the Commissioner of Police,” a release from the Judiciary stated.

The Sunday Newsday lead story highlighted malfunctioning doors at the cells which led to over 50 officers from the Police Court and Process Branch, which oversees the security and management of prisoners at the courts, to seek the assistance of the PSWA to have the issue dealt with.

The Judiciary, in its statement yesterday, noted that a Cabinet Note was to be submitted shortly for approval to implement emergency remedial works to be undertaken at a number of Magistrates’ Courts. The work on the St George West (PoS) Magistrates’ Court cells, the Judiciary release stated, is to be included in that Note to Cabinet. “In the interim, the Judiciary has pursued regular maintenance of the existing facilities and its Buildings, Plant and Equipment Unit has conducted repairs on the cell doors at least twice in the past year to ensure that security is preserved,” the release added. “Until such time as the wider project is completed, close scrutiny of the cells and urgent reponse to any areas of vulnerability have and will continue to be undertaken. We remain willing to work hand in hand with all stakeholders to ensure security within the court precincts,” the release ended.

Officers have claimed that since the middle of last year, prisoners who have matters early in the day at the PoS Magistrates’ Court, resorted to banging on the cell doors to protest having to wait for other prisoners to finish their court appearances before they could be transported back to prison. This constant banging and pushing of cell doors resulted in the doors becoming weak and warped and unable to be locked properly, officers claimed. PSWA president Insp Anand Ramesar has described the situation at the prison cells of the PoS Magistrates’ Court as both frustrating and worrisome to police officers who are stationed at this courthouse and whose duty is to handle the movement of prisoners on a daily basis, Monday to Friday.

Officers request an expert assessment done on the integrity of the cell doors to determine its reliability for securing prisoners and personnel who subsequently checked the doors — members of the Prisons Service — reported to the police officers that the cell doors were not inadequate for the secure holding of prisoners.

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