By Clint Chan Tack Friday, March 15 2013
GOVERNMENT has decided that the Carrera Island Prison, which was established in 1937, will be closed by the end of this year.
Justice Minister Christlyn Moore made this announcement at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
After explaining the reasons why the Carrera prison will be closed, Moore disclosed that its 350 inmates will be transferred to the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) in Golden Grove, Arouca and the National Security Ministry will take charge of Carrera Island.
Moore further revealed that Government is actively looking at closing the Port-of-Spain prison but could not say when this will happen. She also sought to defend her performance as Justice Minister from claims by her predecessor, St Joseph MP Herbert Volney, that initiatives like the construction of judicial complexes in the country which started under him have “gone cold.”
In announcing Cabinet’s decision to close the Carrera prison, Moore indicated the facility was originally designed to house approximately 150 prisoners. “There are over 300 inmates in Carrera at present,” she stated. Moore explained that although the prison was redesigned, “the population that it currently houses is well above the design capacity.”
Moore noted the prison also poses “peculiar challenges both for visitors to the inmates as well as the carriage of water and goods to the island.” Noting the prison is supplied with water from Trinidad and the island is prone to erosion, Moore said it was clear to Cabinet that the prison is no longer suitable for its original purpose.
“The age of the prison would not have assisted in repair or renovation. The plant is very, very old and the isolation of the facility from the mainland makes upgrade impractical,” she explained. The inmates are to be rehoused at the MSP which would undergo upgrades to facilitate the transfer. Moore said those upgrades are electronic but she could not give a cost estimate at this time.
Moore said the Carrera inmates could not be housed instead at the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre (ECRC) in Santa Rosa, which was built during the State of Emergency in 2011, “for very obvious reasons.” She pointed out that the Carrera prisoners are, “long-term prisoners”.
“There are also very old prisoners in Carrera, infirm prisoners in Carrera,” she added. Moore said the MSP has, “the space, the technology, and the level of security required to house these inmates and it is a more appropriate housing area for these particular sets of inmates.” She reiterated that the MSP was already undergoing a series of upgrades and given the decision to close Carrera, “the question of those upgrades becomes a live issue.”
After the prison’s closure, Carrera will be handed over to the Ministry of National Security. Noting that Carrera “is an island which is capable of being landed on,” Moore said, “if it is left unattended there is a real likelihood that it could be used for unsavory purposes.”
“So it is in the best interest of all concerned that National Security take over the facility and some of its security features need upgrading,” she said.
As for the ECRC, Moore said Cabinet is still considering its future use. She said the ECRC houses between 100 to 150 inmates “as part of a pre-release programme and that would be inmates who have come to more or less the end of a long term.”
“These inmates are moved to ECRC to facilitate a transition back into society,” she explained.
Moore then indicated her ministry is engaged in a partnership with the Prisons Commissioner and other stakeholders to close the Port-of-Spain Prison as well.
Told there have been previous promises that this prison would be closed, Moore admitted she could give “no guarantees” as to when it would be closed.
Noting this issue has bedeviled several governments, Moore said she hoped to take a note to Cabinet on closing the prison in three to four months.
“I have seen the prison. I have toured the prison. I agree that the prison ought not to continue and we are making every effort to find a way to end the era that is the Port-of-Spain Prison.”
Asked how Government intends to deal with the longstanding problem of cellphones being smuggled into prisons and whether cellphone jamming would be employed, Moore replied, “I do not think it is appropriate at this forum, without at least discussing it at the National Security Council, to make an announcement on any security measure that may or may not be in place at one of our nation’s prisons.” Asked whether 50 prisoners were pardoned in keeping with a promise by Volney to do so in time for the 50th anniversary of TT’s independence, observed last year, Moore replied, “I know that the former minister did make certain eloquent pronouncements with regard to wanting to do certain things.”
Moore said, “Such a statement presumed certain things which may not have been proven to be true.” She said it presumed 50 applicants would be found by the Mercy Committee and “would be found to be deserving by this very independent committee”.
Explaining that the Mercy Committee, “for obvious reasons” does not publish statements or documents or publicly indicate “who it has or has not pardoned”, Moore said, “What I can say is that, the persons who have received the benefit of either pardon or commutation of sentence from the Mercy Committee have been so informed by presidential warrant.”
On the three judicial complexes to be built in Trincity, Sangre Grande and Carlsen Field, Moore said her ministry has been liaising with the host community of the first centre in Trincity.
She said this complex is intended for the East-West Corridor “which is now forced to use facilities that are ill-suited” in Tunapuna, the Port-of-Spain High Court and the Family Court in Port-of-Spain.
“That matter is currently before Nipdec and we await the outcome of that,” Moore said. She indicated that tenders are out for the Sangre Grande complex and information was recently published about the proposed Carlsen Field complex.