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Protection for prisons officers

By CAROL MATROO Tuesday, August 19 2014

More guns and the issuing of thousands of bulletproof vests are on the cards for the nation’s prisons officers.

Justice Minister Emmanuel George announced this yesterday as he provided an update on implementation of recommendations from a Special Prisons Committee chaired by outgoing chairman of the Police Service Commission, Professor Ramesh Deosaran.

Speaking at a news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair yesterday, the Minister revealed there has been an 80 percent increase in requests for firearms by prisons officers for this year.

The briefing followed a meeting between the inter-ministerial team and stakeholders regarding the Prisons Service earlier in the day. George said for a prisons officer to be able to carry a firearm, he first had to be issued a firearms licence.

“The Ministry is seeking the interest of prisons officers continuously, and particularly their safety,” he said. He noted this remit came under the jurisdiction of the National Security Ministry.

The Minister added there was also provision for the safe accommodation for prisons officers who felt their lives were in danger.

“Whereas a prisons officer fears for his safety and needs emergency accommodation, there is an arrangement between the HDC (Housing Development Corporation) and the Prisons that such would be made available as needed,” George said.

Also present at the media briefing were Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow and Permanent Secretary in the Justice Ministry, Melba Dedier.

George said the meeting sought to implement the recommendations of the Deosaran committee. The Special Prisons Committee was set up by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to proffer solutions to the current issues facing the nation’s prisons.

George said the Prime Minister had requested the holding of the inter-ministerial and stakeholders’ meeting to provide an update as to where they had reached on the Deosaran report which Cabinet had agreed should be implemented. The Minister acknowledged that while prisons officers were not fully satisfied by the implementation of recommendations made by the Deosaran committee, they are assured that all recommendations were being pursued vigorously, and nothing was being left in abeyance.

Because of recent threats on the lives of prisons officers and their call for a more stringent safety regimen, George said a contract was awarded for 4,000 bulletproof vests late in July, to be delivered in October. The estimated cost of the vests was $7.5 million.

The Minister said overcrowding in the Remand Prison was also addressed by transferring over 200 prisoners to the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) in Arouca. He said refurbishment including an electronic upgrade was underway at the MSP, with “grabbers and jammers” being used to address the illegal use of cellphones in the prisons.

“Bids are to come in (during) the next two to three weeks,” the Minister said, “Tenders are out under the jurisdiction of the Special Tenders Committee of the Ministry of National Security and funding has finally been made available.”

George said the “Use of Force” policy document has been printed and 400 prisons officers have been trained over the last four months.

“There have been accusations by inmates that they are being assaulted by prisons officers,” the Minister pointed out. “ This (document) is to ensure that this is minimised, if it happens at all.” The Minister looked to fewer cases going to the courts for violence by officers. He said the cost of that to taxpayers has been considerable in the past and Government wanted to make sure that this is brought down as far as is possible and minimised. The Minister said while prisons officers may not be completely satisfied — because one always wanted things to move faster — they recognised that improvements were being made in matters concerning their safety, and matters being addressed within the prisons.

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