160 prisoners on hunger strike
By Nalinee Seelal Tuesday, August 26 2014
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More than 160 prisoners at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca yesterday staged day one of a hunger strike aimed at getting the authorities to address concerns about the “poor treatment” they receive from prisons officers and delays in the hearings of their court cases.
Even as the prisoners refused meals, there are reports that their relatives staged a peaceful protest outside the prisons in support of their hunger strike.
Prison sources said the suicide of prisoner Akeem Gill last Wednesday prompted the action.
A source named a prisons officer as someone who has made “life difficult” for prisoners yet despite several meetings with those in authority the guard has not been reprimanded.
The source said Gill, who was serving five years, had complained bitterly about being targeted by the prisons officer and yet nothing was done.
“That is why Gill took his life. He was so frustrated he preferred death than to continue to be humiliated and denied small privileges and we fear that if the situation continues other prisoners might also contemplate taking their lives in frustration,” the source said. Prisoners yesterday said they have complained about how badly prisons officers treat them but this has not been dealt with by prison officials.
They said some prisons officers refuse to take them outside for airing citing security reasons and a staff shortage
Additionally, the prisoners claim when they miss court dates their matters are set for later dates and this has added to their frustration.
The prisoners said they will continue their action today until Prisons Commissioner Conrad Barrow intervenes.
Newsday attempted to reach Barrow yesterday but calls to his cellphone went unanswered.
However, prisons officers who spoke to Newsday said the prisoners who were on a hunger strike have been making unreasonable demands and while some tension exists between officers and prisoners, the situation was not what prisoners described.
Assistant general secretary of the Prisons Officers Association, Dion Joseph, said the prisoners main complaint was about judicial delays and assured prisons officers have been treating inmates with compassion.
“About160 inmates are refusing their diet due to their concerns about the tardiness of the judicial system because we have problems with them going to court,” Joseph said.
“We are here to do our jobs without fear or favour with a high level of compassion for inmates because they are human beings, however there are many inmates who have been there for five and ten years and there is no closure to their matter.”