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Special committee on prisons recommends: New remand yard in 18 months
The Government has been advised to build a new remand facility within 18 months, implement full body scanners at prisons so all who enter would be searched and provide clothing for accused who are on remand. These are but some of the recommendations presented to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday at the Noor Hassanali room at Parliament chamber at Tower D of the Waterfront Complex, Port-of-Spain.
The nine-member committee headed by Prof Ramesh Deosaran was mandated by the PM on Monday to look into the conditions at the prisons and submit a report. The special committee was set up after the shooting death of off-duty prisons officer Andy Rogers in Malabar on November 7, which started a chain of events, including a protest from prisons officers and riots amongst the prisoners. The recommendations were part of close to 15 that the T&T Guardian was told had been presented to Persad-Bissessar.
Other recommendations include a commission of enquiry into the criminal justice system. The committee said the system had “collapsed and is running on auto-pilot,” and it was thus critical to probe why it had reached to this stage.
The committee also recommend that the delay in adjudicating matters in the courts be addressed so that prisoners who are on remand would receive preferential treatment over accused who are out on bail. A review of the bail regime both from an administrative and judicial level was also recommended to facilitate this process.
A semi-privatisation of the prisons, specifically as it relates to special diets, was also suggested, since some of the contraband items enter through food brought for prisoners who have special dietary needs or refuse to eat what is provided by the prison. The committee also suggested that the state provide clothing for those on remand, as opposed to wear their own clothing as applies now. It was also recommended that officers be allowed firearms outside of prison and safe housing.
The committee admitted that the recommendations, which were not revealed during the official handing over yesterday, would be limited to budgetary constraints. When asked how the Government would balance the issue of overcrowding with legislation that denies accused bail and remands them for specified periods, Persad-Bissessar said the safety of the nation was paramount. She said a balance must be struck, emphasising that the nation’s safety is of utmost importance.
Concerning the issue of overcrowding in the prison system, Commissioner of Prisons Martin Martinez said that should have been dealt with seven years ago, as reports were done and submitted to the relevant authorities.
Asked what would ensure that there would be action on the latest report submitted, since there were countless others submitted in the past, the PM said this time the report would be going to the Finance and General Purposes Committee, which has not happened before. She added that her Government was taking the issue seriously. Persad-Bissessar said the recommendations could not be implemented overnight, but said she would look into some short tem changes in the interim.
In a brief interview with the Guardian after the handing over, Martinez and Minister of Justice Emmanuel George said the closing of the Carrera Island Prison, which was scheduled for the end of this year, would be pushed to the middle of next year. They were commenting on how the problem of overcrowding would be addressed while one prison is being closed. The men also stated that the Santa Rosa Correctional Facility is a possible option to house prisoners.
Martinez said, “It is under consideration for purchase.” The Santa Rosa facility was built during the 2011 state of emergency.