“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” —Margaret Thatcher
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The Prison Officers Association was last night bracing for a spate of riots at Golden Grove, Arouca, after a routine search at the Remand Yard resulted in the seizure of 36 cellphones and an undisclosed quantity of marijuana.
The contraband was found in the knapsack of a prisoner who was returning to the facility after attending a court hearing at the Princes Town Magistrates Court on Monday. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday, the association’s general secretary, Gerard Gordon, said the seized items would have been extremely valuable to its intended receiver. “What is the backlash … Who is going to pay for this?” Gordon questioned.
He added that if the expected repercussions come, his colleagues would be like sitting ducks both inside and outside the prison walls. He recalled the shooting death of prison officer Andy Rogers in November last year, which triggered a series of protests by the prison officers.
This action had forced the Government to commission a nine-member committee, headed by Prof Ramesh Deosaran. The committee was mandated by the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to look into the conditions at the prisons and submit a report.
Gordon said some of the blame for yesterday’s situation must rest on the police at the Princes Town Magistrates Court. The prisoner was returning to Remand Yard after a court matter there and should have been properly searched before entering transport vehicle to Arouca. He said for this to have occurred there must have been some sort of collusion.
“They (police) have to take some licks. How is it possible that this man had all this contraband? It could have been a gun, what else could they have brought?” Gordon said, adding the police must accept responsibility.
Report expected today
Contacted for a comment on the matter last evening, acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams said he was unaware of what Gordon was referring to. He said, however, that if there were any issues, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow would address him on it and he (Williams) would take whatever action needs to be taken.
According to police reports, around 4 pm on Monday the inmates were returning to the facility from court when the fire alarm was sounded. The inmate in question was trying to sneak into the prison with the drugs and cell phones, but was stopped by two prison officers and a scuffle ensued. The two officers were injured during the scuffle, but when he was subdued and his knapsack was searched the illegal items were found.
Also contacted last night, Barrow said he was unaware of the details incident, but said he had requested a full report on the matter which he is expected to receive today. Gordon said the recommendations made by the Deosaran committee of installing cell phone jammers, full body scanners and other equipment needed to be fast tracked. He gave kudos to the Government for taking the initiative to set up the committee.
However, he called for the special tender’s community of the Ministry of National Security, who are responsible for tendering for equipment, to fast track the matter.
what deosaran’s team suggested
• A commission of enquiry into the criminal justice system.
• The delay in adjudicating matters in the courts must be addressed to give prisoners on remand preferential treatment over accused who are out on bail.
• A review of the bail regime both from an administrative and judicial level.
• Semi-privatisation of the prisons, specifically as it relates to special diets, since some of the contraband items enter through food brought for prisoners.
• Provide clothing for those on remand.
• Prisons officers should be allowed firearms outside the prison and safe housing.
Questioned about whether there would be quick action on the Deosaran report then, since there were countless others submitted in the past, the PM said this time it would be going to the Finance and General Purposes Committee, which had not happened before. She said her Government was taking the issue seriously, but the recommendations could not be implemented overnight and she would look at some short term changes in the interim.