If all had gone as Government planned in Parliament yesterday, UNC MP Ganga Singh’s quip to Finance Minister Colm Imbert might have been the only spotlight moment.
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$230m for Santa Rosa warehouse prison but more $$ needed to make it better
After paying an estimated $30 million in rent for the Eastern Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre, Santa Rosa, Government has finally reached an agreement to purchase the warehouse for an additional $230 million. But once the purchase is made more funding will have to be allocated in the upcoming budget to upgrade the warehouse, which has been housing low-risk prisoners since the state of emergency in 2011.
Speaking at a media conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, yesterday, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow said the chief state solicitor was now finalising the required legal document to complete the deal. He added: “At present, the Ministry of Justice is procuring the facility at Santa Rosa. “When the agreement is signed we will be able to go forward. At this time I cannot say exactly when the purchase will take place but the downpayment is ready to be paid in the fiscal 2015.”
Speaking by telephone later, Barrow said the facility would have to be retrofitted to meet the standards of a prison. Currently, the centre is a warehouse which shares a compound with two Unicomer warehouses. He said there were long-term plans for the facility, chief among them the enhancement and rehabilitation of prisoners.
He added: “We will have to get that whole place retrofitted to suit our needs. “It was not designed for the purpose that we needed it for. The $230 million is the price for the property as it is now. When we purchase it, we will retrofit and refurbish it as it is part of a whole plan to use it as a rehabilitation centre. “It entails the development of a prison industry where we will have workshops being set up and inmates being involved in the production of furniture. “In the long run, we will be looking at establishing a pre-released centre with houses where inmates, prior to their release, will be allowed to operate in an environment similar to the outside.”
Plan for overcrowding
The purchase of the centre is part of Government’s effort to reduce prison overcrowding and is one of the recommendations by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s Special Prison Committee. It is being looked at as an alternative to the Port-of-Spain prison and can house up to 400 prisoners.
After the prison was established, Santa Rosa residents expressed their discontent with a prison in their community and delivered a petition of 300 signatures to their MP, Rodger Samuel, to have the prison shut down. Barrow also said Government’s plan to close the Carrera Island prison depended on the completion of the upgrades to the Golden Grove Prison, Arouca, and its fencing. He said that was expected to be completed by March 2015.
Giving an update on the upgrade, Justice Minister Emmanuel George said: “The MSP (Maximum Security Prison) is also being refurbished as we speak and the electronic upgrade is taking place. I also saw that for myself last Wednesday when I visited. “All the wiring is being done as we speak and we expect that is going to be completed by November of this year. Once that is completed, we will be able to use that facility more intensively.”
Regarding the new remand prison, he said tenders were extended to August 31 on requests by bidders. He said the overcrowding of the Port-of-Spain prison had also been addressed with over 200 prisoners being transferred to the MSP.