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Prison boss institutes new suppression unit in jail

Published: 
Monday, December 11, 2017
As Anti-Gang Bill collapses...
Acting Commissioner of Prisons Gerard Wilson.

With recent failure of the Anti-Gang Bill, acting Prisons Commissioner Gerald Wilson is instituting a new prison unit to offer incarcerated gang members alternatives and directions away from gangs.

Speaking to T&T Guardian during yesterday’s Police Service Christmas children’s party, Wilson said: “What happened with the Anti-Gang bill was astonishing. I watched last week’s Parliament debate. It was unfortunate they couldn’t come to agreement,”

“But I can’t sit and wait for people to agree on things. I have an institution to run and must try to help and find creative ways to deal with challenges,” he said.

The Anti-Gang Bill to criminalise gang activity and aid crime suppression was defeated due to lack of Opposition support.

Wilson said bill’s passage would have impacted on the prison system—already overcrowded—regarding places to keep persons held under that law. Wilson recalled experiences the system endured during the 2011 State of Emergency when hundreds were detained under anti-gang law.

“But wherever the Prison Service can undertake measures to assist gang members to move out of that lifestyle—and avoid returning to jail—we intend to try,” he added.

“I’m launching this Suppression and Management Unit particularly to aid management of gangs in prison. While people usually insist they’re not a in gang when they’re free, once ‘inside’ they seek protection by gravitating to gangs,”

“This unit will offer alternatives— whether education, training, other programmes—to show them a different way of life.

“We aim to change the prison’s image as a ‘finishing school’ on crime for inmates. We’ must try to give them a way out or they’ll return to crime,”

He said two gangs dominated the prison population—Rasta City and Muslims—with the latter group larger sometimes. But inmates gravitated between both.

“There’s no true loyalty. They do what’s necessary for survival,” he said.

Wilson whose career has spanned Remand Yard, said: “We’d ask people how they became gang members. People often came from sub-cultures, a ‘we-against-you’ attitude concerning the status quo. They ‘d feel some people have and they don’t and they try however way, to put food on the table.”

“The situation isn’t an easy fix. But it starts with trying to understand how people think. Some people call officers “Fadder.” I see that for example indication of the absent father/ role models they didn’t have.” he noted.

Wilson said the new unit would not mean officers would be befriending inmates.

“You can be professional and still enquire on someone’s welfare. I’ve also told officers we have to examine and fix ourselves inside before we fix the service’s image outside because sometimes public criticism outside results from what people say inside,” he said.

“Officers should seek to be respected not feared. You’re only feared in jail. You’re not feared outside. If you’re respected inside, you’ll be respected outside. But at the same time, I don’t see why removing an inmate’s cellphone should cause a death threat.”

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