The trouble within the prison system escalated to another level yesterday, after a list of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of several prisons officers was found hidden inside the wall of a cell at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca.
The discovery was made by officers who were searching prisoners and their cells during a lockdown of the facility on Monday night. The lockdown came in response to several violent attacks on prisons officers in the wake protest action taken by officers over the killing of one of their colleagues on November 7. Several prisons officers, who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity, described the document as a "hit list" and said the discovery had left many of their colleagues fearing for their safety.
A source said the list contained personal information on both first and second division officers at the prison. Officers claimed Andy Rogers, the officer whose brutal murder on November 7 sparked protests from his colleagues, was among officers named on the list.Apart from the list, the officers also recovered a large haul of contraband items, including dozens of cellphones, phone chargers, a mobile broadband Internet hotspot, marijuana, cocaine, razor blades and other improvised weapons.
"This list was forwarded already via social media and e-mails on some of the cellphones found to several links in the criminal underworld," a prison source claimed.The Prison Officers' Association (POA) has made several suggestions to help alleviate its members' health and safety concerns, including allowing certain officers an opportunity to take their firearms home.
On Monday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the appointment of an eight-member committee chaired by Prof Ramesh Deosaran to investigate the officers and prisoners' complaints. The committee held its first meeting yesterday.Contacted yesterday, president of the POA, Cerron Richards, refused to comment on the issue."I don't want to comment on that right now...I don't know anything about that," he said.
In a radio interview yesterday, Richards also revealed that prisoners at the MSP were able to open the doors to prisons cells there on Monday night.He said officers had raised concerned about the compromised security at the MSP before, but were unaware prisoners actually had the ability to control doors until Monday night, when they actually saw it for the first time as the prisoners opened cell doors during a riot situation.
Justice Minister Emmanuel George also said he was unaware of the incident "as yet.""Information will come to me I'm sure," George said in a brief telephone interview yesterday evening.Several calls to Prisons Commissioner Martin Martinez all went unanswered and he did not return calls.In an interview on Monday, Martinez pleaded with his officers to be patient while their concerns were being addressed by the special prisons committee and warned that their continued action might affect their safety.
"If the prisoners are not fed on time, they are denied visits, or are in any way disadvantaged, it would be to the tragedy of the officers because they will feel the backlash," Martinez was quoted as saying.
Prison sources also revealed yesterday that the officers' protest, which began at the Golden Grove State Prison and at the Maximum Security Prison, has now spread to the two other prisons–the Port-of-Spain and Carrera Island State Prisons. They claimed since the protest began last week, several prisoners and prisons officers have been injured in violent clashes.
The T&T Guardian understands that in the latest incident, one officer at the Maximum Security Prison was hit on the head with a metal bar during an altercation with a prisoner on Monday night. The officer was taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope for treatment and remained warded in stable condition up to late yesterday.
The officers' protest has also caused delays at the courts, with judges and magistrates having to adjourn numerous trials and cases because prisoners are not being taken to court. Other prisoners are complaining of feeling ill because of delays in their meals.A trial in the Port-of-Spain High Court had to be adjourned yesterday after a prisoner complained of feeling unwell from inhaling fumes from debris burnt by fellow prisoners at the Maximum Security Prison during their protest.