The Prisons Officers' Association (POA) is commending the Government for moving forward with plans to implement several new security measures at T&T's prisons.
POA president Ceron Richards said so yesterday shortly after Justice Minister Prakash Ramadhar announced Government had agreed to pump over $12 million towards the installation of a 24-hour CCTV camera system at all the nation's prisons and had received the first batch of handheld scanners and cellphone jammers on Tuesday.
Speaking at yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, Ramadhar said: "Today the Cabinet approved further funding to the tune of $12 million-plus to ensure that we have video surveillance throughout almost every part of the prisons.
"This is not only to ensure the security of the prison officers but certainly of the inmates.
"Yesterday we had delivery of the first batch of handheld scanners and grabbers for dealing with the problems of the illegal use of cellphones within the prisons and within the next several weeks we shall see the delivery of many more."
On the issue of surveillance cameras, Ramadhar said they had initially planned to implement the measure on a smaller scale but had to adjust it, bringing in the National Operations Centre (NOC) to play a key role as well in light of recent issues within the nation's prisons.
"We had already approved a smaller number of cameras in the past but we have expanded it now and it will be a complete system that monitors all the cameras in one centralised location and it will also facilitate connection with the NOC so that they too will have vision within the prisons. From what the experts have told us it will be able to cover all the prisons," he added.
Ramadhar's statement came a day after prison officer Kerwyn Boswell was shot outside his San Fernando home, an incident which had once again prompted the POA to raise its voice over Government's tardiness to implement long-promised extra security measures for prison officers and within the prison system.
Dealing with the issue of guns for prison officers, Ramadhar said Government already had purchased bulletproof vests and guns for officers.
He said when he came into office he met with acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams on the issuance of guns to prison officers whose lives may be in jeopardy but admitted it was not his call.
"It's a very rigid thing for them (prison officers) to be armed, yes, but in circumstances where we appreciate their lives may be in danger and we have seen now some evidence of violence on them, that will always give the benefit of the doubt to the grant of the firearms to prison officers.
Overcrowding bigger issue
Speaking in a telephone interview shortly after the announcement, however, POA president Ceron Richards said while the association was pleased with the move it was still concerned with the rate of implementation of that and several other security initiatives.
"We are waiting and waiting and the situation is getting progressively more dangerous for both the prisoners and our members," he added.
While Richards said the handheld scanners and cellphone jammers would assist with security in the prisons, he said overcrowding at the Remand facility was still a major concern which needed to be addressed urgently.
"Overcrowding is exaggerating all the security concerns. What we need is a gallant effort by Government to treat with the Remand Prison and create a facility which is less prone to confrontation and violence," he added.
Asked whether a recent move by prisons authorities to relocate 500 prisoners from the Remand Yard facility at the Golden Grove Prison, Arouca, following a series of clashes between prison officers and inmates had improved the situation, Richards suggested an additional 400 prisoners needed to be moved to make a tangible difference.
Referring to the shooting of 42-year-old Boswell on Tuesday, Richards said his association would continue to press for more of its members to be issued with private firearm licences when they were off duty.
"We will not let up because we fear if we do the authorities will also," Richards added.