Prisoners at Division B on the West Wing of the Golden Grove Prison are passing out from hunger after prisoners embarked on a hunger strike to protest deplorable conditions.
The protest came weeks after T&T's penal system came under heavy criticism from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCR) at the Organisation of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington DC.
A source who requested anonymity said the strike began last Monday and quickly escalated.
"Prisoners are fed up of the long wait in getting their matters heard. Some of them are being denied sunlight and the food that is being given to them is worse than dog food," the source added.
Asked to explain further, the source said, "The fish they feed us has scales and guts. The food not fit for human consumption. No salt or taste and sometimes it is spoilt. The hunger strike is for a better judicial system. Not everyone here is guilty but they are making criminals out of innocent people in this environment."
Some inmates buy salted cheese snacks and mix it into their food to get a better taste.
Contacted for comment, University of the West Indies professor Rosemarie Belle-Antoine who delivered a presentation before the IAHCR said the prisoners had reached a point of frustration.
"I have not heard about the hunger strike but I have been contacted by a few female prisoners who are in great distress. The prisoners are facing dire conditions and I regard the remand prisoners as the invisible people because we know they are there but nobody thinks of what they endure on a daily basis," she said.
She noted that there were over 2,271 prisoners on remand in T&T and out of this 34 per cent, one-third were incarcerated for more than five years.
"12.5 per cent have been on remand awaiting trial for more than ten. There is a person in jail in T&T awaiting trial for the past 21 years," she revealed.
Belle-Antoine said Prisons Commissioner Gerard Wilson has been working to improve conditions. She said Wilson was very concerned and had noted that in some ways people on remand had worse conditions than the ones incarcerated.
"We are asking for the State to take the lead by solving this multi-faceted problem which includes denial of bail for certain instances, slow trial and an under-resourced DPP's office as well as law reform," she said.
Prison Commissioner responds
Wilson, in a telephone interview, said he had a duty of care for prison officers as well as inmates.
He said he heard of the hunger strike on Tuesday and spent half of the day speaking with the strikers hoping to get them to desist from embarking on further action.
Wilson said a record was kept of each prisoner who declined their diet. He denied that the food at the facility was often spoiled and unfit for consumption adding that fresh food is cooked daily.
"We try our best to give them a balanced diet and while conditions here are not ideal, it is true that the food is not flavourful because we are cooking in bulk for over 1,000 prisoners," he added. Wilson said there was only a minimum of programmes available to inmates on remand and this is because you cannot cater a programme for an inmate who can get bail and go home.
"Remand in Golden Grove was never structured for programmes but there is a Voc-tech building that we service in order to get some of the remanded inmates to do programmes," he said.
He added that a new plan is being drawn up proposing that programmes could be introduced to people on remand and tied in with their sentence.
"This will encourage a lot of the remanded inmates for drug rehabilitation and assist them in becoming better people. Programmes are not compulsory, it is optional," he said.
Wilson said he intended to lobby for the rehabilitation of all the remanded inmates by writing to the Minister of National Security so that the people on remand could have an improved life.