The first day of the planned hunger strike by remand prisoners from the Maximum Security Prison and the Port-of-Spain Prison fell through on Thursday as most of them failed to skip the respective meals and instead ate.
However, the second day, Friday, more remand prisoners are expected to begin the planned indefinite hunger strike.
Following allegations made against prison and police officers of abuse of a “high-profile” prisoner, all remanded prisoners decided to go on a hunger strike from Thursday to highlight alleged oppression during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acting Commissioner of Prisons, Dennis Pulchan said he hopes that “as time go on I expect to see good sense to prevail and hope that they stop the nonsense as their action will not sway the Commissioner of Prisons from his duties.”
Asked how the first day went, Pulchan replied: “The number of inmates who started this passing of the prison diet is rapidly decreasing.”
Another prison source, who wished not to be identified alleged that the prisoners who refused their meals, “have real stocks in their visit bags in their cells.”
Guardian Media was also told that no remand prisoners from the Golden Grove Remand Yard and the Port-of-Spain Prison participated in the hunger strike on Thursday.
According to a statement disclosing the proposed hunger strike that was released on Wednesday via the social media platform, the prisoners are calling for speedy trials for those accused of murders; reasonable bail for petty offenders; the immediate release of all remanded inmates from Building 13 at the Maximum Security Prison (MSP); clothing and medication requests from their respective family members and a full-scale investigation into the alleged government involvement in obtaining and torturing remanded prisoners housed at building 13 (MSP).
“It is already a present situation where remanded inmates are being held against their will without a trial date for as long as 15 to17 years on Remand. We are now faced with the COVID-19 virus…Prison officers cannot ensure the safety of these remanded inmates under these inhumane condition's. Many are of the view that their lives are being compromised and the dreams of being free and reuniting with their families are things that might never be possible. So we are asking for a speedy trial or an immediate response to the release or discharge of all murder accused from this infected environment,” the statement read.
“ The immediate release of all remanded inmates from Building13 who are facing humiliation and a high level of oppression by the same police officers who charged and accused these individuals for crimes they did not commit…they are innocent until proven guilty. We are well aware that some of the police officers and prison officers who are presently assigned by the commissioner of police are infected by the Covid-19 and are currently jeopardizing the lives of these innocent accuse individuals at Building13,” it added.
The statement, which was believed to have been prepared by a group of inmates, claimed that Building 13 is an “inhumane enclosed environment perfect for the breeding of the COVID-19.”
The T&T Prison Service, in an immediate response, said that the statement reflects the views of “a few disgruntled prisoners, some of whom, in March of this year, rioted and destroyed an entire wing in the Remand prison as a result of the same issues highlighted in their written message, namely COVID-19 transmission and extensive court delays.”
A COVID Command Centre has been set-up and is in operation, to manage, record, monitor, evaluate and aid in decision making, for both staff and charges, according to the prisons service.