The Tobago Prison is slowly slipping into the sea because of coastal erosion.
The building, located behind the Scarborough Police Station, was originally loaned to the Prison Service by the Tobago Police Division.
A prison source told Guardian Media Limited that there is a lack of political will for a new facility, describing the building as “someone squatting, on the side of a mountain”.
Head of the Prison Officers' Association Gerard Gordon said they have not received any information regarding a replacement facility.
"It will appear that they are waiting for the prison to slip into the sea to then do something,” he said in a phone interview last week.
The back of the building is being impacted.
"I would like to believe our current Prime Minister, being Tobagonian, does something. But I don't know if any real consideration is given to the purpose of having a modern correctional facility built in Tobago because we have learnt a long time ago that treating with criminals and criminality, just locking them up for the period of incarceration is not enough and it only lends to the continued deleterious effects of crime in T&T.”
While he acknowledged that some attempts had been made in the past, he doubts that current Chief Secretary Farley Augustine will get the necessary support from the Central Government to establish a new facility.
"The importance of that facility in Tobago is one simply about equity and treatment. The difficulties faced by the families of the incarcerated individual cannot be understated and especially within recent times with the issues with the sea bridge and the air bridge they don't have the same access as their counterparts in Trinidad. I think more than anything else, it is something that could be looked at and addressed seriously.”
There is a holding bay cell to transport prisoners between Trinidad and Tobago on board the Buccoo Reef ferry.
He further complained that the serious space constraints at the Tobago Prison interfere with the expansion of developmental programmes for offenders.
"With the passing of time, the issues certainly are not getting better and it is festering like a wound that you leave untreated ... The staff is doing as best as they can with what is made available to them, but Tobago represents the poster child in my view, often neglected by the state towards the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service.”
In the past, there were plans to acquire land for a new prison in Tobago however, those plans were ultimately abandoned, with no alternative solutions being put forth.
In 2020, former acting commissioner of prisons Dennis Pulchan announced a new correctional facility at Montessori Drive, Glen Road, Scarborough, for “low-level crimes” inmates. Within days, residents protested the idea and the plan was shut down soon after.
Today, Gordon believes there may be no end to the Tobago Prison ordeal.
“There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this situation in Tobago. The State has proven time and time again that the prison in Tobago is not a priority. They don't look at us–and it seems the only time it gets attention is when you are able to threaten their position in politics, and the politicians of the day see no mileage being gained from addressing this long-standing issue in Tobago.”
He said the lack of suitable facilities for prison officers was another troubling aspect, not only in Tobago but at all prison facilities.
Gordon vowed to visit all prison facilities in T&T and make official reports to OSH.
Guardian Media was told there are three 10×12 cells that house 40 inmates at the existing prison.
Prisons Commissioner: Given what we have, we are doing an excellent job
Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar acknowledged that while coastal erosion has affected the operations of the Tobago Prison, he has found creative ways to use the resources at his disposal to ensure the prisoners and officers are comfortable.
Ramoutar told Guardian Media in a phone interview yesterday, "Yes, there is erosion but it's not that the prison will collapse. Yes, I agree we should relocate because it's not in the best condition. But given what we have, we are doing an excellent job.
“Tobago's prison is in the best state of infrastructure that it ever was. That has been done by assistance from the THA and the prison officers who work in Tobago. Over a few months ago we had the prison evacuated and refurbished by officers who are passionate about what they do."
In 2022, the prisoners were temporarily relocated to Trinidad for rehabilitation works at the facility in collaboration with the THA.
Now the building is in a better condition, he said.
He said the inmates at the refurbished facility have had fewer complaints and are more comfortable
He said there was a new programme for inmates in Tobago as part of the service's restorative justice initiatives.
“Rehabilitation does not only happen in a classroom. Yes, they need classrooms, but it's an on-the-job practical experience.
“I have officers being specially trained so they can motivate inmates. We have a better quality family visit where we encourage the families to motivate them to do better, that's the strongest motivation.”
Ramoutar added, “The prison association could do well if they could get their officers to unite and see that they can make a much bigger difference than if you have an antagonist approach.”
Attempts to reach National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds to address the matter were unsuccessful.