Criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad didn’t exaggerate when he described T&T’s prison system as the country’s biggest drug block.
Use of illicit drugs behind bars is a well-known fact, borne out by countless news reports about the smuggling of contraband items into prisons, including recent cases of drones being used to drop them into the compounds. There have even been cases of prison officers caught smuggling drugs to prisoners.
But the strongest support for Dr Seepersad’s claims comes from a report, Drug Abuse monitoring Project Among Inmates in Trinidad and Tobago, done by the National Drug Council. The findings revealed some disturbing facts about the extent of drug use among inmates. The study found surprisingly high use of illicit substances, with marijuana the drug of choice.
Drug tests at the various facilities show that 92.6 per cent of samples tested at the Port-of-Spain Prison were positive for cannabis. At Carrera, 91.6 per cent were positive, at the Maximum Security Prison 38 per cent, 51.6 per cent at the Remand Yard at Golden Grove and 30 per cent were from samples on convicts at Golden Grove.
These statistics are quite alarming but Dr Seepersad, in a presentation at a virtual symposium hosted by the Catholic Commission for Social Justice yesterday, gave even more disturbing details about the extent of the drug abuse behind prison walls, including the use of illegal substances as rewards and to keep prisoners calm.
Given the overcrowding and sub-human conditions in prisons---revealed a few months ago in a Guardian Media investigative series---the drug abuse by inmates adds to the tinder box situation that already exists. Urgent interventions are needed before the situation gets further out of hand.
The availability of drugs in prisons is a threat to safety and security. It also obstructs the rehabilitation of prisoners with addiction issues and could lead others to develop drug abuse problems during their prison stay.
This is a huge challenge for an already overburdened criminal justice system and is likely one of the significant contributors to the violence and dysfunction within T&T’s prisons.
Dr Seepersad’s insight into the situation, the result of research he has done at UWI’s Department of Behavioural Sciences, can be the basis of an action plan to tackle this problem.
A multi-faceted approach should include restricting the supply of drugs into prisons by improving security at facilities, building intelligence and targeting the criminal networks that smuggle drugs into prisons. A system of drug testing and other diagnostics is also needed to monitor the levels of use, starting when inmates enter the system. In addition, treatment should be available to all prisoners who screen positive for drug usage.
Addressing this situation decisively and consistently is not only important for a higher level of security in the prison system but will also strengthen work done at the level of restorative justice, perhaps even reducing recidivism when inmates are released back into society.