An inmate at Her Majesty’s Prisons in Kingstown underwent emergency surgery at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on Monday after being stabbed at the correctional facility, which has been battling a problem of short staffing for over a year.
A source familiar with the development told iWitness News that the prisoner, Raffique Chewitt, of Calliaqua, was treated for cardiac tamponade — pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle and the outer covering sac of the heart.
The source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issues, said that Chewitt was stabbed during an altercation involving several other prisoners.
At least four other prisoners were stabbed, but Chewitt suffered the worst of it, the source said.
Three prisoners, including a non-Vincentian, are said to be the subject of an investigation into the stabbing of Chewitt.
Detectives from the Criminal Investigations Department are conducting the investigation.
In June 2015, Chewitt, along with former national footballer Dwaine Sandy, of Brighton, was slapped with four charges in connection with a shooting incident at the Young Island Dock at Villa on June 10 that year.
Chewitt and Sandy were charged with the attempted murder of Martin Davis of Villa, the attempted murder of Natterel Stapleton of Calder, possession of a firearm to endanger the life of Martin Davis, and possession of a firearm to endanger the life of Natterel Stapleton.
The security situation at the prison is said to be volatile as 14 positions remain unfilled for more than a year.
The source told iWitness News that at times, there are as few as 10 prison wardens on duty, including a corporal, and the senior prison officer — two administrative positions — leaving about eight persons to do actual prison duties.
iWitness News was told that when the eight wardens take up their respective duties, there is often no prison warden left to ensure that order is maintained among prisoners in the yard.
At the same time, the Prisons is moving away from issuing wardens with batons in keeping with efforts to shift the culture away from “prison officers” to “correctional officers”.
“Officers can’t even protect themselves. If they didn’t have good prisoners there, they would in trouble,” the source said.
The source said that when there is a fracas at the prisons, officers sometimes have to wait until it cools down before attending to the wounded.
The government is yet to correct the situation more than six weeks after the Public Service Union (PSU), which represents prison wardens, called the situation to the attention of the public during a press conference in June.
PSU president, Elroy Boucher, told the media that wardens at the correctional facility have been experiencing burnout after working long hours to compensate for short staffing.
“Thank God we are a peaceful country and we are not too militant like Trinidad or Barbados, otherwise, Prisons might have already been closed down for a day or two,” Boucher said.
“When you hear workers start agitating and coming to unions, it means that something within the administration is not happening and the union, therefore, [its] role is to go in and nudge the administration in the right direction,” he said.
The situation has led to prison officers working extra hours “to the extent that many of them started experiencing burnout,” Boucher said, adding that this happened although prison officers are given back the time in lieu of pay when they work extra hours.
“But no amount of time can compensate for your health,” Boucher said.
“A place like the prisons, as a matter of security, should be at all times fully staffed,” he further told the press conference.
The trade union leader said that Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Godfred Pompey, has assured the union that all 14 positions will be filled before the end of this year.