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Her Majesty's Prisons in Kingstown. (iWN file photo)
Her Majesty’s Prisons in Kingstown. (iWN file photo)
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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves made an early morning visit, on Monday, to Her Majesty’s Prisons (HMP) in Kingstown one week after an accused murderer escaped custody there then turned himself in hours later.

Gonsalves said the escape of Veron Primus, 32, was “very troubling” and said he visited the prison to see for himself what reports reaching him had described.

“There’s not been a break out for quite a while. But this one is very troubling and I must tell you this, while I was overseas, as soon as I heard about it, I was on to the Superintendent of Prisons [Brenton Charles], the Commissioner [of Police, Colin John], the Deputy Commissioner [of Police Frankie Joseph], the Acting Prime Minister [Montgomery Daniel] and there were many, many calls. So it is a range of issues, which are getting my attention,” said Gonsalves who was in the United States when the jailbreak occurred.

“But I really can’t comment about the status of the investigation. I wanted to go round there myself to see where that person’s cell was and how that person coulda come out. I wanted to eyeball it. I didn’t just want to read it in a document. That’s why I was there this morning,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security.

“Seven o’clock, I was ‘round there this morning, first working day since I came back,” he said.

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“I had the Commissioner of Police and the Superintendent of Prisons [Brenton Charles] because I wanted to see something for myself,” Gonsalves said.

“The law courts will deal with what they’re dealing with, the superintendent will deal with whatever he is dealing with, so, too, the commissioner but I have some things also to deal with so I want to see certain things myself…” he said.

Veron Primus
Veron Primus leaves the Serious Offences Court in Kingstown on Wednesday to begin a prison sentence for escaping prison. (iWN photo)

Primus, who is awaiting trial — since September 2017 — for the November 2015 murder of real estate agent Sharleen Greaves, 33, has been jailed for 16 months for escaping prison.

Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne handed down the sentence at the Serious Offences Court in Kingstown after Primus pleaded guilty to a charge that he escaped lawful custodybetween Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2019

And, last Friday, Louie Cupid, 45, of Murray’s Village, one of four prison officers who were on duty at the time of the escape, was charged with corruption and conspiracy in connection with the escape.

Cupid was denied bail and is carded for another bail review this Friday.

Louie Cupid
Prison Officer Louie Cupid is seen in a 2016 iWN photo.

Gonsalves noted that the investigation continues, adding that it would be improper for him to comment on it.

He said it would also be improper for him to comment on information he has received, as minister of national security, which may prejudice the investigation or the rights of anyone involved in any process arising from the prison break.

 “I have been reflecting on some things which we need to do further in respect of the Prisons but it is not a matter which I am going to address in anger,” the prime minister said.

“I am going to address it with patience and calm, but, nevertheless, with some urgency. And you may hear about some of the things and you may not hear about some.

“What I know is that the prison service has a lot of resources budgeted. The prison officers who have been taken on are taken on with qualifications which are supposed to be above that in the older system.”

He said that his government, this year, budgeted EC$6.2 million for the prisons, which has 137 officers, adding that these numbers are significantly higher than 2001 when his government came to office.

The prime minister said prison officers’ salaries are higher and terms and conditions are better than in 2001.

Ralph Gonsalves
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)

Gonsalves, however, said he noticed that the Superintendent of Prisons said there are nine or 10 vacancies at the prison “but he was quick to add, which is correct, that he has enough resources to man the prisons”.

The prime minister said that wherever additional resources are required at any point in time, there is standard policy that the Prisons can get support from the police.

“At any time or the other, you have some vacancies. People reach retirement age; somebody goes away. The bureaucratic process will fill them. There is no policy not to fill them.”

Gonsalves commented on some of the reactions to the prison break.

“To show you how persons can be unhelpful, I saw it said by one person who is acting as a union leader for the prisons, for the prison officers, saying that they are burnt out.

“Well, I don’t know how this gentleman got out of his cell. But if the burn out of a prison officer or prison officers could open a cell door, is a hell of a thing. That’s all I will say. But there are some issues,” Gonsalves said, adding that most prisoners are held at the Belle Isle Correctional Facility, which his government built.

The prime minister said he had been advised that there are a lot of very dedicated prison officers.

“And, of course, if you have 137, you will find one or two in between who [are] preoccupied with other things other than their jobs.

“So, all those things will have to be examined in all of the mix. But these are not times when, bad as this situation is and it is particularly so because of the individual who escaped prison — bad as that is, we are certainly far removed from situation where when we arrived in 2001 where the prisoners controlled the prison and when you’re having prison riots and people having frequent breakouts and so forth,” the prime minister said.

7 replies on “PM visits prisons after ‘very troubling’ jail break”

  1. When I worked as a Correctional Officer in a Maximum-Security Prison, we first spent 9 weeks doing classes as well as among the inmates observing seasoned officers and learning the system. After the 9 weeks we worked as intermittent officers until going to the Police Academy for an additional 8 weeks. Every year we were required to attend a week of training for the usual self-defence, weapons, medical and other things we learned in our initial training. A major part of the training is to recognize and know what to do if we were being compromised. That is what may have happened in this latest high-profile prison-break.

  2. Colin in Canada says:

    Will you please stop cmparing everything to the way things were when you formed government in 2001 Mr. PM. It was 18 years ago for goodness sake!! You come across as so partisan and petty. Be bettrt than that!

  3. The Prison in Kingstown should only be used as a temporary holding facility for prisoners attending Court. This will reduce the risk associated with housing violent and prolific offenders. The prison compound including the adjacent Court house needs to be refurbished. So too is the Central Police Station.

    It is good that the PM took the time out to visit the Prison to apprise himself of the situation. This is what leaders do. Koodos to him. The real issue is that there are too many old people in charge of the Prison and Police Force. They lack leadership and vision. They always speak of how things were in there day, which an obsolete line of thought. There needs to be more young people in leadership positions within the Prison Service and Police Force.

    Time to make way for the next generation of leaders. Poor leadership in the Police and Prison’s compromise the security of Our Country. We need brains not butter. We need to better utilize our intellectuals and academics in leading our prisons and police Force.

  4. Who Mr Mac?

    I wasn’t 18 years ago it was nineteen years a go, of course there are more prison officers and they get more money. Please stop treating us as if we are all stupid. Such statements come across as you being stupid comrade. Stop it, we have had enough of your silly comments.

    As the minister in charge of prisons, prison officers and police the responsibility is yours, resign. Stop travelling abroad and poking your nose into international affairs and attend to things here is SVG. You are wasting our time and spending our money, its time to get real.

    Stop supporting people like Maduro, get us out of ALBA and reinstate PACE. Other than that just go, yes go.

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