Prisons chief Dwayne Bailey has told the High Court that security is an ongoing concern as the nation’s prisons as warders work 10- to 12-hour shifts and often go on sick leave.
Presenting the Prison Status Report at the end of the session of the High Court, Bailey said persistent sick leave is an issue throughout the prison system and contributes to the lack of security in the prisons.
He said the prison is “replete with a level of ill-discipline by some officers”, which, along with the “persistent sick leave” is of worrying concern to the management of the prisons.
The prisons are not adequately staffed to facilitate the rehabilitation programmes and this also poses a threat to the security of the prisons, Bailey told the court.
“The long strenuous hours might be contributing to that,” he said in response to a question from lawyer Grant Connell.
“Prison officers work 10 and 12-hour shifts and the conditions are not the best. Some, I will say, take advantage of the system under the Civil Service and religiously would take the two days given to them every month so they can stay away from the prison,” said Bailey, an assistant superintendent of police who is acting superintendent of prisons.
Bailey is responsible for the nation’s three correctional facilities, namely His Majesty’s Prisons (HMP), in Kingstown, which also houses the female prisons, and Belle Isle Correctional Facility, located in western St. Vincent.
He said that in his opinion, the Civil Service orders lack the power to deal with the level of ill-discipline among warders in the prisons.
He said he was slated to meet this week with Attorney General Grenville Williams to discuss the matter.
Bailey also told the court of the continued issue of contraband being smuggled into the prisons.
He said the prison fence in Belle Isle continues to pose a problem for the prison authorities and has been breached 10 times this year.
Contraband — mainly cell phones, cigarettes, lighters, alcohol and scissors — continues to flow over the walls of HMP in Kingstown.
The prisons house 392 prisoners, made up of 381 males and 11 females.
The prison chief said there were 36 infractions at HMP over the year, 213 cell phones were seized and five civilian breaches of the prison regulations.
He told the court that there are 41 mentally ill people behind bars. Of these, 29 are on medication as the Ministry of Health has determined that the other no longer need to be medicated.
Nineteen of the 41 mentally ill prisoners were charged with murder or manslaughter and eight of them are awaiting trial or are on remand.
Bailey said 28 prisoners are suffering from non-communicable diseases, mainly hypertension, diabetes, and asthma.
Responding to a question from defence counsel Karl Williams, Bailey said he has raised with the permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security the issue of mentally ill inmates being housed at the prisons.
“We are pushing to have them build a wing at Belle Isle to house the mentally ill prisoners and provide the treatment,” he said.
Bailey said that while the prisons provide inmates with medication, a “limited number of cognitive skills being taught to them and treatment in that regard is sorely lacking”.
Bailey, however, said that all is not lost as the prison farm, located at Belle Isle continued to be a success and the prison is now self-sufficient in providing eggs and vegetables for inmates.
He said the farm recently donated over 300lbs of eggplants to the hospital and will endeavour to continue to do so.
Bailey said the rehabilitation programmes, including plumbing, carpentry, welding, farming and literacy are continuing.
The prison chief said the prison management continues to try to improve the general conditions by repairing bathrooms, toilets, the making of bunks and painting of the prisons.
Responding to questions from defence counsel Ronald Marks, Bailey said that the “Grow in Time” programme, run by Vonnie Roudette, which teaches prisoners to make mats and other items from vetiver grass is continuing and has been expanding to both correctional facilities.
He said Roudette is also co-ordinating the literacy programme at the prisons.
Marks asked Bailey to convey to Roulette the private Bar’s commendation for her work with prisoners.
The prison chief told Justice Brian Cottle, who, along with Justice Rickie Burnett presided over the sitting, that 15.5% of the people behind bars are awaiting trial or on remand and this number is constant, compared to the two last reports.
Meanwhile, responding to Connel’s questions, Bailey said that typically, prisoners who have served long sentences of more than 20 years are recommended to the Mercy Committee for clemency.
He said that prisoners are recommended if they have demonstrated significant improvement in their behaviour, suggestive of rehabilitation.
He said that if the behaviour of prisoners serving sentences for marijuana possession allows, they are permitted to participate in the rehabilitation programmes.
“There are some very disruptive inmates and given the general circumstances in terms of rival groups, we are cognisant of the fact and we make the adjustments in terms of who we allow to go where…”