Prison authorities have seized 530 cell phones from inmates this year, amidst complaints that prisoners are using the devices to threaten witnesses, re-traumatise their victims and harangue people for mobile credit.
Acting Superintendent of Prisons Dwayne Bailey told the High Court today (Thursday) that cell phones in the hands of inmates continues to be a major security challenge at the nation’s prisons.
He said that some “nefarious” prison warders bring the devices into the prisons, but most of them are thrown over the perimeter fence.
The statistic that Bailey presented to the court at the close of the assizes shows that there are 399 people in the nation’s prisons, made up of 391 males and eight females.
High Court judge Justice Brian Cottle, who presided over the sitting, noted that the number of cell phones seized this year was more than one per prisoner.
Bailey said there were 95 infractions of the prisons this year and when he announced the number of cell phones seized, the jury burst out in laughter and some chatter.
The prison boss said there were five civilian breaches of the prison regulations.
He said that between 2015 to 2023, there were 24 breaches of the perimeter fencing.
However, this year alone, 98 offensive weapons were seized.
Bailey said there were several issues of concern to the management of the prisons, with cell phone and breaches of the perimeter fencing the most vexing.
He said that 530 cell phones seized by prison authorities are “no accolade to boast about.
“It speaks of the ease with which inmates can get their hands on cell phones,” he said, adding that this comes primarily from people throwing the devices over the prison walls and some “nefarious officers” bringing them into the prisons.
At the closing of the assizes in August, Bailey said that 213 cell phones had been confiscated up to that point.
On Thursday, Bailey said that in some cases when the perimeter fence at Bell Isle is breached, people come directly onto the prison compound and hand items to inmates.
The prison chief said that almost weekly he receives calls from members of the public who express concern about inmates calling them to ask for credit, favours and, in some cases, prisoners contact victims and re-traumatise them or threaten witnesses.
The warden said those matters are reported to the police speedily.
He said he has raised these issues with the relevant people and would redouble efforts in 2024 to have them addressed.
Bailey said that since his last report in August, a staff nurse and a nursing assistant have been added to the prison staff and they have been assisting in providing medical attention to inmates.
The prisons now have several additional officers who are undergoing initial training.
Bailey said that some security lights have been installed at Belle Isle Correctional Facility and more should be added in 2024.
He said he has worked with the Nutrition Unit of the Ministry of Health in developing a meal plan for prisoners to cater for their nutritional needs.
The purchasing officer, storeroom officer, kitchen staff and farm officers have been instructed to work together to keep as close as possible to the recommendation of the Nutritional Unit, the prison chief said.
Bailey said the prison farm has contributed significantly to the prisoners’ diet and prison management is seeking closer collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture.
He said the prison is self-sufficient in eggs and vegetables and also produces root crops.
For this Christmas, the prisons have slaughtered “a cattle”, several pigs and a number of goats for prison meals.
He said that in January 2024, the prison will be implementing a behavioural-based system that will benefit those inmates who conduct themselves property and punish those who breach the prison regulations.
Meanwhile, Justice Cottle expressed concern that for 399 prisoners, in one year, prison management has seized 530 cell phones.
“That is more than one phone per prisoner,” the judge noted, adding, “And those are the ones that you have managed to seized”.
He said the fact that there are other cell phones that authorities have not managed to seize is exemplified by the report from the public about inmates telephoning them.
The judge said that inmates soliciting credit is bad enough, adding “but they want to reach out to victims and perhaps to interfere with witnesses”.
He said the security lighting improvements is a good step.
“… we have to do what we can to remove from your staff those prison officers who facilitate the entry of cell phones into the prisons.”
The judge said he was happy that new prison officers were being trained, adding that hopefully they would acquire good habits.
“That is my wish also,” Bailey said.
Responding to questions from lawyers at the sitting, Bailey said that he contacted the Solid Waste Management Unit that instructed him to remove the batteries from the phones.
He said he personally took the devices to the landfill and had them destroyed by the tractor that is in operation there.
Bailey said the offensive weapons that were seized were made in prison and were primarily pieces of metal and toothbrushes that had been sharpened.
He said he has recommended to the Attorney General’s Chambers the legislation in relation to prison officers be strengthened so as to address some disciplinary issues. Bailey said he spoke tangentially with the Attorney General about the prison regulations.
The recommendation was that Bailey obtain from prisons or agencies overseas similar legislation so that they could be perused as part of a possible review.
Meanwhile, Director of Public Prosecution Sejilla Mc Dowall expressed hope that the prison would stop destroying the cell phones that are confiscated.
She made the point as she addressed the issue of asset management, telling the court there are scores of assets that in 2024 the state could begin to manage a little more effectively.
“I was a little disheartened that the cell phones are simply being destroyed. And certainly, that would be a thing of the past when there is that commitment to utilising resources much more efficiently,” Mc Dowall said.
“Because I am sure, in the police force, we can put those cell phones to proper use to stop some things from happening,” she told the court.