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Saturday 18 November 2017
Editorial

The prison officer’s dilemma

We express condolences to the family of slain prison officer Glenford Gardener who was murdered outside of his home last Thursday. The murder of one officer is bad enough, the murder of a second officer in the space of a few weeks is a sinister development which calls for the strongest possible response.

The possibility of some kind of sustained campaign against prison officers cannot be ruled out. On the day of Gardener’s murder in Diego Martin, there were reports of another prison officer being involved in a shooting incident. According to a report, that prison officer and his girlfriend were driving through Cocorite when the back of their vehicle was shot at. Luckily, both escaped unharmed.

It is believed this incident was an instance of two people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is surmised that the car was caught in crossfire between two rival gangs. Be that as it may, this incident — like all of these incidents — must be thoroughly investigated.

Whether subject to a campaign of violence or not, prison officers are daily asked to put their lives at risk. They come into direct contact with the criminal element. It is in this context that the calls for prison officers to strike that have circulated on social media have come. It is of little use to pretend these messages, whatever their provenance, amount to anything other than a provocation — of officers and of the State apparatus that employs them.

But as sympathetic as we are of prison officers, it remains unacceptable for any such officers to unilaterally take matters into their own hands by abandoning their post. For that, in a nutshell, is what protest action amounts to.

When prison officers protest they may well feel that they have momentarily insulated themselves from the risks they face. They may also believe their disruptive action achieves a degree of recognition that will attract more urgent action on the part of the State. Yet, prison officers miscalculate if they believe protest action is morally, legally or practically viable.

By absenting themselves from the job, officers in fact subject themselves to deeper peril. Not being in the loop, not being updated and apprised of daily developments, not being on the scene of the fast-changing remand environment all mean the officer loses out on the chance to gain access to resources needed to minimise risk to themselves and their families.

Additionally, from the perspective of the criminals, a protest is not a show of strength. It is a sign of defeat. The criminals who are believed to be responsible for the attacks will regard the absence of officers as a victory. Indeed, it may well be possible that this was the intention all along: to weaken and distract the national security infrastructure.

Worse, criminals may well be emboldened to continue further attacks, smelling fear and vulnerability in officers who have stayed at home.

Therefore the prison officer’s dilemma, while seemingly intractable, is in fact not. Prison officers have a duty in law to fulfil the legal terms of their employment; they further have a moral duty to society at large to not weaken the national security apparatus in any way; and they have a duty to themselves to minimise the reach and influence of criminals and corrupt actors who may be responsible for the reprehensible murders of their colleagues.

We urge all officers to ignore calls for protest action and to return to work. For while it may seem as if strike action is the only way to get the desired result of safer working conditions, in truth sick-outs and absenteeism simply hand more power to the people who are gunning for all of us in this crime-plagued society.

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