JENSEN LA VENDE
THREE years after an escape at the Port of Spain prison and two years after the keys went missing for close to 24 hours, the locks at the prison have remained the same and prison officers are fearful that someone may have a copy of the keys and can walk out to freedom whenever they feel to.
In July 2015, prisoners Allan “Scanny” Martin, Hassan Atwell, and Christopher ‘Monster’ Selby, allegedly shot their way out of the Port of Spain prison, also known as Royal Jail. Atwell and Martin were killed by criminals and police respectively shortly after their escape. Selby, who was awaiting trial for murder surrendered to police and is facing a second murder charge for the death of Sherman Maynard, 27, who was killed during the escape.
Following the deadly jailbreak, fellow inmate Rajaee Ali claimed in a signed statement that he told the prison supervisor, acting Superintendent of Prisons Wilbert Lovell, that he knew something “dangerous and foolish” was being planned. In that incident Ali, it is alleged, was supposed to have been part of the escape and 15 minutes after the warning the men escaped. Sources had claimed that the escapees had keys to the prison and that’s how they managed to escape so easily.
In June the following year, Darron Ramlochan, 28, appeared in the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court charged with misbehaviour in public office in connection with the disappearance of keys for nearly a day. The keys were later recovered but senior prison officials believed there was enough time for duplicates to be made and ordered that the locks be changed. A month later, another bunch of keys went missing for an inordinate amount of time. The locks were sourced, purchased and imported and are now sitting somewhere in the stores department of the prison.
A prison source told Newsday that the locks took close to a year to acquire, because they required some measure of speciality, and cost the State near $1 million. The locks were handed over to the Prisons Service but, with payments due, the keys to the locks have been kept by the suppliers. The locks for the entire prison must be changed because of the breach, prison sources said, and each day the locks remain not installed poses an unnecessary security risk.
The new locks were acquired in November 2017. Since then, another problem developed – the Prisons Service’s only locksmith resigned and, given the nature of the job, outside assistance was not recommended. Eventually a replacement was sourced but, in the absence of the keys still being withheld by the suppliers, he remains unable to complete his mandate.
“So we have new locks we can’t install and we have a fear that the keys for the old locks have been compromised, so what really going on?” a prison source said.
Other sources said there were plans to refurbish the prison in 2012 under then national security minister Jack Warner, but that never materialised. Those plans included replacing the bunch of keys used by prison officers with a biometric scanning system and creating separate entrances for civilians, inmates and officers.
“What happened to the key? Did they make a copy? We don’t know. There was a breach and the problem is still there. The breach hasn’t been fixed, 111 locks!” a prison source said.
The Prisons Officers Association said they could not confirm or deny whether the locks were replaced adding that security breaches were taken seriously and they would look into the matter. Prisons Commissioner Gerald Wilson is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.