Government has taken the first step for the early release of some prisoners as part of its measures to mitigate the spread of covid19.
On Saturday, the Attorney General filed an application that was granted by Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds at a hearing held on Sunday, using video conferencing technology, in keeping with the Judiciary’s own protocols for court during the coronavirus pandemic.
The application was deemed urgent because of the record number of covid19 cases globally. It has surpassed one million. The application seeks to get information from the prisons, the court, and the police to determine what methods can be used to reduce the prison population.
A time-table has been set for the provision of each list and by this Wednesday, when the matter again comes up for hearing, the prison has to provide its information. Also expected to provide documentation is the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
According to the application, the lists seek to identify men, women, and children who may be able to have their sentences commuted; who were sentenced to less than one year; who are serving default sentences because they were unable to pay fines; those who were unable to access bail, including those who were convicted and are awaiting appeal; and those who are entitled to remission by the prison.
Those who may receive an early release also include those serving time for not paying child maintenance. According to the schedule, those who will not benefit from an early release are those on gang charges; charges under the Offences Against the Person Act, such as murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, sexual offences, terrorism; and those charged under the Firearms Act.
According to the application, prisons are locations where people come into close contact with one another. It pointed out that public servants who work there are also at risk of being exposed by contact with prisoners and the public.
“A reduction in the density of persons inside prison facilities will greatly assist in decreasing the concentration of persons in close proximity to one another thereby minimizing the risk to human life.
“This reduction will assist further by creating more space inside prison facilities which may be utilised by the prison service in implementing social distancing and further develop to suppress and mitigate any risk of spread of covid19 thereby promoting better the health of inmates,” it added.
It also noted that according to the advice of medical experts, the critical period for preventing mass community spread in TT is between March 30 and April 20. So far, all non-essential services have been shut down until then according to the latest regulations signed by the health minister on April 2.
The application said in order to take immediate steps to minimise the risk of public servants and prisons at the prisons, and to continue with efforts to prevent the spread of covid19, the State requires information from its various arms to determine what steps can be taken to “reduce the prison population at minimum risk to the general public,” the application said.
Representing the AG are Fyard Hosein,SC, Ravi Rajcoomar, Jerome Rajcoomar, Aadam Hosein, Tenile Ramkissoon, and Ryan Grant. Appearing for the prisons commissioner is attorney Netram Kowlessar, while John Heath appears for the Registrar, Christian Chandler for the police commissioner and Sharlene Jaggernauth for the Children’s Authority.