A group of a little over 400 prisoners on remand at the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) at Golden Grove, Arouca, is threatening to take legal action against the Health Minister and the Commissioner of Prison for failing to implement covid19 regulations for the prison.
The group of 436 calls itself Justice Seekers Association. They have retained attorneys Farai Hove Masaisai, Sallian Holdip-Francis, Antonya Pierre, and Anthony Egbert. The attorneys said the matter was a life-and-death situation as their clients’ health is at risk.
In her letters to the minister and commissioner, Pierre said he failed to ensure that the Public Health covid19 regulations were applicable to the prisons and prisoners and he failed to protect their right to life and health.
Pierre said the regulations implemented accepted protocols on physical distancing to prevent the risk and spread of covid19, but prisoners have not benefited from those rules since there have been no protocols to ensure the prisons are properly sanitised.
She said there is no running water in the cells at the remand section, toilets cannot be flushed and prisoners are forced to eat with the smell and presence of human excrement.
Prisoners are only given with half of a blue soap and half of a red soap which is to be shared among them in each cell and has to last the month.
Pierre said no hand sanitiser has been given and physical distancing cannot be practised with seven men in one cell. She also said the only physical activity for them are football and basketball.
Pierre said the only sanitisation measure was in March when prison officers used a mist blower with bleach and water to spray cells and officers on duty are not wearing masks, gloves, or using hand sanitiser.
“As instructed, the officers are tested when entering the building to determine if they are under 38 degrees bodily temperature which is not determinative of covid19 as infected persons may be asymptomatic. We are also instructed that there is one officer who was observed as having been allowed to spend the day on the compound with the inmates he usually works with despite having a high temperature.
“As it stands, the current setup of the prison is apt for the easy spread of the infection among the population should one prison officer be a carrier of same as we are instructed there are no proper or stringent measures for the interaction of the prisoners with the officers,” she added.
Pierre’s letters to the minister and commissioner were sent in April.
In response, attorney Hillary Muddeen of the Chief State Solicitor’s office said the State was not in agreement with the contentions raised.
Muddeen questioned the purpose of the JSA, saying it appeared to have been created just for initiating the legal challenge of their covid19 complaints.
The State’s attorney said the claim that the commissioner has failed to comply with physical distancing measures at the prison or sanitise remand section was untrue since, at a very early stage, took proactive measures to protect prisoners and staff by limiting physical contact by outsiders as well as screening everyone entering the prison and having virtual visitations. Mudeen also reminded of steps taken by the government to reduce the number of people in the prison. Some 388 prisoners are eligible for early release, Muddeen said, adding that already 121 have already been released.
The State’s attorney said there has been no confirmed case of covid19 in the prison, adding that there has been no breach of any prisoner’s right and the State could not consider any proposal for compensation which was asked for.
Applications on behalf of a handful of them have been filed and are currently docketed to a judge.