Of the 63, 680 inmates in the prison and correctional facility population, no one has contracted the covid19 virus, due to “teamwork and collaboration in the region,” said Justice Gillian Lucky, chairman of the Judicial Education Institute.
Lucky made the statement at a virtual conference addressing the impact and implications of covid19 on prisons and correctional services in the region.
Also speaking at the conference was British High Commissioner Tim Stew. He said even with the support given by the commission to TT prisons, by way of providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other covid-related supplies and training, overcrowding and lack of funding continue to be an issue across the region.
“One thing is clear. Overcrowding and prison conditions will continue to exacerbate our ability to manage the pandemic. There’s no quick fix.”
He said even in the prison system across the UK, overcrowding has always been an issue, as there is almost no room for physical-distancing protocols, increasing the risk of contracting the virus.
He also highlighted in prisons that adopted a restricted regime, such as limited to no visitor access and yard time, as difficult as it was for prisoners to adjust, it turned out to be a positive learning experience.
“It’s interesting, for a prison system predicated on the belief that time spent out of cells is needed to maintain control, that the restricted regime demonstrated that time can be managed if balanced with time out of cell that has purpose.”
Stew said money and new-build prisons will help, but will not solve the problem.
“More thought and prison reform solutions need to be explored,” including probation and rehabilitation, and the pandemic has helped to highlight how prisons can be reformed for the better.
Caricom’s Regional Crime and Security Strategy co-ordinator Callixtus Joseph said, “Covid19 has laid bare many of the expressions and inhumane issues in prisons and correctional services.”
He said steps are being taken to protect inmates, but it remains “particularly difficult” to do so.
Joseph quoted a recent Johns Hopkins study which showed prisoners are 5.5 times more likely to contract covid19 and three times more likely to die from it.
“Studies also show prisoners can contribute enormously to covid19 cases 'outside the wall.' Infectious diseases go back and forth between communities,” transferred from workers in the prison system.
He said Carpha and Caricom have provided PPE and stress management training and will soon be training staff in cyber intelligence to continue to contribute to the protection of inmates and workers across the region.
Dr Katija Khan, clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, said there is also the issue of increased stress levels for both workers and inmates.
“Staff within the prison services are faced with increased fears of contracting covid19 in the workplace,” and bringing it home to their families.
She said practising physical distancing and other hygienic practices recommended by ministry officials are limited for prisoners, but not by choice.
“The responsibility falls on the organisation,” which she said can cause inmates to be frustrated by their lack of control over the situation.
“Inmates are also faced with other stressors, like changes to routine, exercise and recreation, court dates, access to commissary, visitation and social and educational programmes.
Lucky said, “Many times, when people hear someone is in jail they discard them because they think they have committed some serious crimes.”
She said protecting the rights of those in prisons during the pandemic continues to be the focus.