THE Tobago Convict Prison is on lockdown after a prisoner tested positive for covid19 on Tuesday. Acting County Medical Officer of Health Dr Tiffany Hoyte announced the covid19 case during the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development press conference on Tuesday. Hoyte said the prisoner became ill at the Scarborough prison and was taken to the Scarborough General Hospital where he was swabbed. Hoyte acknowledged the situation at the Tobago prison is “not ideal" as there is overcrowding at times.
“We have proactively started at looking at solving this,” she said noting prisoners and prison officers are being tested.
Hoyte added, "When we are testing the inmates we do have a contingency in place. Those who test positive will be placed in a separate facility."
She said there are 45 inmates at the facility and "although they have been in separate cells, in groups, we are treating as one and we are therefore investigating everyone." Contract tracing is being done for the inmates and prison officers."
One Tobago prison officer told Newsday on Tuesday evening he was in quarantine but didn't want to say more about the situation.
The situation has prompted president of Prison Officers Association Ceron Richards to renew his call to the Ministry of National Security for a new Tobago prison.
Richards was unaware of the covid19 case when contacted by Newsday on Tuesday but said if it was true, it would be a disaster.
"Anyone can see if there is an outbreak there, we could really imagine what the outcome would be. I'm not confirming or denying there was an outbreak but I'm saying if there was to be, we can only imagine...It is a violation of human rights to have persons under those types of conditions."
He said he is disturbed by the dilapidated state of the facility and the inhumane conditions the officers are asked to work in.
"We have been advocating for some time for a new prison in Tobago. The government through Udecott (Urban Development Corporation of TT) would have sourced land and we are still awaiting what intentions the government has for building this new facility in Tobago."
The existing facility, located directly behind the Scarborough Police station, was built to accommodate 50 inmates with 20 prison officers. However, Newsday was told by one prison officer up to 100 prisoners are kept in custody at the facility.
He said a piece of land at Bacolet was earmarked for the construction of the new prison. That land where the prison is at is quickly eroding and the building may collapse, Richards said.
"The prison cannot be upgraded and is falling in the sea. We have made several complaints to the Ministry of National Security about that prison and the need to move from there."
He added, "I don't think is on their agenda or part of their agenda but there is a need for a new facility. That old facility cannot fulfil the mandate of the prison service. It's very restricted in several areas. It cannot be classified; classification there is a nightmare and the most important separation would be convicted from unconvicted, and you have all of them in that tight area."
He said the association will continue to advocate for the relocation of the Tobago prison facility even with a reduced budget.
The Ministry of National Security which has received gradually smaller allocations over the past five years has been given $5.227 billion in the 2020-2021 Budget – $1.217 billion less than last year.
Richards said, "We hope given the situation that we are in now, and I know the government is being very conservative in their approach to spending and they are prioritising where to spend, I hope they see this as a priority."
In 2019, during a tour of some of Tobago's major construction projects, Minister of National Security Stuart Young vowed to move the construction of a new Tobago prison to the front burner. Young described the facility is a "disgrace" and assured Tobagonians that a new facility will move full speed ahead after the Cabinet approves the project.
Young did not respond to a WhatsApp message from Newsday on the progress of plans to build a new prison for Tobago.
The island now has 76 covid19 cases with 11 active cases. A total of 63 people have been discharged. The number of samples tested in Tobago is 1,209.