Prison Officers Association president Ceron Richards is calling for an urgent meeting with the Minister of National Security Stuart Young to discuss the safety and security of inmates and prison officers at the Tobago prison.
Richards said he is concerned that the poor conditions at the existing facility, located behind the Scarborough Police Station, Scarborough, may have contributed to the recent covid19 spread where 14 prisoners and five prison officers tested positive for the virus between Tuesday and Thursday.
Richards told Newsday the Tobago prison, which can currently hold 50 inmates and 20 prison officers, is in a dilapidated state.
He said it is overcrowded and the land nearby is being eroded by the sea.
Richards said, "We are renewing our call for the Ministry of National Security and for the Government, for those lands they say are allocated for the construction of a new facility for Tobago."
On Wednesday, Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan opened the Claxton Bay Correctional Facility, designated specifically for holding and treating inmates who have tested positive for covid19. The facility can hold up to 23 patients.
Richard said he has concerns with the capacity of the new facility and how covid19 will affect the efficiency of the prison service.
He said, "We have been in talks with the commissioner of prisons. I know there is a facility open at Claxton Bay that should render some assistance on moving out affected inmates. We are looking at other measures the commissioner of prison has put in place. We do hope they conform to the medical advice given by the Ministry of Health. We will be looking at his future actions to secure Tobago prison and its officers."
He said his next step is meeting with Pulchan and Minister of National Security Stuart Young to discuss the possibilities of a new prison for Tobago and providing more facilities for infected inmates.
"The reality is, even with that new (Claxton Bay) facility, there is still a problem with capacity because it could only hold a few (24) people. So there is a need for the minister to get another facility in addition to that facility so we can move out people and have them quarantined properly."
Richards said he hopes the virus doesn’t cripple the service in Tobago.
“Staffing has always been an issue in the prison service. We recently had 500 officers that passed out but it's still difficult and challenging to have adequate staff at any given point in time, especially when you have a crisis on your hands. The commissioner has the responsibility to ensure the prison is properly staffed, although most of the time, we fall short of that.
“If necessary, there are people on vacation leave, the government can buy out leave. They have done it in the past. Maybe they can get the person off of leave so they can be on the job, ready to perform.”