A $25 pack of cigarettes is sold in prison illegally for $500, Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan said on Monday. He was testifying before Parliament's Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security as it looked at ways to curb gang influence over vulnerable youth.
Pulchan said his officers were daily tracking the contraband trade. He lamented that a prison officer paid with his life for seizing a cellphone from an inmate yet, so far this year, some six to eight officers were caught attempting to smuggle in items when scanned by X-ray at the prison gates.
Pulchan said marijuana is also smuggled in by being thrown into prison compounds. It is even delivered by drone – one which was recently caught, with a cellphone attached.
He vowed if the law was changed to let the prison service operate its own signal jammers, illegal cellphones would be blocked. Those jammers, he said, are controlled by the Strategic Services Agency (SSA.)
Committee chairman Fitzgerald Hinds asked why youngsters join gangs in prison. Pulchan replied they did so "for survival" when their families were too poor to bring them "visit bags" full of snacks.
Asking what these snacks were, Hinds scoffed that those youths were joining gangs for "preserved mango, nuts and a sweet drink," and urged the prison system to provide more adequately for them.
Pulchan said fewer than 200 remandees have joined 17 gangs in jail, but most leave when released from prison. He said convicted inmates were too busy at work or training to better their lives and were not joining gangs.
Pulchan revealed TT prisons have a 64 per cent recidivism rate. At first he said quite a few remandees get bail and then go out and commit another offence while out. He also said some remandees are held and then released but soon return on remand for other offences already committed unknown to the prosecuting police officer in the first case.
He said one remandee had ten pending cases.
JSC member Keith Scotland, an attorney, lamented the failed prosecution of a 2014 case partly due to no evidence from a faulty CCTV camera in prison where inmates had fought prison officers. The case is on appeal.
He asked, "Are the cameras now functional?"
Pulchan said the pandemic had prevented a foreign company visiting TT to do CCTV updates, but it was now a work in progress with the entire prison scheduled to be done very soon.
They (technicians) will arrive in TT on Thursday, he said.