PRISONS COMMISSIONER Dennis Pulchan is strongly urging prisoners to take the covid19 vaccine after 34 prisoners at the Carrera Island Prison tested positive for the virus over the weekend.
Pulchan said even though the public is becoming receptive to being inoculated against the virus, vaccine hesitancy among the prison community remained alarmingly high.
He is now calling on prisoners to take one of the 3,700 doses made available to the prisons through the Ministry of National Security and Ministry of Health.
“It's they themselves that do not wish to take the vaccine. Now that it hit home, I'm hoping that good sense prevails, because I have made all these vaccines available to provide this opportunity for them."
Last week, prisoners there were tested for the virus after several displayed symptoms of the virus.
Thirty-four were confirmed positive. Hours after information on a suspected outbreak at the prison went viral on Sunday, Pulchan told Newsday arrangements were being made to remove and isolate the men at facilities on land.
Newsday obtained a disturbing video of two prisoners, suspected to be covid19-positive, lying on the ground in an open, isolated area on pieces of cloth.
Newsday was told the prison was sanitised at least three to four times daily, but inmates were against the decision to designate a “cold” and “hot” area to separate the covid19 patients.
In a telephone interview, Pulchan said prisoners who tested positive will be transferred to designated facilities on land.
“I want them in a place where we can quickly send them to a hospital or something. We are trying to meet the medical needs of the inmates and place them in an area where we could get them medical aid.
"At the end of the day, the prison service has a duty of care to its inmates to ensure their medical needs are met."
He said the Ministry of Health was also working with the prison to manage, hospitalise and treat critically ill prisoners.
He said inmates without comorbidities will be placed in designated 'hot zone areas,' while those with comorbidities will be hospitalised.
Pulchan refused to label the incident at the Carrera Island prison as an "outbreak."
“It is not an outbreak, it’s a cluster,” Pulchan insisted.
“My population in a prison is roughly 3,675 on average and we only have close to 46 inmates who may be covid19-positive and because of our intensity of the way we are battling this pandemic we are keeping our numbers down.
"We have had higher numbers previously, so we're not doing too badly.”
He maintained that vaccination was the best chance to contain the virus behind prison walls and even with an ongoing sensitisation programme, over fifty per cent of prisoners are reluctant.
“People in the public are refusing to take their vaccine it's the same mentality that trickles down to the prison. I have had two deaths in the prisons out of 3,700 people and that is too much in my eyes.”
He said the prison service will not take the blame for inmates who were offered the covid19 vaccine, if they become infected and die of complications of the virus.
“There is a lot of propaganda in the air. The prison is a microcosm of society. So what happens in society trickles down through to the prison.
"The same social media misinformation that we see out there, that is accessible at different levels...the same conversation that is happening in the society, happens in the prisons.
“A prison is really a unique place that has a vulnerable group of inmates, because of how inmates are located in a prison, you'll find that they are much more vulnerable than the society. While the government can have a curfew and have people stay home, in prison, we have a basic routine that we must follow. So far I have made arrangements of them in designated 'hot' areas and 'cold' areas so we can adequately meet the medical needs."
Ceron Richards, president of the Prison Officers' Association, told Newsday he was aware of the spread at Carrera. He called on Pulchan to ensure all precautionary steps are taken to prevent an outbreak among prisoners and prison officers.
"I know the officers attached to that prison would be concerned. I hope that concern in itself will translate into action in terms of meeting and treating the prison environment.
"We hope that that area will be totally sanitised and protocols observed to ensure the safety of all on the island for our prison officers and prisoners alike.
"Whenever there is an outbreak, or clusters, as the commissioner would call it, the area must be specifically focused on in terms of proper sanitisation, using the right PPE and all of the relevant gear to treat with any further outbreak or spread of the virus. I don't know what the commissioner’s plans are, but I know there is a covid19 headquarters at the prison, and I suppose they would be working around the clock to treat with that latest situation."
Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds, in a brief telephone interview with Newsday, applauded the prisons for the way they have been managing covid19.
He echoed Pulchan’s call for all prisoners to accept the covid19 vaccine.
“The focus now is for the inmates to see the value of making use of the vaccine we have made available to each and every single one of them.”