10 'high-risk' inmates demand return to general prison population

File photo: Prisoners exercise in the general area of the remand section of the maximum security prison in Arouca.
File photo: Prisoners exercise in the general area of the remand section of the maximum security prison in Arouca.

A GROUP of ten remanded inmates at the Wayne Jackson building (Building 13) of the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca are demanding to be returned to the general population of the prison.

They have also listed other demands in a pre-action protocol letter that their attorneys sent to the Prison Commissioner on Thursday.

The ten – all of whom are on remand on murder charges – are represented by attorneys Lemuel Murphy, Joseph Sookoo, and Roshan Tota-Maharaj.

In the letter, Tota-Maharaj said the ten also wanted the removal of the “masked men in black” who patrol the prison; removal of restrictions preventing them from having discussions with their attorneys and prison visits by family; the return of proper and full airing for no less than an hour daily and improved ventilation, lighting and cleanliness in their cells.

The attorney said the letter was an attempt to amicably settle the matter to avoid costly litigation.

On Wednesday, one of the inmates also instructed another of his attorneys to ask for the President and Prime Minister to visit.

They also wrote to the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights, which has said it continued to be “deeply concerned” about allegations of inhumane conditions, abuse of prisoners by prison officers, and the lack of monitoring systems to ensure human rights standards were ensured at the prisons.

Tota-Maharaj said since their relocation to Building 13, the ten had witnessed inmates being beaten and abused. He said they have also complained they had no running water and were housed in unsanitary conditions and kept in an area where filth has accrued.

Because they are considered “high risk,” their families are not able to visit. He also cited concerns about poor lighting and ventilation and reducing airing time and access to their attorneys, giving details. The attorney said some prisoners have broken out in rashes but have received no medical treatment.

“Several of my clients have complained that they require medical care and have not received same for a variety of ailments.”

He also added some of the inmates have not been given a mattress or sleeping pad.

“Our clients also state that fully masked men in black are guarding and patrolling their cells. These masked men are issuing death threats to inmates, stating that for every prison officer killed, a prisoner in Building 13 will also be killed,” the attorney added.

He said the presence of these men in disguise was “repugnant,” as it went against good administration and was not permitted by the Prison Rules, warning the practice could be considered illegal.

He said there was no reason for his clients to be deemed “high risk.”

“In the circumstances, my clients are of the advised view that the regime that currently exists regarding Building 13 is highly irregular, improper, and unsupported by a proper assessment of any and/or any relevant criteria for the placement of prisoners there.

“Their treatment, for the reasons also described in this letter, is likely equivalent to cruel and/or unusual punishment and/or at the very least, equate to an improper restriction of their rights and/ or obligations guaranteed to them under the Constitution.”

The attorney also said the inmates have been refusing meals for fear the food has been tampered with.

Tota-Maharaj also cited the Constitution, the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the “Nelson Mandela Rules” for the treatment of prisoners as well as the prison’s own rules, to reinforce their position on the standards of treatment for prisoners.

“Additionally, while my clients do not complain that they are being kept in solitary confinement or, adopting the phrase used in the Prison Rules with respect to punishment of inmates, cellular confinement, it is striking to note that, save for the lack of isolation, their complaints all reflect a regime of imprisonment similar to said punishment.”

In a media report on Wednesday, Commissioner of Prison Dennis Pulchan dismissed prisoners' claims that conditions at Building 13 were horrendous.

He said high-risk prisoners can no longer engage in illicit activities and hold fetes in their cells. Pulchan believes it is a move by the prison authorities to stop illegal narco-trafficking and gang warfare in the prisons that has led to the “all-out war against prison officers.”

Earlier this week, the Prison Officers’ Association said 13 officers stationed at Building 13 were named on a hit list.

Two prison officers were killed in as many weeks, with an attack on a third this week.


"10 ‘high-risk’ inmates demand return to general prison population"

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