On Thursday, against the backdrop of two prison officers being murdered and a threat to kill 11 more before the year ends, the Prime Minister sought to assure prison officers and their families that this time, everything possible will be done to protect them.
On November 26 prison officer Trevor Serrette was killed at his fruit stall in Valencia. Three days later Nigel Jones was shot dead in front of his small daughter at a taxi stand in Siparia.
Both men worked at the Wayne Jackson Building (Building 13) at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca.
On Tuesday night, a prison officer was shot at in Tunapuna. An off-duty policeman shot one of the attackers, who is now in hospital under police guard. The police officer was also shot in the gun battle.
One Tuesday morning nine men were held in Carapo in relation to the two murders. Another man, believed to be the getaway driver in the attack on the prison officer in Tunapuna, was shot and taken to hospital. Newsday was told he remains warded at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and is yet to be interviewed by police.
The nine men are being interviewed by various units of the police, including the Homicide Bureau.
In a Facebook post on Thursday morning Dr Rowley said: “It must be correctly assumed by all that the Ministry of National Security will not surrender the nation's prisons, and the State will continue without ceasing to have TT remain a place where there is the rule of law and that there is adequate and effective law enforcement at every level so as to secure the peace and safety of all citizens.”
Prison Officers Association (POA) president Ceron Richards had already called on Tuesday for a meeting with Rowley and on Wednesday sent him a formal request.
“Prison officers are being slaughtered with impunity and national strategies must be urgently discussed/implemented to address this in the shortest possible time,” Richards wrote, adding that the attack on officers is the “barometer to the level of criminality being faced by everyday citizens.”
In his Facebook statement Rowley said: “We are very aware of the perils surrounding the duties of honest, hardworking prison officers and have taken note of the onslaught aimed at these officers of State. We will do everything possible to secure them and their families.”
Richards said he had no comment on Rowley's statement, as he and his executive are still seeking a meeting with him.
Prison officers in the past asked for priority in being issued with gun licences, and wanted special allocations from the Housing Development Corporation.
Speaking with i95FM on Thursday, Prison Commissioner Dennis Pulchan said he met with Hinds and other agencies to discuss protecting his officers and to investigate and “bring to justice those perpetrators who would have murdered my two officers cold-bloodedly.”
Newsday was told at least five prison officers have resigned since the murders of their colleagues.
A senior prison officer who asked not to be identified told Newsday the only way for "real action" to take place will be for officers to retire in droves.
He said many of the promises are regurgitations, and he is awaiting the outcome of the meeting with the Prime Minister, if it happens.
On Tuesday, asked what his ministry would do to address the officers’ concerns, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said he relies on the professionals, police and other arms of the protective service, for technical solutions.
In a letter to his attorney on Tuesday, murder accused Rajaee Ali said prisoners should not be blamed for the deaths of officers, who he said were “playing victims” after provoking a situation.
The new remand facility was supposed to be large enough to house the increasing remand population. The killings and threats against prison officers have been linked to prisoners on remand.
Rowley’s statement was not the first time prison officers have been promised extra safety measures.
In 2013, after prison officer Andy Rogers was murdered in Malabar, prisoners rioted, claiming they were being victimised by officers, who were retaliating.
Then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed a nine-member committee, headed by Prof Ramesh Deosaran, to look into conditions at prisons and submit a report. Some of the committee’s recommendations were to build a new remand facility and install full-body scanners and cellphone jammers in prison. The jammers were to have stopped inmates from calling “hits” on prison officers.
Payphones were supposed to have replaced cellphones, with increased penalties in place to dissuade prison officers from smuggling them and other prohibited items into prisons.
Two years ago, the Miscellaneous Provisions (Law Enforcement Officers) Bill 2019, was proclaimed.
The law came after the discussions with the POA, which clamoured for legislative support, among other things to address their concerns over safety on and off the job.
The law allows for the summarily dismissal of rogue prison officers and make it a specific crime to attack them and other arms of the protective service. It was supposed to have been tailored to protect prison officers but was expanded. It amended parts of the Criminal Law Act, Prisons Act, Police Service Act, Immigration Act, Fire Service Act and the Customs Act.