THE day after the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights received a letter complaining about conditions at prisons, it called on Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds to grant access to check on them.
On Wednesday attorney Criston Williams wrote to Denise Pitcher, executive director at CCHR, asking the CCHR and others to visit the prison. His letter was written the day after his client, murder accused Rajaee Ali, wrote a three-page letter complaining about conditions and treatment at the Wayne Jackson Building (Building 13) at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca.
Ali submitted in his letter that the prisoners are not to blame for the recent killings of prison officers, adding that the officers are “playing victims” while “provoking a situation.”
He said meals are not being delivered on time, prisoners are not being allowed to bathe on time or at all, and are denied time outside their cells for “airing.” He said officers had abused and threatened some inmates in retaliation for the killing of the two officers.
The letter comes as prison officers are under a threat to murder 13 by the end of the year. In three days two prison officers were killed and a third was shot at.
In a media release on Thursday, the CCHR repeated Williams’ call for an independent body to investigate the prisoners’ claims that the conditions at the prisons are inhumane, adding that it will be willing to be the independent body to investigate if need be.
“We hope the honourable minister will accept our offer of service in an effort to respect the human rights and dignity of those he has been entrusted to care for. Other independent bodies have not been allowed to conduct monitoring visits to assess the living conditions of prisoners, even before the pandemic. There is no way to independently verify the claims of the prisons authorities with respect to the treatment of prisoners.”
Calls to Hinds went unanswered on Thursday.
Prisons commissioner Dennis Pulchan said the CCHR should write to him and request a visit and he will respond accordingly.
CCHR was troubled by the vacancy for an inspector of prisons,adding it is “deeply concerned” about the conditions there.
Last week Hinds said he was working assiduously to appoint a new inspector. The position has been vacant for the past two years, since Cedric Neptune’s appointment ended in 2019.
Section 20 of the Prison Act allows the inspector of prisons to investigate any matter relating to prisons and speak with any prisoner deemed worthy in private or in company of others to investigate any claim relating to prisons.
The Prison Rules dictate that the inspector must visit each prison once a month and investigate complaints. The inspector is also mandated to pay attention to inmates undergoing punishment or those in the infirmary.
“The conditions in remand, in particular, are horrific and the state should hang its head in shame. It should be noted that these are also the conditions that prison officers are forced to work in and would no doubt fail any health and safety inspection” the release said.
“Convicted persons are sent to prisons as punishment, not for punishment. Prisoners are entitled to their basic human rights such as freedom from torture, freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the right to health, the right to decent living conditions and the right to adequate nutrition.”
The CCHR added that given the country’s increased covid19 cases, the conditions at prisons should be of concern to the authorities. It said in the past it had shared reports om the conditions in remand as well as other places of detention, along with reports by other stakeholders, with its international counterparts. The international human rights bodies, it said, were “shocked and horrified” by the conditions at TT prisons.