Prison Officers’ Association head: ‘Transfer officers, close Port of Spain jail’

Prisons Officers’ Association president Gerard Gordon - File photo
Prisons Officers’ Association president Gerard Gordon - File photo

HEAD of the Prison Officers’ Association Gerard Gordon hopes officers involved in the March 26 prison brawl are relocated, adding that if he had his way, the prison itself would be closed.

Gordon spoke to Newsday via phone on March 27 and said despite some officers having lacerations, soft tissue, and tendon damage, they are doing well, but are not back at work.

He said officers have not been given any counselling and cited a lack of counselling and psychological support as an ongoing issue.

Gordon said the association has been lobbying for a change in the current support structure.

"There are five counsellors hired; they are hired for inmates.

"The commissioner is suggesting that those counsellors also be used for officers. To have the same psychologist dealing with inmates and officers is not best practice in any part of the world."

He said officers suffer from trauma despite consistently showing up to do their jobs and saying they are not fearful.

"Engaging in situations where there is a high risk of not only injuries but loss of life presents its own level of stress. All officers are experiencing trauma from this event, even those not directly involved."

Gordon highlighted the July 2015 midday prison break, which caused the deaths of 26-year-old PC Sherman Maynard and wounded others.

Prisoners Hassan Atwell, Allan "Scanny" Martin, and Christopher "Monster" Selby shot their way out of the same prison.

Police shot and killed Martin in a guard booth at the Port of Spain General Hospital soon after and Atwell was found dead days later in East Port of Spain.

Gordon said there is a laundry list of issues that present challenges for officers at the Port of Spain jail, which makes it difficult for them to function.

He reiterated the association's call for the shutdown of the jail. He stressed that it needs to be relocated, citing its current location as a safety concern.

"The jail was built over 200 years ago. There is no more real estate; it cannot be reconfigured in any way that will allow for any safe operation."

He gave an update on the prisoners, saying at 1 pm, when he left the facility, all but one prisoner was back in his cell.

He visited the jail on the morning of March 27 and said the remaining prisoner is expected back at the jail by the evening of March 27.

On March 26, Gordon said the prison population is over 500 and the block where the incident occurred houses hundreds of prisoners.

"The prison is on the brink of having something happen there, and that is simply because of the layout."

He called the facility outdated and overcrowded. Gordon said the jail was never built to hold that many inmates.

"I think the number is around 250, if I’m not mistaken, and now it’s over 500."

In a brief phone interview with Newsday, acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar said the officers are on a "few days'" sick leave.

Asked if they would return to the same prison, he said that the decision is left up to the officers.

"If they want to be transferred, we are willing to accommodate them."

Denise Pitcher, executive director of the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights, called the overcrowding an ongoing issue and said the conditions are inhumane.

She said the situation has continued to be ignored by those in authority.

"The conditions are severely inhumane and unfit for any living being to inhabit it no doubt leaves inmates feeling dehumanised. These conditions are also unfit for prison personnel and begs the question whether prisons meet OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) standards."

She said all prisoners are entitled to minimum standards of treatment according to international human-rights standards to ensure they live a life with dignity and free from torture.

Pitcher said her organisation has repeatedly called for independent monitoring of all places of detention to ensure prisoners/detainees are being treated humanely and according to international human-rights standards.

"While there is an Inspector of Prisons, there needs to be independent monitoring to ensure prisons operate according to human-rights standards."

She said that given the treatment of prisoners and people deprived of their liberty, Trinidad and Tobago can be accused of "barbarism."


"Prison Officers’ Association head: ‘Transfer officers, close Port of Spain jail’"

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