Prisons Commissioner on inmates’ hunger strike: They want sympathy
The Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service is warning the public to ignore the plight of prisoners who are attempting to “elicit public sympathy”.
This follows the circulation of a video displaying inmates’ food placed on the floor outside their cells.
The video has been shared with a written message which claims prisoners at the Remand Yard are staging a peaceful hunger strike until their demands are met.
This includes calls for a speedy trial for those accused of murder; reasonable bail for petty offenders; clothing and medicine from their loved ones and the immediate release of all inmates at Building 13 of the Maximum Security Prison (MSP).
According to the message, those particular detainees are facing oppression by the lawmen who charged them for their respective crimes. They are also concerned about the spread of COVID-19.
“We are well aware that some of the Police Officers and Prison Officers who are presently assigned by the Commissioner of Police are infected by the COVID-19 and are currently jeopardising the lives of these innocent accuse individuals at Building13. Building 13 is an inhumane enclosed environment perfect for the breeding of the COVID-19. The Police Officers who was assigned by the Commissioner of Police work alongside with Prison Officers. They used a particula[r] part of the facility to torture Remanded Prison[ers] to plead guilty. Failure to comply will be the implementation of a devastating punishment.”
“One of the subjects says that they the Police Officers and Prison Officers will treated to infect you with the COVID-19 which will then leads to a horrible death. THIS is clearly a breach of due process of law they constitutional rights as an individual is being violated in Trinidad and Tobago they are not lab rats.”
The inmates are further calling for a full-scale investigation into the government’s alleged involvement in the torturing of these accused individuals at Building 13.
In a press release addressing the allegations, acting Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan says the claims are false and do not reflect the state of the prison as they are unfounded and untrue.
“The contents reflect the views of a few disgruntled prisoners, some of who in March of this year, rioted and destroyed an entire wing in the Remand Prison as a result of the same issues highlighted in their written message, namely COVID-19 transmission and extensive court delays.”
Pulchan further condemns the actions of these individuals whom he accuses of seeking to undermine the extensive efforts of the Prison Service to keep them safe.
He adds that skipping a meal is a prisoner’s choice which is facilitated, recorded and their well-being ensured.
As it relates to inmates’ calls for faster court hearings, he states the Prison Service has no authority within the judicial system. As for their concerns about the spread of COVID-19, he says community spread made infection unavoidable. Still, he assures efforts are being taken to protect those detained.
“With a prisoner population of over 3800, the Prison Service has recorded five prisoners testing positive for the virus, all from the Port of Spain Prison. Two have fully recovered and three are still under quarantine. Prisoners are continuously monitored and there is a protocol to be observed, should anyone display any symptoms or complain about feeling unwell.”
“In addition to the guidelines set out by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health, several drastic measures have been implemented during the course of the pandemic, in an effort to keep all charges safe. The cessation of physical visits and courts which led to the introduction of virtual visits and court appearances, the discontinuation of receiving items from outside the prison and the commissary system which allows friends and relatives to deposit money on an account which allows for purchase of any item in the canteen.”
The acting Prisons Commissioner says operational procedures have also been adjusted at the detriment of reduced staff who have been advised not to report for duty if any symptoms are experienced. Instead, they must seek medical attention at the nearest health facility.
He says a Covid Command Centre has been set up and operationalised to manage, record, monitor, evaluate and aid in decision making for both staff and charges.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service continues to play an important role in public safety and national security, and all measures are utilized to ensure same,” the statement ended.