Trinidad – ‘Grim’ prisons
Police and Defence Force to lend assistance after ‘riots’
PORT OF SPAIN –– The situation in the Prison Service has become so “grim” that consideration is being given for it to receive assistance from officers of the Police Service or even the Defence Force until a more permanent solution may be reached.
Minister of National Security Carl Alfonso revealed this during an interview with the media Sunday afternoon following the formal opening of the Trinidad and Tobago Cadet Force’s annual camp at the Barataria North Secondary School.
Although he is not the line minister for the Prison Service, Alfonso did note that there had been conversations between Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, the Commissioner of Prisons Sterling Stewart and himself on the issue and how the police and Defence Force could potentially assist.
“The situation in the prisons right now is grim. It is critical. And we’ve had discussions with the commissioner of prisons and we were shown some of the footage of what took place and clearly the prisons authority needs some help.
“I don’t think they can do it on their own. And to that end they have the help of the police and if necessary the Defence Force. But they need to beef up or at least enhance their capability,” Alfonso said.
The national security minister however stressed that it was not for him to deploy troops anywhere.
“The situation of one agency helping another like his has happened before. Now bear in mind I’m not the person responsible for deploying troops. That is the office of Chief of Defence Staff and Commissioner of Police. But they will decide how best to deal with it and how to help. It is not for
a minister to say how best I want it to deal with it.
“But what I can say is that conversation has taken place, and I get the feeling that the commissioner of prisons would want the assistance,” Alfonso said.
On June 17, there was a confrontation between prison officers and inmates at the Remand Yard Prison, Arouca, which left as many as 20 prisoners and five officials having to be hospitalized for injuries sustained.
Despite numerous reports that there was a “riot” in the cells from both inmates and relatives, Prisons Commissioner Sterling Stewart has repeatedly avoided this word, describing the incident only as a “disturbance” at Remand Yard.
Despite this, members of the Riot Squad were on standby at the prison by the end of the day to help prison officers should any other incidents flare up.
Inmates claimed that the confrontation was a result of prison officers allegedly targeting Muslims. However, prisons officers have denied this, emphasizing that they were merely conducting searches when a small group of men decided to “face off” against officials.
Since this incident, there was allegedly another confrontation with female prisoners at Remand Yard, in which about ten women were said to have sustained injuries. However, these women, sources noted, were in custody for serious offences, including murder, and it was alleged that they attacked prison officials.
There have also been repeated reports of confrontations between prison officers and prisoners, with videos being circulated on social media depicting prison officers being subjected to verbal threats against their lives as they attempt to conduct routine searches in cells.
When contacted yesterday, president of the Prison Officers Association, Ceron Richards, said the situation at the Remand Yard continued to be “critical” and needed to be addressed immediately before the situation becomes so detrimental that there is a loss of life.
“Despite our pleas, the situation remains unchanged. And we are very concerned by this, because we still have safety and security issues, as well as health and safety issues, so much so that we have repeatedly stated that the only option that the association sees as viable is that we have to shut down the prison.
“Shut it down before someone is hurt, or, worse yet, before there is loss of life,” he said.