FLASHBACK: Attorney General rejects outside assessment of the prison

Front page of the Daily Observer from April 22, 1999.

A little over a week ago the Caribbean Human Rights Network (CHRN) issued a press release calling for an independent assessment of Antigua and Barbuda’s prison. The human rights group stated that they were “profoundly distressed” over reports emanating from the nation’s only prison.

In writing the nation’s Attorney General Dr. Errol Cart, the human rights group declared that abuse of prisoners appeared to be escalating under the management of the Trinidad-based Amalgamated Security Services (ASS). In conclusion, CHRN stated that it was time for an independent or outside assessment of the nation’s prison.

Yesterday, the human rights network faxed a press release to The Daily Observer, which carries some of Attorney General Cort’s responses to their original press release.

Attorney General Cort has informed the CHRN that Anglican Bishop Orland Lindsay’s probe into the circumstances surrounding the fire and the conduct of the prison administration under ASS,is the sum total of all investigations that will be conducted into the matter. Dr Cort rejected the human rights organisation’s call for an “independent assessment” of conditions at the prison by stating that there was “no need”

While Dr. Cort did not address the issue of beatings and torture of prisoners by ASS officers, he did tell the human rights body that “the government of Antigua and Barbuda hereby undertake”to ensure that the human rights of all prisoners in its care are fully protected.

“We reprint below,in full, the fax sent to The Daily Observer by the Caribbean Human Rights Network:
Antigua: Prisoners Rights Assured

The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has given the assurance to respect the rights of prisoners and also to the construction of a new prison with facilities for skills training for prisoners.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Dr. Errol Cort, has outlined his government’s policy on prisoners rights and rehabilitation in a letter to the regional human rights network, Caribbean Rights.

He said he was currently awaiting a report from a Royal Commission that was established under the chairman of Anglican Bishop Orland Lindsey, to probe the circumstances surrounding a fire that destroyed part of the country’s prison on January 28 this year and the conduct of the prison administration prior to and since the appointment of Amalgamated Security Services.

The Barbados-headquartered Network had written to Attorney General Cort about reports of deplorable prison conditions and violations of prisoners rights that had worsened following the fire at the old prison.

The network has also offered to be of any assistance that may be possible within the context of its own penal reform programme, acting in collaboration with its allies such as Penal Reform International (PRI).

Attorney General Cort said that he expects to shortly receive the report of the Royal Commission which will be shared with the general public and, that there was no need for any further independent assessment of prison conditions.

He, however, assured Caribbean Rights that while temporary inconveniences through the relocation of prisoners, following the fire, were to be regretted, all efforts were being made to renovate and upgrade the facilities of the old prison.

The government is planning to build a new prison with at least 250 cells with the capacity of expanding to a further 500 cells, Cort said. An integral part of the new facility, will be the provision of formal and non-formal skills training for all inmates.

“I wish to reiterate”, he told Caribbean Rights, “that the government of Antigua and Barbuda hereby undertakes to ensure that the human rights of all prisoners in its care are fully protected.”
21 April 1999
Caribbean Human Rights Network

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