AG explains measures to reduce prison population, says it depends on the nature of the offence

The colonial-era institution has long drawn criticism due to overcrowding and the use of slop buckets among other complaints (File photo)
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By Latrishka Thomas

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Accused persons who are unable to obtain bail, or those remanded for certain offences, may be able to get out of the Her Majesty’s Prison, due to new plans set in motion by government to reduce the prison population.

Cabinet announced, yesterday, that it “has endorsed a plan to reduce the population of Her Majesty’s Prison. Those who have been granted bail and are unable to meet the monetary threshold will be required to report to the police station in the mornings and the afternoons. Those on remand will be confined to their homes with tracking bracelets and will be checked on with frequency”. 

Minister of Legal Affairs, Steadroy Benjamin, expounded on those plans saying that “it depends on the nature of the offence, the conditions of the bail and the character of the person who is brought before the court for its contemplation”.

As it relates to bail, Benjamin said that “the court will be re-examining the bail conditions of persons on remand and will seek, where is possible, to revisit the application for bail and if though necessary to reset bail conditions which will allow them to be released.

“For example, if somebody has been granted bail but that person has not been able to meet the bail conditions and in particular, the monetary deposit, the court … would revisit the conditions and perhaps impose, instead of cash deposit, regular reporting conditions; meaning, reporting to the police station in the area where the person lives maybe every day of the week, twice a week or three times a week,” he added.

On the other hand, persons on remand for matters that are not of a serious nature could be placed on house arrest.

During yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst revealed that that will be conducted using the Covid-19 tracking bracelets which the government recently acquired.

“We can place them in their homes and place the bracelet on their arm to ensure that they remain in their homes, rather than move about as though they are free when in fact they are not,” he said after mentioning that new bracelets will not be purchased.

The Attorney General also made it clear that the enforcement of these plans will be solely in the hands of judicial officers as the principle of separation of powers continues to be upheld.

“The executive does not in any way at all interfere with the functioning of the judiciary,” he said.

In noting that the courts are currently closed, Benjamin also remarked that how and when the courts function will be up to the administrators.

“It is the function of the administrators — the permanent secretary in the department and the Chief Magistrate on the job — she makes the sole determination within her own discretion. She determines what’s happening there. She determines what happens in the courtroom, how many people are in the courtroom.

“The government makes the policy but the administer the policy as they see fit within the realms of the law,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, the 32 prisoners who recently tested positive for Covid-19 have not yet been isolated.

The facility at the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force base at Crabb’s Peninsula that is being refurbished to house them is expected to be completed within a few days.

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