So there they were – more than a dozen prison officers standing outside the entrance of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) in a protest at the horrific conditions under which they are being forced to work. These are the dedicated men and women who stare danger in the face everyday, and who, for some strange reason, have been left to twist in the wind by our good Attorney General, who is apparently out to lunch.
According to a rather disturbing video recording by one of the prison officers shared on social media yesterday morning, “The administration staff was the first to come down with Covid, and nobody said anything to us, and they were still coming to work. The Ministry had to send them out of the prison to isolate themselves, and two of them are back here this morning, and that was last week Thursday, so their fourteen days have not expired, but they’re in the prison. Doing what? None of the officers have been properly tested; we have not been rounded-up as a group and vaccinated. We have to be going out and trying to do it on our own. And we’re in here locked down; sometimes eight, sixteen, twenty-four hours a day; officers are banging double and triple in here. There is nowhere for the officers to rest; there is nowhere for the officers to sleep. There is no place for them to urinate or even do what they have to do. Some of us have to leave and go to the ARG (Antigua Recreation Grounds) to use the toilet, because we don’t have any proper bathroom facilities within the prison for officers to use. But nobody is saying what we are going through; PRISON OFFICERS LIVES MATTER TOO!They say that we are essential, but we are not treated as such. During the curfew, officers are being stopped by the police who are saying that they do not acknowledge or know that that is a prison uniform. We are being disrespected left, right and centre. We are being asked to go and seek a pass, so that we can be on the road to come to work, by the police – the very department that we are a part of. So who answers to this? Who answers to us? WE ARE TIRED OF THE BROKEN PROMISES BY THE MINISTER, MR BENJAMIN and the permanent secretary has failed us miserably; SHE HAS FAILED US!!! So we are calling on Mr Gaston Browne to come and address our situation in here. Seeing as he said that he was informed by someone that the inmates have been moved, I am telling you now Mr Browne, that is not true. So we need you to come down here and correct that situation. We don’t want you to take up the phone and make phone calls, we need an on-the-spot sight. Not even the Ministry of Health is assisting us here. NOT EVEN THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH!”
WOW! What a stunning indictment! It would seem to us that the Ministry of National Security is guilty of dereliction of duty. (To be fair, we understand that a number of prisoners were hastily transferred to rehabilitated facilities at Crabb’s Peninsula early yesterday afternoon, but the damage has already been done). We fear that even at Crabb’s, a few more prisoners may very well come down with the coronavirus. But that’s all par for the course with this asleep-at-the-wheel administration. What the hell did they think was going to happen in a decrepit facility (it ought to be condemned) made to house one hundred and fifty, but is actually housing twice that number of prisoners? It was a catastrophe waiting to happen.
The sad thing is that we have heard grandiose talk about building a new prison before. We have also heard talk about early release for some non-violent prisoners who only have small amounts of time left on their sentences. But it has all been fanciful talk in extremis.The people in high places seem to lack the will to seriously tackle this age-old problem of overcrowding at HMP. And that is not the only crime at HMP! Au contraire,according to the earnest afore-referenced prison officer (she won our hearts with her passion and sincerity. She is also very well spoken), “WE ARE TIRED OF THE BROKEN PROMISES BY THE MINISTER, MR BENJAMIN!” They’re talking about proper bathroom facilities, proper rest areas for the officers, and a decent cadre of chefs. We understand that the inmates are now cooking the food for the entire prison population on account of possible Covid exposure among the kitchen staff. Sigh! Talk about the inmates running the joint!
But what can we expect from this reactionary administration. It is almost never proactive. It responds to festering problems only when the problem has reached critical mass and its back is against the wall. (See the belated relocation of the Fiennes Institute to the refurbished Nurses Hostel, and the one-step, two-step effort at ClareVue). So pathetic! And it is quite telling. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the United Nations once said that, “How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity.”Mahatma Gandhi earlier voiced similar sentiments when he declared, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”Based on what we are seeing play out at HMP, we are flunking the test of national greatness and a truly caring society. Notwithstanding their crimes against the State, the inmates at HMP are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with some modicum of decency. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, “All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.”
Unfortunately, we have failed . . . miserably!We have failed the prisoners,and we have failed the prison officers!
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