Attorney posits class action suit against prison conditions could be successful

Wendel Robinson
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A class action suit brought against the current conditions at Her Majesty Prison (HMP) could be successful in the courts once it is filed with supporting documents.

That is according to notable attorney Wendel Robinson, who explained that the banding together of inmates and prison officers could ensure the success of a class action suit.

“A former inmate can always bring an action for damages based on what constitutional rights have been infringed. A class action is good because you will [support] and you will probably get sufficient affidavits from former inmates. You might be able to get from former prison officers as well as inmates what you are experiencing, at the moment, the dilapidated conditions there.

“Once you have that and you can bring to the fore the breaches of the constitutional provisions of the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda as well as from the international forum…that sets out these basic fundamental rights of prisoners,” Robinson explained.

He added that that, coupled with sufficient evidence, could result in an “up to 25 percent discount off their sentencing in light of the present extraordinary situation that we find ourselves in, that is, the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The attorney also lobbied for judicial officers to take into account the circumstances of the prison when passing a sentence.

“If the criminal courts can avoid it do not send persons to prison because of the extraordinary circumstances that are prevailing the earth at this time. In recent times … I have been able to successfully convince the court — both before Justice Morley QC, and certainly before Justice Ann-Marie Smith — that the court should apply the Covid-19 discount to prisoners,” he stated.

One such case was that of Kathy-Ann Isaac who was convicted of conspiracy for rob her former employer, Carlisle Bay Resort. She was sentenced by Justice Smith to spend two years and six months in HMP after the judge took several factors into consideration, including how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted prison life.

Robinson also reminded the public that the conditions at HMP are so unsuitable to the point that England had initially refused an extradition request for an ex-policeman to return to Antigua to answer to a criminal offence.

The ex-cop, Lee Cramp, was only extradited after the government gave Britain the assurance that he would serve his time at the former Pan Am Base, and not the prison.

“From an international level, England has seen it fit to put down its feet and quite rightly so in the circumstances, but what does that create? It creates an imbalance because it so happens that a white prisoner is getting hotel type accommodation, which has some overtures of colonialism in it, in comparison to a black prisoner in Antigua and Barbuda who is suffering.

“It should have urged the government to move more swiftly to make the conditions at the Her Majesty’s Prison more amenable and more suitable and more humane for the dignity and lives of the inmates who are human beings just like me and you,” Robinson argued.

Prison activist Jessica Thompson is making attempts to file a constitutional motion against the penal institution.

She believes that the deplorable conditions at HMP are a breach of the inmates’ constitutional rights and his hopeful that the motion will be another step in securing a new prison facility.

Over a week ago, Thompson told Observer that funding is the only thing that’s preventing her from officially filing the motion.

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