Concerns about prison inmates’ health and safety

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By Machela Osagboro

While prison inmates are upset that family visits have been suspended to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 at the institution, new concerns regarding prisoners’ health and safety have come to light.

On Monday, Steadroy Benjamin, the minister with responsibility for the prison, announced that all prison visits have been suspended for two weeks as the nation continues to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Other measures were that the practice of meals being brought in to inmates from friends and family has been discontinued. There will also be increased security at the prison, and the number of inmates allowed outside for work duties will be limited to those working on the prison farm.

However, Observer was reliably informed on Tuesday that access to essential items such as hand sanitisers and water to wash hands is in short supply within the penal institution.

“Things are in a horrible state in the prison,” a source said, claiming prisoners have had no drinking water since Monday.

It was also reported that a fight had broken out over some Lysol which had been given to one inmate by a family member. That altercation resulted in the inmate being put into the “dog pen” where he remained up to yesterday.

The source claimed the prison doctor has put forward a number of recommendations, which are yet to be taken up. 

Those apparently include providing adequate water for frequent hand-washing, access to rubbing alcohol and hand sanitisers, and no new inmates to be added to the current population.

Tensions are said to be high at the facility, with inmates accusing the authorities of having little regard for their health and safety. Meantime, Vere Bird III, an advocate for prison reform in Antigua and Barbuda, told Observer that, “whenever there is any kind of state of emergency in the country the persons at that place on Coronation Avenue are last on their minds. And if this virus breaks out up there, you will see a lot of dead bodies. That will show you what the government is about.”

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