By Elesha George
The renewed vigour displayed by the government in fixing a litany of problems at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) 1735, has excited one of the supervisors responsible for renovation work at the penal facility. Principal Officer Grant Beggs, told OBSERVER media that he is excited about the many planned changes.
“Over the past 25 years, I identified a lot of things that we needed to [do to] improve the institution, and we’ve been asking for years and years and years; apparently now, the government has decided to pay more attention to this institution because they realise that it’s affecting not only the prisoners, but the public as well. I mean everybody has somebody in there who they care for and love…
“The government is now paying much more attention than ever before and it’s not only words; the Minister, Mr Benjamin, I must say is very passionate with what’s going on in the prison, so he decided, along with the Prime Minister, who may be a little bit passionate as well, to fix this place, to make it livable,” he explained.
Beggs said that, following a meeting last Friday between government and prison officials, he “was surprised that the improvements started immediately.”
“Saturday morning, first thing, trucks with toilets. We made a request for 15, they added another five so that is fixed. We started demolition yesterday [Monday],” he disclosed.
If the government continues to pump resources into fixing the prison, Beggs said, it could reduce the prison population by 30 percent.
His suggestion is that “we make them comfortable, diagnose, figure out their problem and fix it. I am guaranteeing you if everything is put in place by 2022, I can guarantee you this, if everything that I anticipate is put into place it [prison population] will be reduced by let’s say 30 percent.”
Meanwhile, Beggs expects that the lack of space, which he said is one of the major problems at the prison, will be rectified in the next two weeks. He shared that containers will be erected on the prison compound. To do this, the Ministry of Public Works will demolish an old two-storey building.
According to the Principal Officer, “the space is still there, so what we plan to do is to erect containers in that existing space “in what he described as “designer-home containers.”
Initially, the containers will house remanded prisoners who now stay in a separate building on the prison compound.
“The remanded prisoners will be moved to the container on the same compound, and that building will be renovated. When that’s finished, we move back the prisoners in that remanded section, but we will have more space because more cells will be erected,” Beggs explained, adding that they may then move the containers from the compound to Diamonds Estate, where they were originally intended to be.
It is expected that the remandees will then be housed at the estate so that more space will be available for those convicted felons at 1735.
At present, the overcrowding has led to health issues, including the presence of bed bugs, roaches and a rodent infestation, which now requires a special extermination effort.
Beggs told OBSERVER that “the rats are under the walls, the rats are in the walls, the rats are under the concrete…So we are now presently trying to find ways of how to deal with the rats under the concrete.”
The officer believes that after the renovations, HMP will be able to comfortably hold the prison population, which he cites at 287, almost double what the century-old prison was built to hold.
“I guarantee that the prisoners will be way more comfortable” he expressed, adding that, “I think about [an additional] 25 male officers will help” since there are now just over 80 prison officers policing the inmates.
Renovation at Her Majesty’s Prison began after a month of successive protests and media reports chronicling the deplorable living conditions at the institution.
The lead organiser has since been recognised by Prime Minister Gaston Browne who thanked her publicly for the stand which she and many other people are taking to call for improved conditions.