By Latrishka Thomas
A number of lingering issues are associated with the country’s lone penal institution, but one that appears to be of significant concern to the prison’s boss is the growing number of mentally ill persons who are being admitted to the facility.
In providing a comprehensive report on the status of the institution to the court, Jermaine Anthony, the Acting Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) stated that the prison currently has 15 inmates suffering from varying mental health issues, but does not have the “trained personnel, resources or facilities to house and provide the necessary mental health care for these individuals”.
He said that the mental health of many of these inmates is deteriorating dramatically since some are not receiving proper treatment.
Anthony therefore called on the court to intervene.
“What is happening to these residents is tragic and an abysmal violation of basic human rights. What we are doing to these individuals is criminal,” he asserted.
He went on to share that many of these persons are behind bars for minor infractions, are unable to afford bail, or are remanded for an excessive period of time.
Anthony also disclosed that the Director of Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital’s response to his appeal has been “unacceptable”.
The prison, built since 1735, currently houses a total of 238 persons — 225 males and 13 females –88 more persons that it was built to accommodate.
A further breakdown of the male population reveals that 117 are convicted; 52 remanded; 11 awaiting appeal; 33 awaiting trial; two awaiting sentencing; eight serving a life sentence; one convicted juvenile and one whose sentence was commuted.
Among the females, eight are convicted criminals while five are on remand.
These numbers indicate that the prison is — in colloquial terms – “packed like a tin of sardines”.
Even more so, Anthony shared that there is an inadequate amount of correction officers, leaving the equivalent of one officer to man about 12 prisoners.
“We need to increase our staffing by approximately 150 percent,” he stated, however indicating that 30 new officers are being recruited.
The prison boss attributed the overcrowding to the failure to expand the prison, infrastructural loss from a fire in 1999 from which reconstruction was never completed, extended remand periods and prohibitive or excessive bail conditions set by the courts.
He said, however, there’s a 150-room housing unit which is almost complete.
Furthermore, Anthony went on to share that a wellbeing, health, safety and security survey conducted in HMP showed that the prison operations are also affected by inconsistent water supply, an overloaded electrical system, insufficient bathrooms, poor ventilation, structural deterioration, a lack of rehabilitation programmes and inadequate internal medical care facilities.
He said that while some of these issues are being addressed, there is still much more that needs to be done.
Another major concern of the prison authorities is the height of the perimeter wall and deteriorating razor wiring.
He said there are public and private businesses all around the prison which, practically speaking, cannot be relocated.
In addition, there is no exclusion zone fencing so contraband is easily thrown over the walls.
The prison’s surveillance system is non-functional and the guard towers are incomplete.
The institution also does not have cellphone jamming technology, so prisoners can freely use the phones that are thrown over the walls.
Anthony said efforts are being made to address these issues.