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By Theresa Goodwin

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Work is well underway at the national prison – despite the Covid-19 crisis – on the planned expansion aimed at addressing long-standing problems with overcrowding.

This is according to the minister with responsibility for the institution, Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin. He told Observer yesterday that the prison yard has already been transformed to make way for the construction of a new block, much to the delight of inmates.

“It is expected that work will be competed within the next few weeks. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the work is being done at a very fast pace and that at the end of it all we will solve most of the overcrowding situations,” the minister said.

The country’s lone penal institution was built in 1735 to house a population of 150 inmates. Centuries later, that number has multiplied significantly with the number of inhabitants regularly reaching several hundred.

For years, inmates and campaigners have complained about the deplorable conditions. Most recently, former inmate Jessica Thompson spearheaded several demonstrations to highlight the problems and get the attention of the relevant authorities.

A prison insider also sought to bring inmates’ plight to light in a recent email to Observer, decrying everything from the lack of a proper rehabilitation programmes to the continued use of slop buckets.

“This year 20 portable toilets were brought into the prison and it was cut down to 10, which are emptied three times a week,” he claimed.

“There is a container where the inmates empty their faeces every day which is taken out of the prison once a week. Sometimes it’s like they forget to collect them because they stay until they run over on the ground, and sometimes they take away the container and don’t bring it back until the end of the following day, leaving the inmates with the only choice of throwing them in the rubbish bins,” he continued.

“There is one water catchment in the yard that holds roughly 50,000 gallons of water. It is as old as the prison; when water comes out of it and you leave it to settle, you’ll see all the rust at the bottom. When the water trucks come in and put in water, you cannot use it for a few hours because all the rust turns the water red.

“There’s a constant water crisis within the prison, and the water is not being brought in fast enough and at a sufficient amount to satisfy the prison population,” the insider added.

He also highlighted concerns about constant rat and bug infestations.

Government has repeatedly acknowledged there are issues at the facility which require addressing. National Security Minister Benjamin previously said the prison expansion would include provisions for more inmates to learn trades and complete secondary school qualifications.

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