Prisoners clamour for early release amid Covid outbreak and overcrowding

The national prison is frequently overcrowded
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

[email protected]

Inmates on remand at His Majesty’s Prison are using the current Covid-19 outbreak there to clamour for their early release.

Newly-installed Superintendent of Prisons, Colonel Trevor Pennyfeather, said while the requests will not be “thrown out”, any such appeal must be “carefully” made and considered.

“Most of the inmates are pushing to be released early because the prison has some measure of overcrowding and I guess that’s their motivation.

“It is not something that I am going to throw out, but obviously it is something that will have to take some serious discussion and dialogue at the highest level,” he told Observer.

The request is mainly coming from prisoners who are due to be released within two years.

“It is mainly among those serving significant sentences. Some of them are scheduled to be released within two years, a year and a half, and even 18 months. So, they are asking whether or not consideration would be given for their early release,” he explained.

Pennyfeather said the requests were made verbally and nothing has yet been officially presented to the authorities.

He said however should any formal request be made, in light of the situation at the prison, it would have to go through the proper channels.

“The staff would have to look at it first and decide who is eligible and then for the powers that be, like the legal department, to consider. That is something that seems to be down the road and not necessarily to be addressed right now,” he said.

The conduct and behaviour of an inmate, along with the seriousness of their crime and how much time they have left to serve, are all important factors in deciding whether or not to release a prisoner before the scheduled time.

The prison board and the Attorney General also play a pivotal role in the final decision.

About 24 inmates have recently tested positive for Covid-19. Four officers are also infected. About 40 percent of prisoners have opted not to get tested, likening the virus to a common cold that they can handle.

All inmates who tested positive for Covid have been isolated and treated for the symptoms.

Discussions previously arose over possible early release of some inmates with less than six months left to serve in May 2020 when the Covid pandemic was at its peak. Authorities in other parts of the region, including Trinidad and Haiti, released some prisoners early in a bid to reduce overcrowding and curtail infection rates.

Bishop Charlesworth Browne, head of the Prison Visiting Committee and member of the Mercy Committee, told Observer that a prisoner cannot personally apply for early release, however an official application can be made by a relative or friend.

The letter should be addressed to the prison board, the Governor General, or Attorney General. Once the application is received, the Mercy Committee would meet to discuss the matter and several aspects would be taken into consideration such as the offence, the inmate’s behavioural patterns and health. There would then be a review of the prisoner which also includes engagement with the Prison Superintendent, Bishop Browne added.

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