The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights is calling for the independent monitoring of prisons due to persistent allegations of abuse of prisoners by prison officers and the lack of any monitoring system to ensure that prisoners’ living conditions meet the minimum human rights standards.
In a statement on Thursday, the group called for a meeting with National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds to express their interest in being tasked with conducting such an exercise.
PSA Media spoke with the Executive Director of the CCHR Denise Pitcher on Thursday who explained why intervention from an independent body is necessary; something she said the state is obligated to allow, more so as there has been no Inspector of Prisons for the past 2 years.
“Prison officers have a degree of powers over prisoners, that’s why it’s so important to have independent monitoring and also to make sure that their basic needs are being met and their basic human rights are being satisfied.”
Ms. Fletcher added, “By law, it is required to have an Inspector of Prisons to be able to assess the conditions and policies and practices of prisons and that’s not happening,” while noting that complaints from prisoners have been ongoing for decades.
On Tuesday, one high-risk prisoner released a letter of the current treatment they are receiving at the Wayne Jackson building at the Maximum Security Prison, Arouca, claiming that they are being denied their usual right. This follows the recent murders of two prison officers just 3 days apart; apparent hits from behind the prison walls.
And on Wednesday, another prisoner contacted a radio station detailing their basic rights which have been taken away over the past week such as yard time, baths, and meals.
When asked to explain how exactly will this institution conduct such monitoring once engaged to do so, Fletcher said, “We will have a list of questions based on the minimal rules governing the treatment of prisoners. We’d assess the conditions. Hopefully, we’ll be able to interview some of the inmates as well to collect information on their treatment.”
With this, she said they will be able to independently verify what the prisoners are saying versus what the state is saying. She went on to say that the state also has an obligation in the interest of transparency and accountability to allow for independent monitoring and to reinstate a Prison Inspector as well.
The CCHR is looking forward to conversations with Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan and Minister Hinds very soon following the release of their statement.
Just last week Minister Hinds said that he is working assiduously to appoint a new inspector of prisons as a covid-19 outbreak in the prisons became a topic of concern. The post has been vacant since 2019 when attorney Cedric Neptune’s term ended. He took up office in 2017.
The Prison Act empowers the inspector of prisons to “inquire into all matters relating to the prison,” examine prisoners and staff and inspect all books and papers relating to staff. Additionally, according to The Prison Rules, the inspector must visit each prison once a month and must investigate every complaint made by inmates, pay special attention to inmates undergoing punishment or who are ill in the infirmary, and adjudicate on certain complaints against prisoners by the prisons commissioner and then order punishment.