UK prisons expert tours Westgate
The prisons adviser to the British Overseas Territories has been called in to examine the operation of the troubled Westgate Correctional Facility.
Keith Munns toured the prison yesterday with Timothy Seon, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, to talk to staff members, having already met officials from the Department of Corrections.
Mr Seon said before the tour that he planned to raise worries over staffing and budget levels with Mr Munns.
He added he would also discuss some of the prison officers’ grievances, including officers having to make Government Employees Health Insurance contributions.
Mr Seon said mould removal at Westgate was done by prisoners because there were no certified specialists available.
He explained: “We have no one certified to do it so we use inmate labour.
“We are aware that there are certifications for mould remediation and we are pushing to have a professional cleaning company on a consistent basis to deal with it.”
Mr Seon added the prison also needed “deliverable and consistent programmes” for prisoners.
He said: “We have a sewing class, art class and a small engines mechanic class which has just ended.
“We are hoping to have more classes but that is all that we have running.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and it creates a harder environment for security staff to manage these individuals.
“All of this is to do with staffing and financing.
“Mr Munns will, more than likely, make some suggestions by way of financing, but, at the end of the day, the Ministry of Finance holds the purse strings and if they say there are no finances for it, then ... it is what it is.
“There is a lot of angst and frustration within the department.”
Mr Seon said that would hold a meeting with POA members next week over problems that hit efficiency.
He added: “The climate is tense and morale is low when you have a labour government taking back a contractual benefit.
“In my opinion, the whole labour dispute was fruitless, because the only definitive recommendation that was made is that we are going to pay into the GEHI benefit.
“I have to get back to my membership to find out what direction they want to take moving forward, then the executive will move accordingly.
“If my membership has the appetite to take it further, then that is what it will be.
“I haven’t heard anything from government. I will talk to Mr Munns about this.”
Mr Seon has, in the past, said conditions in the prison were “deplorable” and he has complained about a lack of maintenance, burst pipes and a recent ceiling collapse in the prison’s kitchen,
The Prison Officers Association marched on the House of Assembly in a protest over pay and working conditions in June.
Mr Munns was asked to review Westgate and draw up a report.
Mr Seon said: “Mr Munns will report on how we can better the service and the product that we provide, and give an internal review of the prison service, before following up with a report recommending how to make it more effective.
“He is taking an holistic approach. After his visit, he will then have a follow-up with the minister and ultimately the Premier and Government.
“Many of the concerns we have at the facility come down to staffing and financing — budgetary constraints.
Mr Seon added: “We have a lot of outstanding issues and concerns.”
Mr Munns worked in the UK prison service for 42 years and is a former governor of HMP Albany in the Isle of Wight and HMP Wormwood Scrubs in London. His role now is to ensure that the prison systems in the Overseas Territories are in line with UK standards.
Wayne Caines, the Minister for National Security, defended Government’s record over Westgate in the House of Assembly after the June protest.
Mr Caines highlighted the recruitment of 25 new officers, a new cleaning regime and improvements to air conditioning, as well as the CCTV network and telephone systems.
The national security ministry did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
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