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Work needed to bring prisons up to scratch

Westgate prison (File photograph)

Work must be done to improve conditions at the island’s prisons, the latest report from the Parole Board has warned.

The Parole Board combined report for 2017 to 2019 said the prisons had deteriorated over the past 30 years as maintenance work had been limited by budget constraints.

Rolfe Commissiong, the former chairman of the Parole Board, said in the report: “Clearly, this has resulted over time in all of the respective facilities deteriorating to such an extent that it may pose a health and safety issue for both inmates and prison staff.

“Issues such as mould, leaky ceilings, and the prevalence of significant rust over most metal surfaces indicate a set of buildings that may need significant investment to be fit for purpose as it relates to strictly non-security matters of health and safety.”

Mr Commissiong added: “Structurally the design of the buildings, particularly at Westgate, may be compounding the problem in that most of the units, but particularly in the isolation area of the prison are maze like, with small rooms, low ceilings, and with a significant amount of the respective lighting fixtures not functioning.”

The board also raised concerns about the lack of use of the facilities at the prisons system in the report, which was released last week.

They highlighted that, on a visit to Westgate, the library was closed and only one inmate was in the carpentry centre.

Mr Commissiong said: “Related to the above and of ongoing concern to me and the members of the board is the lack of substantive rehabilitative programmes available to the inmate population.

“Overall, budgetary constraints have played a role in this retrenchment but that does not lessen the great void that this represents and even the risk the country is taking by, in effect, producing a generation of inmates who will not have the necessary tools to make re-entry into the larger society a successful one.

“This will cost the country and the government more in the long run.”

Mr Commissiong added budget cuts between 2008 and 2017 had hit rehabilitation services, including those considered “mandatory and indispensable”.

He said the lack of services was a problem for the parole board because it made it more difficult to decide if an inmate was suitable for parole.

Mr Commissiong said: “At this juncture, the Parole Board relies heavily on the recommendation from the Department of Court Services regarding risk, potential parolee's previous supervision history if any, and the availability of intervention programs in the community.”

He appealed for more resources to be dedicated to the Department of Corrections to fund treatment and support programmes, along with services for violent and sexual offenders.

Mr Commissiong also called for action to replace the Transitional Living Centre programme to help ease parolees back into society.

He said: “The statistics from TLC, a programme that facilitated the transition process for the client, indicated that a majority of them that completed the programme had a very high chance of not reoffending.

“Inmates who are simply released back into society without a gradual reintroduction seem to struggle to remain in society after their extended periods of institutional living.”

Mr Commissiong said the Parole Board reviewed 254 cases and released 37 people between 2017-19

He added that 43 eligible inmates declined to be considered, mostly because their potential parole date was close to their early release date.

The board also reviewed 129 released parolees and recalled 12 for offences that happened after release.

Mr Commissiong added that one parolee, a woman, has been “at large” since October 2016 and is believed to have fled to the UK.

A warrant was sent to Government House in 2018, but he said the woman had yet to be detained.

Renee Ming, the Minister of National Security, thanked Mr Commissiong for his work on the board on Friday when she tabled the report in the House of Assembly.

She added: “The board also gave some recommendations as it relates to programming and facility improvements which the Department of Corrections and the ministry headquarters are addressing.”

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Published November 30, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated November 29, 2020 at 5:54 pm)

Work needed to bring prisons up to scratch

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