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Report: Tensions, security breaches rising at Westgate

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Westgate Correctional Facility in Dockyard (File photograph)
Renee Ming, the Minister of National Security (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Security breaches at Westgate remained a “grave concern” in the latest annual report on the treatment of offenders, the Minister of National Security said yesterday.

Renee Ming told the House of Assembly that there continued to be problems with the state of the island’s prisons.

Ms Ming said: “Throughout 2019 various facility visits and interviews unveiled the harsh realities of life in prison.

“Inmates and administration both noted that the environment at the facilities began to be of grave concern – physical and otherwise,” she said, later adding that board visits to Westgate had to be limited in 2019 due to security concerns.

“Levels of tension at Westgate continued to rise as the demographics of the inmate populace shifted.

“Westgate is home to younger men with long-term sentences.”

She added: “The physical condition of the facilities are understandably poor, given their age.

“Each facility continues to record its restorative needs with the government works and engineering department.

“The 2019 hurricane season added to the deterioration and destruction of the facilities and the perimeters.

“Thus, security breaches are still of grave concern.”

Ms Ming was speaking after she tabled the Treatment of Offenders Board reports for 2018 and 2019.

She said the board was set up to “ensure the rights of inmates while incarcerated and that fair and adequate treatment is upheld within all corrections facilities”.

Ms Ming added the panel looked into rule breaches by inmates at Westgate and the Co-Ed Correctional Facility, which includes the Farm Facility Right Living House.

She said that in 2019 there were four adjudications at the prison farm and 53 adjudications at Westgate.

Ms Ming added: “The level of contention at the Westgate facility worsened over the year as inmates struggled to conform to life at the facility.

“Approximately 35 per cent of prison rule infractions involve mobile phones and related parts.

“The ever-increasing number of mobile phones and offences is a battle for the Department of Corrections team. They continue to combat this issue.”

She added that visits by board members decreased in 2019 because “security concerns arose for members of the board, partly due to industrial action”.

Ms Ming said: “The Department of Corrections administration and the Treatment of Offenders Board worked together to ensure that confidence was restored.

“There was a total of two visits to the Westgate Correctional Facility and 23 inmate interviews.

“During these visits, members spoke with inmates about the challenges at the facility and their overall wellbeing.

“There were five visits made to the farm facility and five interviews were conducted.

“The main concerns at the farm facility with both inmates and the Department of Corrections officers are with the condition of the facility.”

Ms Ming said three visits were made to the Co-Ed where the main problems related to the physical state of the buildings.

Ms Ming added: “The Right Living House programme shifted to the Co-Ed facility after the programme at the farm closed due to the building being deemed uninhabitable.

“The programme itself continues to benefit inmates immensely.”

She said that in 2018 there were 54 adjudications at Westgate – 15 related to mobile phone infractions, 17 for assaults and 22 for breaches of other prison rules.

There were two mobile phone infractions and five general breaches of the rules at the prison farm and no adjudications at the Co-Ed facility.

Ms Ming said: “The board would like to acknowledge the effort of the inmates who have ’given back’ to society by speaking to selected groups and individuals and helping others to avoid the pits into which they fell.

“The board also wishes to acknowledge the results of the Right Living House programme.

“The inmates that were interviewed have shown a huge improvement as a result of being enrolled in the Right Living House.

“The success rate for the programme remains positive and the board commends the Right Living House staff on a job well done.”

The minister thanked board members and added: “The work they provide and the commitment to our corrections community is paramount.

“I also wish to thank all other agencies involved who work together to ensure that the board is able to carry out its mandate safely and effectively."

· To read the minister’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published December 11, 2020 at 3:03 pm (Updated December 11, 2020 at 6:53 pm)

Report: Tensions, security breaches rising at Westgate

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