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Prison Officers complain of ‘sub-human’ working conditions

Prison officers revealed they want serious regime changes to deal with a new kind of inmate population as they made their first official statement on their negotiations with Government.

The Prison Officers' Association has been in talks with Attorney General Michael Scott amid complaints of sinking morale at the “sub-human” conditions they claim they've been made to work in for years.

But no strike notice has yet been received by the Department of Corrections, according to Assistant Prison Commissioner Keeva Joell-Benjamin.

POA Chairman Craig Clarke said in a statement yesterday: “The officers have grown weary of not having the tools to effectively and efficiently manage the inmate population.

The POA members have had to work with inadequate tools for far too long.

“Yes it is true that we have a different inmate population, thus requiring legislative changes, operational changes, and serious regime changes to better manage the inmate population currently in custody.”

The Bermuda Sun has previously reported officers are upset at facing additional dangers dealing with a new breed of criminal.

Mr Clarke also pointed to a feeling of hopelessness as a result of “critical operational issues” within the Department of Corrections, but it's understood pay is near the bottom of the list of their concerns.

He said: “The Prison Officers' Association's main concern is the health and safety of our officers. For many years we have had to work in conditions that are sub-human. “The conditions of some of the facilities and an ageing infrastructure has led to challenges for the officers.

“The officers have been diligent in their duties and worked in these conditions which many other civil servants would never have to encounter. The officers have also had to contend with some very serious security issues.”

Mr Clarke said the Association would not put details of those security issues into the public domain, but he added: “These breaches of security undermine the safe custody of inmates. These breaches also threaten the health and safety of officers.

“These issues must be addressed forthwith in order to maintain the integrity of our correctional system.”

He would not specify which critical operational issues were leading to poor morale, but said: “These systemic issues must be addressed if Bermuda wishes to have a correctional system that is the envy of the western hemisphere.

“These operational areas are critical to running the regimes in a safe, sterile environment. We the POA are under no illusions that these areas will be fixed overnight, but we are certain that with a comprehensive strategic plan we will be able to better serve the inmates under our charge.”

The chairman stressed the POA's case does not revolve around compensation, explaining: “Compensation is a point but it was not high priority on the officers' agenda.

He said the POA has been in negotiations with the Ministry of Justice, following a series of Association meetings about high levels of frustration and dissatisfaction. “We are grateful to the Minister, Permanent Secretary and the Government for engaging into meaningful and constructive dialogue,” he said.

“This dialogue will set the agenda in moving the Bermuda Department of Corrections into the 21st Century proper.”

Some reports indicate prison officers have voted to go on strike, but yesterday afternoon Mrs Joell-Benjamin said no notice had been issued.

n It's understood dockworkers' overtime ban is continuing while Stevedoring and Bermuda Industrial Union work through issues surrounding a binding arbitration. Economy Minister Kim Wilson served notice of the arbitration on Monday.

Prison officers are in dispute over working conditions.

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Published August 18, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 18, 2011 at 10:23 am)

Prison Officers complain of ‘sub-human’ working conditions

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