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‘Is this place just a time bomb waiting to go off?’

Corrections officers demand review of safety in the Island’s prisons

By Ceola Wilson

The head of Bermuda’s Prison Officers Association (POA) has called for a full-scale review to address the issue of safety in the Island’s Prison Service.

This after another unauthorised package was thrown over prison walls and found to contain not only illicit drugs but two steak knives as well.

POA Chairman Craig Clarke said packages containing illicit drugs are hurled over the fence at the Westgate Correctional Facility almost daily. But now they’re turning up with drugs, cellphones and weapons.

“The problem is getting worse. Our main concern is the health and safety of our officers and the inmates. We find packages at least once or twice a week, every week.

“I know full well that not every package that gets over that fence is being found by officers, that’s impossible. Once upon a time it was just drugs. Now they’re sending weapons with the marijuana, cocaine and heroin.”

The presence of rival gang members at Westgate makes for an uneasy climate for prison officers stationed at the Island’s only maximum security prison.

The POA wants a review of the entire prison system with safety topping the list of priorities.

As far as his colleagues are concerned, Mr Clarke said his colleagues believe the Prison Service is the forgotten service.

“Government doesn’t address the real issues because as long as prisoners are behind bars, it seems as if nobody really cares; it’s the prison officers who take the threats.”

Incarcerating rival gang members under the same roof also presents another set of problems for prison officers.

Mr Clarke told

The Royal Gazette: “Sometimes you ask yourself is this place just a time bomb waiting to go off?”

“I’ve made numerous requests, we’ve asked for more cameras. We’ve asked for security around the perimeter of the prison, all of that comes with costs.

“I must give Government some credit because they are trying to put up fencing around the units themselves.

“That will make it harder for inmates to get the packages because the fencing is going up around the units so the inmates are caged in.

The POA chairman said some officers feel it is open season on Westgate and the officers are getting tired.

“They’re fed up because an unauthorised package is thrown over the fence daily.”

Former National Security Minister Lt Col David Burch assigned a security company to monitor the perimeter of the prison during his tenure. But it was deemed too expensive to continue.

“When you really think about it,” Mr Clarke said: “It all comes down to a bottom line. Bermudians have got to realise that we need to change the way we operate our prisons.

“Nowhere else in the world are prisoners allowed outside of their cells all day,” said the POA chairman.

“Even in Britain, for prisoners if you’re not in class, you’re not working and you’re not in any sort of programme, then you’re in your cell. You get one hour out for association.

“We in Bermuda think that’s too harsh, but collectively we must understand that without revamping of the service, we’re still going to have the same problems.

“We spend millions of dollars on incarcerating inmates in this country and what results are we getting?

“I see the same faces coming back all the time. They come out, they come back for more heinous crimes.

“The faces are not changing so what are we doing and are we doing the right thing? If not, then we are part of the problem not the solution, the way we run the prisons now is clearly not working.”

When asked by

The Royal Gazette for the top three concerns he would like to see addressed at once, Mr Clarke said: “We want to review how we operate.

“We want the security issues taken care of, we want the perimeter secure, and we need to start finding better ways to rehabilitate offenders.

In the long run he said a review would be worth it. He believes the millions of dollars being spent is being wasted on a revolving door system.

“Its getting too expensive to house inmates in Bermuda, it costs taxpayers just over $80,000 a year to house each prison inmate.”

Mr Clarke added: “We can spend all the money we like but without real rehabilitation, we let them out of jail just for them to come back again. That to me is a waste of the taxpayers money.”

The POA has some 208 prison officers in the service to guard Bermuda’s prisons which currently houses approximately 250 inmates. The bulk of the inmates are incarcerated at the maximum security prison.

Mr Clarke said there were 170 inmates incarcerated at Westgate Correctional Facility yesterday where up to 100 officers report for duty daily.

Efforts to obtain a response to the POA’s list of concerns from prison authorities by press time were unsuccessful.

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Published March 03, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated March 03, 2012 at 7:28 am)

‘Is this place just a time bomb waiting to go off?’

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