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Prison service is a ‘forgotten service’

The forgotten service: the entrance to the Westgate correctional Facility on Ireland Island North (File photograph)

Bermuda’s prison service is a “forgotten service” according to Thad Hollis, lead negotiator for the Prison Officers Association.

Mr Hollis, who is leading talks with the Corrections Department on behalf of the association, said negotiations and collective bargaining agreements that had been in the works for as long as 20 years have resulted in little to no progress.

One of the major issues facing the prison officers at Westgate Correctional Facility is the overall lack of staff, including staff trained to deal with violent prisoners and inmates with severe mental-health issues.

He said that officers had not received a wage increase in ten years, bargaining over health insurance remained unresolved and that health and safety conditions were untenable.

Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, acknowledged concerns last year and said he would launch an internal investigation.

Mr Hollis told The Royal Gazette: “Back in 2001, the association, through its attorney, made a list of about 19 outstanding items in terms of occupational safety, health and training, handling violent prisoners and prisoners with mental health issues, and making sure that rehabilitation was being afforded to prisoners prior to release.

“There is a prison psychologist but prison officers are not trained as mental health professionals.

“Since then, substantively, nothing has been done — they have investigated it and it has been talked about.”

Mr Hollis said that officers got injured “as part of the job” but he had heard of some particularly serious cases including an officer being “shanked”.

Fifteen new prison officers were hired last July to address some of the concerns but Mr Hollis said about 60 more were necessary. Last year, Mr Caines said that figure was 39.

Wages are another major concern because officers have had no increases despite long- term collective bargaining.

Mr Hollis said: “Prison officers have been trying to get themselves on a par with police officers.

It was an understanding back in 2009 that that would happen. An entry-level position is paid about $12,000 a year less than an entry-level constable.”

Mr Hollis there were issues with “excessive overtime” and with drugs and other contraband getting into the facility.

Infrastructural concerns at the facility include mould infestations.

Staff have staged industrial action and rehabilitation and enrichment programmes have been put on hold due to shortages.

Two officers claimed they were unduly searched and have filed grievances against a senior officer.

Mr Hollis said: “We are continuing in the collective bargaining with the Government to see if we can resolve our issues. It will probably go into arbitration.

“In terms of the other issues around the working environment and the workplace conditions and health and safety, the government minister made a commitment about a year ago that he was going to have these issues addressed and that they were being investigated, but it has sort of floundered.”

The Royal Gazette requested an interview in February with Mr Caines after his ministry announced he had met with the Department of Corrections’ Treatment of Offenders Board to discuss progress made in 2018. The request was denied.

Mr Caines said in a press release at the time: “We discussed any concerns raised and how to go about enriching the lives of inmates to help ensure that on release, they can become productive members of our community.”

The ministry did not respond to a request for a comment last night by press time.