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‘Deplorable conditions’ at Westgate slammed

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Ageing building: bursting pipes are an issue at Westgate

A collapsed ceiling in the kitchen at Westgate prison was the latest in a string of problems related to the ageing building, the chairman of the Prison Officers Association said yesterday.

Timothy Seon was not surprised when a pipe ruptured and caused the ceiling to collapse because a lack of maintenance at the jail had led to poor conditions.

Mr Seon said: “It doesn’t shock me. I’ve been in the service now ten years ... we work in deplorable conditions.

“Every summer we have issues with plumbing and plus, with the maintenance regime being neglected, the building is breaking down.”

He added: “We have pipes bursting every summer around this time because of the age of the facility; it’s in its 25th year and the pipes get brittle.”

Mr Seon said association members could not see a point “in the foreseeable future that Government is going to be able to provide a healthy environment to work in, and the inmates to live in”.

He added: “The first thing to get cut was the maintenance budget when the whole world ran into economic woes.

“When you have a facility that runs 365-24-7, you can’t cut maintenance because then you run into the type of issues we have now.”

The incident forced the closure of the kitchen last Friday and prisoners’ meals are being prepared elsewhere.

The Government has insisted it is working to tackle the problem as well as other maintenance work at the prison.

A Ministry of National Security spokesman said on Sunday that prisoner meals were being prepared at the Co-Ed facility in St George’s and that the Royal Bermuda Regiment had also offered the use of its kitchens.

He said a damage assessment would be carried out to determine a “realistic timeline for restoring the kitchen to normal operational levels”.

It was revealed on Monday that the prison service’s main telephone lines were down because of technical problems, which Mr Seon said happened “periodically” as the system transferred from analogue to digital.

He added yesterday: “We just want to see change and we’re tired of hearing the talk and the platitudes.

“We’ve been told that all this is being looked at; we say ‘OK, we’re going to continue to push on’.

“It starts off good, then things fall by the wayside.

“A lot of prison officers are just fed up, they’re frustrated.”

Mr Seon said he appreciated that budget constraints meant some problems would take longer to fix and that the effort to tackle infrastructure repairs was a “work in progress”.

Wayne Caines, the national security minister said on Monday that the problems with the kitchen ceiling and phone lines made it seem like “all these forces are converging against the work we are doing”.

He added: “We understand the difficult sets of circumstances that our corrections officers work in, we understand that the building is an older building; we have a maintenance plan in place and we need to continue to work with the updates.

“We need to continue to work with engineering to make sure that all of the outstanding issues are resolved.”

The ministry spokesman said earlier: “Officer and inmate safety are of paramount importance.

“To that end, our maintenance plan continues to be executed systematically, and we have made significant progress on other facility repairs and improvements.”

The House of Assembly heard in May that Westgate prison had suffered spells without hot water over a nine-month period.

Mr Caines explained then that mould problems had “deeply concerned” prison officers and that a clean-up had been ordered by Acting Commissioner of Corrections Keeva-Mae Joell Benjamin and an air-quality assessment was expected by the end of June.

He told MPs at the time that improvements in the prison service included a new industrial water heater and an additional industrial washing machine, to be in service by next month.

Other upgrades are scheduled for the telephone and alarm systems, as well as replacement and additional CCTV cameras.