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Tensions rise at prison over Covid restrictions, Minister

Prison tensions: Westgate inmates suffer from Covid-19 visit suspensions (File photograph)

Covid-19 restrictions have caused increased tensions at the island’s prisons, it was revealed today.

Renee Ming, the Minister of National Security, said that the morale and behaviour of inmates had deteriorated because of a block on visits.

Ms Ming added: “The suspension of in-person visits and other activities has resulted in increased frustrations within the facilities.”

Ms Ming was speaking as she tabled the 2020 reports for the Parole Board and the Treatment of Offenders Board in the House of Assembly this morning.

She added that the Treatment of Offenders Board was involved in 55 hearings over the period, about 40 per cent of them related to unauthorised items in the prison – with phones a common offence.

Ms Ming said: “This is a five per cent increase over mobile phone-related adjudications in 2019.

“The board reports that 13 per cent of adjudications involved assaults on inmates or corrections officers.

“The board attributes much of these offences to increased tensions, coupled with the added restrictions of Covid-19.”

Ms Ming added that efforts had been made to reduce tensions, including maintenance work at the prisons and the installation of a second water heater at Westgate Correctional Facility to improve the hot water supply.

She said: “The board notes that all of the facilities require maintenance, primarily due to the age of the buildings.

“The condition of the facilities has a direct impact on the attitudes of the inmate population.

“Budget constraints are an ongoing factor – however the Department of Corrections administration continues to liaise with the Ministry of Public Works to complete upgrades and improvements to the facilities.”

Ms Ming said that last year the Parole Board carried out 123 parole reviews and released 15 people on parole – four of whom were fitted with electronic monitoring devices.

There were no denials of parole, however one person was recalled and 84 had their parole decision deferred.

Ms Ming noted that while “suitable employment” is a requirement for parole, all parolees released in 2020 were able to find work.

She added: “The Parole Board notes that there may be some difficulties with eligible inmates securing employment during the post Covid-19 economic recovery.

“There are many employers who consistently take a chance and employ these individuals, giving them a fair chance at a successful re-entry.

“I would encourage all employers to consider assisting with the reintegration of parolees by hiring them as they are able.”

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Published June 04, 2021 at 1:58 pm (Updated June 04, 2021 at 4:44 pm)

Tensions rise at prison over Covid restrictions, Minister

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