The controversial Tobago Correctional Facility at Glen Road.

Loyse Vincent

By the time residents of Glen Road left for work on yesterday morning all visible signs of the Tobago Correctional Facility recently placed in their community were gone.

The official sign and national security flags were removed and neighbours observed workmen hastily dismantling a makeshift cage at the back of the compound.

This appeaed to be a victory for Glen Road residents who had a virtual meeting with Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis on Thursday evening where the group of over 50 residents took Dennis to task for “inconsistencies” in his statements, lack of representation and consultation and ultimately demanded that the new Tobago Correctional Facility is removed from their community.

Hours after the meeting Dennis issued a press release stating that the unoccupied facility has been closed. According to the release Dennis said he “had spoken to National Security Minister Stuart Young about the matter and alternative accommodation will be sought for the prisoners.”

The former Marine Resources and Fisheries Department administrative building was retrofitted to house prisoners following a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tobago prisons on October 8. Thirteen inmates and five prison officers contracted the virus; the prisoners were subsequently transferred to Trinidad, as there is only one prison in Tobago. It was at this point that THA Health and National Security officials announced that the facility would be retrofitted to house COVID-19 prisoners.

On November 7, Prison Commissioner (Ag.) Dennis Pulchan commissioned the Tobago Correctional Facility at Glen Road and moved in prisoners the same day. After announcing that the Glen Road facility was the island’s new jail due to overcrowding issues at the pre-existing correctional facility at Scarborough, residents of Glen Road and environs have been tenacious in their efforts to reverse the decision.

The residents held several peaceful protests at the facility where they lashed out against the Chief Secretary and the Area Representative Marslyn Melville Jack for failing to consult with them. Dennis initially apologised to the residents for “a perceived lack of consultation” with them before the decision was taken. He also countered that it was in the governments right to “assign a community prison or police station where the government saw fit.”

The residents subsequently initiated legal action against local and prison authorities. Things came to a head during the virtual meeting between the Chief Secretary and the Glen Road residents.

During the meeting, the residents said the building was not suitable in terms of the security guidelines and this has given many of the elderly persons in the community anxiety, as they now fear for their safety. Residents also stressed that the location of the prison facility would cause the value of their properties to plummet.

Dennis who was under constant fire stated that the facility is a “community prison” where only low-risk inmates would be housed and therefore the requirements are less than those needed for a maximum-security prison. He asked the residents if there were any “reasonable adjustments” that could be made to the property that would make them comfortable. The residents stood their ground and demand that the facility is removed.

He was also unable to say why that specific building was chosen and what is the cost to taxpayers to have the facility at that specific location. The residents also sought clarity on the classification of prisoners housed at the prison. They said they are being told the facility was originally intended to house COVID-19 inmates but based on information from prison officials that plan has since changed.

In the end, Dennis told the residents that he “heard their instructions” and he planned to have further discussions with the Minister of National Security and “alternatives will be considered.” Following the latest development, residents say they plan to have a meeting on Friday, to determine their next move, as they want to be certain that they have achieved their objective. Calls to the mobile phone of Acting Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan for comment went unanswered.