Prison officers salute after the national flag was raised at the opening of the Claxton Bay Correction Facility in Claxton Bay yesterday. The facility will be used to house prisoners recovering from COVID-19.

Bavita Gopaulchan

A new facility has been commissioned in the community of Claxton Bay to house prison inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.

In the past few months, 23 prisoners from across various prisons have tested positive for the virus, six of whom have already recovered. By the end of this week, 13 of the remaining 17 cases will be taken to the new facility situated near the Claxton Bay Flyover.

Acting Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan yesterday told Guardian Media that he is cognizant that there will be residents in the community who may be concerned about these new neighbours but sought to assure them there are sufficient security measures in place.

“I don’t want to discount citizens because a lot has been said about the COVID and a lot of people don’t panic just like that, so what is happening right now is that we are in a community but we have sufficient security here that could safely hold these inmates,” Pulchan said at the facility’s commissioning.

He added, “All the officers who were selected and brought here were specially trained and counselled in a lot of areas.”

The two-story building was previously utilised by Vision on Mission, which was founded by the late Wayne Chance, to provide rehabilitation services to deportees. Since being acquired, Pulchan said “extensive work” was carried out in the last week to ensure the facility was brought to a high security standard.

“Without going into too much details, it cost a lot,” Pulchan noted.

“To bring it to this level it cost about $100,000 because we had to retrofit and reinforce windows, doors, put systems in place for our infirmary, cordon off certain areas and maintain certain areas.”

The facility can accommodate up to 33 prisoners, all of whom will be housed on the upper level. Each cubicle has one bed covered with both plastic and cloth sheets as well as a three-drawer chest. Some of the rooms have windows but they have been reinforced with metal barriers. The doors to the bathrooms have also been removed. The inmates will be given their meals through a locked metal gate at the entrance.

Guardian Media was told no prison officer will be allowed in the area where the inmates are kept. Instead, the inmates will be monitored via cameras set up along the corridors and manned on the same compound while all communication by the officers will be done via a public address (PA) system.

In the event there is a security breach upstairs where the inmates are kept, the prison officers on duty will be required to wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before entering, after which they will be fogged with an anti-viral solution.

Pulchan said security measures will be ramped up based on the behaviour of the inmates during their recovery time at the facility.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has also affected the prison officer population, with 90 testing positive so far. With 50 of these cases being active and several others still in quarantine, Pulchan admitted the prisons operations have been affected.

He said, “It has slowed us down a bit but officers were able to come out and we have officers pulling out extra shifts and really serving the organization this time.”

He thanked the officers for serving even in these difficult times.