Prison Officers’ Association head Ceron Richards

The Prison Officers’ Association said it is ‘gravely concerned’ about the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases within the prisons after 174 more prisoners tested positive for the virus.

The results came in over the weekend.

In a statement issued yesterday, the association noted that the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service was the first to institute protocols to reduce the possibility of an outbreak in the prison but yet there is the startling reality that it penetrated the prison walls —first at the Maximum Security Prison and now at the Golden Grove Remand Yard.

The association, which is headed by Ceron Richards, said that the Prison Service has faced a number of budgetary cuts even as the COVID-19 pandemic has reached the shores of T&T.

The association is demanding that the Ministry of Health make provisions for all inmates to be tested in batches of 200 every other day until there is a clear picture of where clusters exist and the pattern of infection in the prisons.

“We are saying that we note the removal of the medical provisions for officers who, as part of their contract with the state, should enjoy free medical or partial financial support for medical issues as both barbaric and repressive especially during these times in which we find ourselves,” the association said.

“Where is the focused attention to ensure the Prison Service receives the necessary funding? Is this even a consideration by this Government? Additionally, we observe the deafening silence from the Attorney General when his statement about prisoners being released was found to be what can only now be described as a lie,” it added.

The association also rebuked the Judiciary for their failings.

“Are the individuals on remand, especially those who would want to access bail or have their matters completed simply to sit until…whenever?”

“The officers who have to interact with these inmates are being set up by the Judiciary and the State who we have seen are quick to pay lip service when an officer is murdered,” the association stated.

The association also noted that the provision for personal protective equipment for staff should be without delay for the officers who continue to work in already challenging conditions “which have been multiplied tenfold due to this global pandemic. The prison is a unique environment requiring the enthusiastic support of the state, not small talk, lies and games.”

Richards had previously stated that a special section was designated within the prison to house the COVID-19 positive inmates for the 14-day quarantine period.

He also added that his prisons officers were currently preparing meals for the inmates and washing up the wares in the interim as an attempt to protect other inmates.