File: Remand Yard prisoners are served lunch at the Golden Grove Prison, Arouca.

Following allegations made against prison and police officers of abuse of a “high-profile” prisoner, remanded prisoners are expected to engage in a hunger strike from tomorrow.

The strike, according to prison sources, is to highlight alleged oppression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement disclosing the proposed hunger strike that was released on Tuesday via the social media platform, the prisoners are calling for speedy trials for those accused of murders; reasonable bail for petty offenders; the immediate release of all remanded inmates from Building 13 at the Maximum Security Prison (MSP); clothing and medication requests from their respective family members and a full scale investigation into the alleged government involvement in obtaining and torturing remanded prisoners housed at building 13 (MSP).

“It is already a present situation where remanded inmates are being held against their will without a trial date for as long as 15 to 17 years on Remand. We are now faced with the COVID-19 virus…Prison officers cannot ensure the safety of these remanded inmates under these inhumane condition’s. Many are of the view that their lives are being compromised and the dreams of being free and reuniting with their families are things that might never be possible. So we are asking for a speedy trial or an immediate response to the release or discharge of all murder accused from this infected environment,” the statement said.

“The immediate release of all remanded inmates from Building 13 who are facing humiliation and a high level of oppression by the same police officers who charged and accused these individuals for crimes they did not commit…they are innocent until proven guilty. We are well aware that some of the police officers and prison officers who are presently assigned by the commissioner of police are infected by the Covid-19 and are currently jeopardizing the lives of these innocent accuse individuals at Building13,” it added.

The statement, which was believed to have been prepared by a group of inmates, claimed that Building 13 is an “inhumane enclosed environment perfect for the breeding of the Covid-19.”

The T&T Prison Service, in an immediate response said that the statement reflects the views of “a few disgruntled prisoners, some of whom, in March of this year, rioted and destroyed an entire wing in the Remand prison as a result of the same issues highlighted in their written message, namely Covid-19 transmission and extensive court delays.”

Acting Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan has condemned the actions of these few individuals, who, he said are seeking to “undermine the extensive efforts of the Prison Service to keep them safe.”

Pulchan said skipping a meal is a prisoner’s choice which is facilitated, recorded and their well-being ensured.

He said while the Prison Service has no authority within the judicial system, COVID-19 in the nation’s prisons became unavoidable with the introduction of community spread.

“With a prisoner population of over 3,800, the Prison Service has recorded five prisoners testing positive for the virus, all from the Port-of-Spain State Prison.

Two have fully recovered and three are still under quarantine. Prisoners are continuously monitored and there is a protocol to be observed, should anyone display any symptoms or complain about feeling unwell,” Pulchan said.

“In addition to the guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health, several drastic measures have been implemented during the course of the pandemic, in an effort to keep all charges safe. The cessation of physical visits and courts which led to the introduction of virtual visits and court appearances, the discontinuation of receiving items from outside the prison and the commissary system which allows friends and relatives to deposit money on an account which allows for purchase of any item in the canteen,” he added.

Further, in order to contain the spread of the virus, Pulchan said that the prisons’ operational procedures were adjusted at the detriment of reduced staff, as they have been advised not to report for duty if any symptoms are experienced, but to seek medical attention at the nearest health facility.

A Covid Command Centre has been set-up and is in operation, in order to manage, record, monitor, evaluate and aid in decision making, for both staff and charges, according to the Prison Service.