Independent Senator, Paul Richards makes his contribution during debate on the Anti-Gang Bill, 2021.

Gangs are being created inside prison walls as well as outside.

A Trinidad and Tobago Prison Services report confirms that 60 per cent of young individuals entering the prison system will be inducted into a gang due to the length of time they spend there and the overcrowding.

That’s according to Independent senator Paul Richards.

Richards spoke about the problem during yesterday’s Senate debate on the Anti- Gang bill.

“While we’re debating Anti- Gang legislation, attempting to give law enforcement the tools to deal with gang involvement, our prison system, our human rights-violating Remand system is creating gang members faster than the gangs outside prison walls,” Richards noted.

He said he supported the bill in principle due to what’s been happening in the country. He added, “It’s untenable in 2021 that any country wouldn’t have anti-gang law, we’ve seen the continued damage done.”

Richards said he shuddered to think what would happen going forward without it since gang members need to know there are specific laws targetting them. He particularly suggested the bill include provision for people who knowingly facilitate gang functions. Richards cited recent reports of people who rent cars or loan a gun then they go their way.

He said gangs started to flourish and proliferate after the failed 1990 insurrection by the Jamaat Al Muslimeen. He said that went largely unpunished and “almost gave a pass, if you feel you could hold up a Parliament, shoot a prime minister and get away with it, well may as well run amuck.”

“That was a gang, let’s not fool ourselves, a gang that came together to overthrow a country and that went largely unpunished in T&T, some may suggest it went rewarded.”

He noted the prison service report which also stated that if an inmate is not already a gang member, people are easily influenced to join a gang within the prison. Richards said the main factors causing this was time spent in prison, prison conditions and overcrowding.

“This is a dark smear on this country that continues unchecked and isn’t dealt with effectively at all….we seem to be creating gangs effectively behind prison walls.

“So the longer you keep a person in prison on remand, the higher the possibility to be indoctrinated into a gang. And here we’re seeking to deal with gangs outside of prison.”

Richards noted that as of September 2018 the total prison population was approximately 4,000. Therefore 60 per cent of 4,000 was 2,400 people who according to the report may be part of a prison gang.

He added there are 1,861 men on Remand awaiting trial housed in inhumane conditions.

“ Sixty per cent of 1861 is 1116.6 – from Remand alone,” Richards said.

He said it’s difficult to prosecute anti-gang law anywhere as gangs evolve quickly. Richards added as senators sit debating gang members are listening and will try to thwart the law, “They don’t stop changing.”