Head of the Prison Visiting Committee Bishop Charlesworth Browne has slammed inmates at His Majesty’s Prison (HMP) by labelling their recent protest actions as “devious” and “disruptive”.
Over the weekend, prisoners clamoured against what they claimed was days of inadequate food or meals unfit for human consumption, with over 160 inmates signing a petition to demand immediate improvements to prison conditions.
Yesterday, some inmates frustrated by being placed under total lockdown apparently seized keys from a prison officer and let themselves into the institution’s courtyard, prompting police to be summoned.
Speaking to Observer yesterday, Bishop Browne questioned why the prisoners were so easily able to communicate with the media via cell phones.
He also noted that their actions are not helpful to their legitimate concerns with the prison conditions.
“Some of them figure the Visiting Committee has not been doing anything to help them; they do not know how hard we struggle and negotiate for better to be done with the prison, but what they are doing now is not going to help anything,” he stated.
He acknowledged that the living conditions at HMP are deplorable with issues such as the use of slop buckets and overcrowding being well-documented by various news outlets and international agencies over the years.
“The living conditions at the prison need to be addressed post-haste … what is necessary right now is that we get a completely new prison facility.
“There are some things that cannot be done with the facility as it is.
They [the prisoners] are asking about toilet facilities in their cells; that cannot happen in the present facility,” Bishop Browne explained.
However, he stated that the prisoners have been resisting the solutions which the authorities have provided thus far.
“It has to be noted that some time ago, a number of chemical toilets were sourced—about 20 to be used in the prison—and just like they refused to eat food, they refused to use them.
“It is like a child who is asking something of a parent who is struggling … but the child does not understand it and continues to make demands of the parent that they cannot fulfil,” he said.
Speaking to Observer yesterday, the prisoners claimed the entire facility has been under lockdown since Sunday, leaving them unable to do laundry or empty the slop buckets used as makeshift toilets, and that prison authorities failed to deliver on promised solutions.
The prisoners have resorted to sharing their snacks to alleviate hunger as they have not received any food and their families were reportedly prevented from bringing food to them.
This led the prisoners to claim that once peaceful protests could further escalate as they have become increasingly irate.
They also demanded that Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, immediately intervene to alleviate the issue.
However, Bishop Browne said that the problems at HMP cannot be for one individual to solve.
“You have to get the society involved,” he explained.
“It is not about government, the Superintendent, or the Prison Visiting Committee, it is about the entire community; we need to get away from blaming the government, the Attorney General, the Superintendent.”
Over the weekend, Prison Superintendent Jermaine Anthony told Observer that the institution had been forced to ration dwindling supplies of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or cooking gas, and that inmates had refused to eat the crackers and cheese they had been given.
Bishop Browne commented on this point, stating that he does not “see why the prisoners would refuse to eat biscuits”.
Meanwhile, a social media post made by Observer radio host Dr Jacqui Quinn claimed that a number of prisoners reportedly entered the courtyard yesterday, using keys seized from an officer.
The keys were supposedly procured after inmates threw faecal matter and urine at the officer.
Riot squad members and local police were reportedly called to the scene, and it was alleged that tear gas and rubber bullets were used, with one prisoner reportedly being hit by a rubber bullet.
Observer reached out to the police spokesperson Inspector Frankie Thomas and the Prison Superintendent for comment but both declined.