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$55m needed for prison toilets

The trinidad Guardian / Acting Commissioner of Prisons Cecil Duke said yesterday $55 million was needed to install flushing toilets in the remand prisons.

Appearing before the Human Rights, Equality and Diversity Joint Select Committee in Parliament, Duke was questioned as to whether there is a plan to eradicate 100 percent use of slop pails (buckets) in the prison.

He said “that particular plan has been on the burner probably before 2013. Recently it was re-submitted. But it is out of our hands … we are waiting on the go-ahead from up above to start the project.”

Questioned by committee Chair Nyan Gadsby-Dolly about under whose remit the issue of funding falls he said “under that particular facility we speaking about the Commissioner does not have the capacity to approve that. He could approve anything up to $450,000 but the project would cost something like $55 million in order to eradicate the whole use of pail.”

The plan before the government, he said, is basically to put toilet facilities after a “cluster of three cells.” The document, he said, “is at the level of Cabinet where we are still seeking approval.”

Gadsby-Dolly noted that the issue was particularly important for female remand prisoners because “it is unhygienic to use pails at certain times.”

Currently, he said, there are 23 “stainless steel toilets to allow the inmates to use the toilets during the course of the day in some measure of comfort.”

The issue of the eradication of the pail system was raised in the context of the overcrowding at the prisons.

The committee heard that in an effort to ease overcrowding “as the population goes up in the remand yard we take persons to the Maximum Security Prison, because we try to keep the population at remand in Golden Grove to 1,000 persons in the past it used to be 1,200.”

“With the exception of the Maximum Security Prison, the other remand facilities at Golden Grove and Port-of-Spain were over crowded at this time,” Duke said.

In an effort to make life a little more comfortable for the prisoners the committee was told that 300 beds were purchased, and 290 were installed “those are what could have fit in the cells. A laundry was constructed to allow the inmates to have their clothes washed, dryers and washers were installed.”

Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir appeared shocked to learn that some prisoners had been on remand for over 14 years after he asked about the minimum and maximum time prisoners spent on remand. Prison officials said “it could be from one day because there is a system of bail but I would have seen people there over 14 years.”

The Committee also heard that a proposal to construct a new remand yard prison was on the cards for the current fiscal year, but had to be shelved because of the economic situation in the country.

Vel Lewis, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security told the JSC “we hoping to have an agreement with UDeCOTT in place to have the preliminary designs before the end of the current fiscal period.”

Lewis said a priority project is electronic monitoring of prisoners where “an electronic gadget is fastened to inmates and they could be released and monitored and not locked up in the prison cell. We hoping to have that project on stream by the end of the fiscal period.”

Asked by Housing Minister Randall Mitchell whether remand inmates get special privilege when it comes to having cell phones to make calls prison officials made it clear that cell phones in prisons were illegal.

Cellphone jammers have been installed in the prison and a phone system has been implemented where prisoners can access phone calls through a normal regulated line.

The committee learnt that while the internationally acceptable ratio is six prison officers to one prisoner, in Trinidad and Tobago the ratio is 20-1.

Duke said the prisons had a responsibility to “manage the lives of persons whose liberty has been taken away from them.”

He made only passing reference to the prisoners who protested because of the current situation affecting their part-heard matters in court after the resignation of Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar saying “we are here to supervise persons who came into the remand as prisoners and who based on what is taking place in court find themselves having to remain an inordinate length of time with us.”

Duke said while”the people who live here are not angels,” they would like to see “greater concern in looking at the requirements, we need to manage the situation better and bring success in terms of what we do.”

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