File picture - Prisoners of Remand Yard, Golden Grove Prison, Arouca, play small goal football during airing time. (Image: ROBERTO CODALLO)

As this country’s Remand prisoners embark on a hunger strike to highlight their worsening conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) is reiterating its call for government to work harder to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in the prison system.

The Commissioner of Prisons, Dennis Pulchan, has given assurances that everything is being done to protect the well being both prisoners and prison officers, alike. 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.

However, the CCHR says it is particularly concerned about those persons identified for release by the Attorney General in April 2020, who have yet to be processed for release.

It is calling on the AG to make good on his promise to minimise the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in the prison system.

The full text of the CCHR statement, follows…

The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights Statement:

GOVERNMENT SLOW TO RESPOND TO COVID-19 RISKS IN THE PRISONS

The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has received information from the office of the Ag. Prisons Commissioner that the persons that were identified by the Attorney General in April for early release, to minimize the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, have yet to be released.

Efforts to reduce the prison population are critical to minimize the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak to prisoners and the wider public. These measures are being implemented globally and are based on World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations guidelines.

Prisoners are particularly vulnerable due to their inability to social distance and limited access to health care or insufficient health care. Prisons are breeding grounds for disease due to factors such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, frequent transfers of prisoners between prisons and poor nutrition. A highly infectious disease like COVID-19 would spread like wildfire, given the extremely unsanitary conditions and the overcrowding that exists in Trinidad and Tobago’s prison system. The state is responsible for the health of persons deprived of their liberties.

It is important to note that prisons do not operate in isolation. A COVID-19 outbreak will ultimately make its way to the wider public if measures are not taken to manage the risk and reduce the prison population. Given the fact that one prisoner and one prison officer have already tested positive for COVID-19, CCHR strongly urges the Attorney General to follow through with his commitment to protecting the prison population and the wider community from the risks of COVID-19.