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File picture: The hands of an inmate can be seen through the window of a cell at the Maximum Security Prison in Golden Grove, Arouca.

The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) is calling for an independent review of conditions in the prisons in Trinidad and Tobago, saying it is concerned that prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions.

In an official statement, the CCHR describes conditions in remand as “horrific”, and says the National Security Minister, Fitzgerald Hinds MP, should grant access to the prison system so an independent and impartial review of conditions there can be conducted.

The following is the full statement from the CCHR on the matter…

The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) continues to be deeply concerned about the inhumane conditions in the prisons, the persistent allegations of abuse of prisoners by prison officers and the lack of any monitoring system to ensure that prisoners’ living conditions meet the minimum human rights standards. The conditions in remand, in particular, are horrific and the state should hang its head in shame. It should be noted that these are also the conditions that prison officers are forced to work in and would no doubt fail any health and safety inspection. Nelson Mandela famously stated that “The way…a society treats its prisoners is one of the sharpest reflections of its character…We will not find lasting solutions if we continue to treat our prisoners in the old way, denying them their dignity and their rights as humans.”

CCHR along with other stakeholders have shared reports of the conditions in remand and other places of detention in Trinidad and Tobago with international human rights bodies who were shocked and horrified at the conditions. Other independent bodies have not been allowed to conduct monitoring visits to assess the living conditions of prisoners, even before the pandemic.

There is no way to independently verify the claims of the prisons authorities with respect to the treatment of prisoners. Also concerning is that the Inspector of Prisons position has been vacant for about three years.

Convicted persons are sent to prisons as punishment, not for punishment. Prisoners are entitled to their basic human rights such as freedom from torture, freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the right to health, the right to decent living conditions and the right to adequate nutrition. Given that Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing the highest levels of Covid-19 cases and deaths since the start of the pandemic, the conditions in the prisons should be of tremendous concern to the public and a top priority in the state’s Covid response. Prisons do not operate in isolation and are a breeding ground for diseases.

The Caribbean Centre for Human Rights calls on the Minister of National Security, Fitzgerald Hinds to allow for independent monitoring to verify the treatment of prisoners and the conditions of the prisons. CCHR would be willing to conduct such an exercise. We hope the honourable Minister will accept our offer of service in an effort to respect the human rights and dignity of those he has been entrusted to care for.