List of prisoners to be released being prepared

Story by RHONDOR DOWLAT-ROSTANT

Commissioner of Prisons (Ag) Dennis Pulchan currently is preparing a list of inmates that are most likely to be released from the nation’s prisons, as a measure to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Commissioner Pulchan, who spoke briefly today with Guardian Media, said he could not give a total number just yet.

On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that prisoners who have been not able to make bail, those deemed non-violent and not dangerous, now face the possibility of being released from prison to reduce overcrowding and minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

PM Rowley was speaking during a media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, on Wednesday.

PM Rowley said he has been in touch with the Attorney General, who has contacted the Judiciary on the matter. He added that work is progressing with a view to determining what could be done to intervene in the prisons, “to have people who are there on the basis of not having been able to make bail, persons who are not violent or a danger, to see if we can improve the conditions by reducing overcrowding because that’s a vulnerable area.”

“For prisoners who have been convicted and are on appeal, the population will understand that if there are things we can do there with the broadest sense of understanding, get those people out of there. I trust we can minimise our exposure there for certain categories of the incarcerated, so that will be another step,” he added.

Commissioner Pulchan said he welcomed the move by the prime minister, and noted “it is essential at this time”.

Meanwhile, the heads of prisons across the Caribbean have taken a decision to release specific prisoners to reduce the prison population, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was revealed in a CARICOM IMPACS media release on Wednesday, in which they indicated that prisons would be taking proactive measures to protect prison officers, inmates, and visitors against the spread of the virus in prisons.

The CARICOM release on the decision stated:

“Proposals by prison heads to reduce COVID-19 in prisons at the meeting included the early release of non-violent and sick and elderly inmates who pose absolutely no threat to society, but only serve to increase the concentration of persons in prisons; increased screening of staff and prisoners; enhanced information sharing among prisoners; and the development of national prison pandemic plans.”

The recommendation was made following a meeting with heads of correctional services and prisons last Wednesday via a video conferencing meeting, the release added.

It also noted that prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in China, France, Iran, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Some Caribbean countries already have taken decisive steps to prevent COVID-19 in prisons, including early release of harmless prisoners, suspension of all visitations and the screening of staff for coronavirus symptoms before they enter prisons.

The meeting also discussed possible ways to keep inmates in touch with their families and loved ones, since visitation rights have been suspended in most countries.

The CARICOM IMPACS release said to ease this burden, “communication is being facilitated through controlled WhatsApp and Face Time video calls”.

On Tuesday, the T&T Prison Service announced that all visits at all of the nation’s prisons were suspended until further notice with immediate effect as of that said day.

Commissioner of Prisons (Ag), Dennis Pulchan, in a release, said the action came as a direct result of the medical advice to take certain measures to protect the prison environment from any possible contamination and in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

Pulchan said that families were allowed to visit the prisons last weekend to purchase items for their loved ones and added that the proactive measure was facilitated to allow the clients to obtain their items before suspending contact to protect them.

He advised members of the public that all feasible measures have been implemented within the nation’s prisons, in an effort to lower the risk of both staff and inmates from contamination.

Among the measures he disclosed were: thermal scans of all persons entering the prisons; additional sinks installed at strategic points within the prisons; sanitisation of buildings; and the posting of educational signage about the virus, its symptoms and precautionary measures, in all prisons.

Additionally, the T&T Prison Service will be implementing video conferencing via Skype for clients to communicate with their families by prearranged appointments.

“Families are reminded that the Prison Service’s telephone landline system remains in operation for clients to speak with their families,” Commissioner Pulchan said.