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File picture: Prisoners from the Remand Yard at Golden Grove Prison, Arouca, play basketball during their air time.

Ag Commissioner of Prisons Dennis Pulchan is currently preparing a list of prisoners who are most likely to be released as a measure to minimise a possible outbreak of the COVID-19 virus within the prison system. However, Pulchan said last evening he would not have a total just yet as he is still completing his research.

Pulchan started the process hours after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced that prisoners who have been not able to make bail, those deemed non-violent and no danger could be released to reduce overcrowding and minimise the spread of COVID-19 during a media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.

Rowley said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi was in touch with the Judiciary and work was progressing to determine what they can do to intervene in the prisons to reduce overcrowding because it’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 and I trust we can minimise our exposure there for certain categories of the incarcerated so that will be another step,” he added.

Contacted later on, Pulchan said, “I welcome the move as it is essential in this time.”

In a release on the issue as well, Pulchan 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 from COVID-19.

He said 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 inmates to obtain items before visits were suspended to protect them. He said all feasible measures had been implemented within the nation’s prisons to lower the risk of both staff and inmates from contamination.

Some of these measures include thermal scans of everyone the prisons, additional sinks at strategic points, sanitisation of buildings and signage relative to the virus. Additionally, the T&T Prison Service will be implementing video conferencing via Skype for inmates 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,” Pulchan said.

The move was also in line with plans by other Caribbean countries.

According to a CARICOM IMPACS media release yesterday, following a video conference meeting on the issue last Wednesday, other regional prisons will be taking the same proactive measures.

“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 release noted that that prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in China, France, Iran, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States and visita in most Caribbean countries to avoid the same thing happening.

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