Sanctions should be placed on the company or system being used for prisoner transport if it is found that many of the illegal transmissions authorities seek to intercept from prisoners emanate from inside those transport vehicles, says Independent Senator Paul Richards.
Richards recommended action during Tuesday’s Senate debate on the Interception of Communication Bill. This proposes interception of communications within prisons and in prison vehicles used to transport inmates. It’s proposed that intercepted information will be admissible as evidence in any proceedings. The bill requires Opposition and/or Independent votes for passage.
When it was piloted last month, Government stated murders are committed in T&T as a result of prisoners using cellphones and calling assassination plots, up to recently.
Richards noted that while contraband might emanate from visitors or prison officers, there’s also a different situation where there are transfers of prisoners from jail with transport by private company vehicles. He expressed concern about possible transfer of contraband in the process.
“I know part of the bill speaks to interception of communication in vehicles in prison and on the roads, but we also have to look at whether we’re paying a contractor millions of dollars and whether they’re part of the problem—we need to fix that.”
He said attention is needed regarding the situation where inmates are moved frequently from Port-of-Spain and Golden Grove Prisons to courts and back, and they might get access to contraband.
He said, “We also need to ask and analyse what protocols are being used in the transfer of inmates and if we find out that many of the transmissions sought to be intercepted in this bill are coming from inside those transportation vehicles, we need to put some sort of sanction on that company or that system that’s being used because it’s a loophole in the system…the (National Security) Minister has said ‘shots’ are being called by inmates in prison.”
Richards expressed concern about Government statements that a certain high profile, high-risk prisoner is still getting cell phone calls in jail. “If they can’t lock down high profile high-risk people we have real problems,” he added
He said culprits couldn’t call an associate “outside” and say an operation was “going down tomorrow,” but they might have a fake Facebook profile and send coded messages that way.
He called on Government to ensure that conversations of private citizens and businesses within the range of the interception equipment wouldn’t be affected. He also queried contingencies in the bill for reporters whom inmates may communicate with to share atrocities which occur in jail. He said UK and Australian laws cater for such aspects including public interest.
He added the Port-of-Spain State Prison should be condemned. Richards said the walls are so old, infrastructure can’t be affixed to them.
Reporter: Gail Alexander