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File picture: Inmates in a cell block at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca.

The Prison Officers’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago (POA) has expressed concern over the recent report of a spike in COVID-19 positive cases in the prison system, and is calling on the Ministry of Health to ramp up testing within prison walls.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported 126 new positive COVID-19 cases nationally, noting that 108 of those cases came from the prison system, alone.

In a statement issued this morning, the Association also calls for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for prison officers, as well as for Government to provide the Prison Service with more funding so it can deal with the COVID-19 challenge properly, among other issues.

The POA statement follows…

STATEMENT BY PRISON OFFICERS ASSOCIATION ON COVID-19 CASES SPIKE IN PRISON SYSTEM

The Prison Officers’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago note with grave concern the exponential increase in cases of Covid-19 behind the Prison Walls.  Notwithstanding the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service being the first to institute protocols to reduce the possibility of an outbreak in the Prison, this day has finally come.

It is at this juncture we would like to state that the Prison Service has faced a number of budgetary cuts even as the Covid-19 pandemic has reached our shores. The Government is being called out for meting out financial abuse on the Prison Service even as our numbers spike.

The Ministry of Health MUST make provisions for ALL inmates to be tested in batches of 200 every other day until we have a clear picture of where clusters exist and the pattern of infection in our nations Prisons.

We are saying that we note the removal of the medical provisions for officers who, as part of their contract with the state should enjoy free medical or partial financial support for medical issues, as both barbaric and repressive, especially during these times in which we find ourselves. Where is the focused attention to ensure the Prison Service receives the necessary funding? Is this even a consideration by this Government?

Additionally, we observe the deafening silence from the Attorney General when his statement about Prisoners being released was found to be what can only now be described as a lie. We must also rebuke the judiciary for their failings because are the individuals on remand, especially those who would want to access bail or have their matters completed simply to sit until….. “whenever”?

The Officers who have to interact with these inmates are being set up by the judiciary and the state who we have seen are quick to pay lip service when an Officer is murdered.

The provision for PPE for staff should be without delay for the Officers who continue to work in already challenging conditions which have been multiplied 10 fold due to this global pandemic.

The Prison is a unique environment requiring the enthusiastic support of the state. Not small talk, lies and games.